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One particular idea that I saw done with some success would be to create timelines divided by grade level. In the school I saw doing this, they assigned a different period of time to a different grade level. One grade level was responsible for 1600- 1750, another for 1751- 1900, another one 1901 to the present. Each timeline was displayed together and the result was fascinating in displaying both African- American History and the contributions people of color made to the development of the United States. It was wonderful because each time line was made separately, so when put together, all of them gained even more power, which could be a statement in its own right. I think this might be something to investigate, in that each grade level can do something to feed a larger element when combined.
I like the previous suggestion, but what struck me was that you could make each grade responsible for a particular period in African-American history. Since the "happier" decades are the more recent ones and the recent information is probably more accessible to the primary grades, the lower grades could be responsible for the present and recent past. The older students, who probably have better research skills, could be responsible for the more distant past. In a school assembly, each group could present its results, and if this were done in a chronological order, the whole school would see a narrative of African-American history.
Because this is such a complex subject, the idea of assigning each group one or two figures to act as anchors will help keep the groups focused. And this gives the youngest students the ease of focusing on our new President and perhaps on his family, too.
I think your idea is great and agree with a number of the other posters who say that it may be wise to think about how students in the different grades are differently able to address the topic of African American history. The happier and more recent achievements can certainly go to the young grades (the information will be easier to find and easier to deal with) while the more painful and challenging materials can be saved for the more mature students.
Whatever you do, I hope that you will take care to teach some real history, not just stories. Even at the college level, I encounter far too many students who don't have a solid grounding in what slavery was, how long it lasted, etc. They know stories of the Underground Railroad and the (probably wholly mythological) stories about how slaves used songs and quilts to send hidden messages well enough, but they don't know much about the lived realities of slavery.
At the Library of Congress' internet sites (e.g. memory.loc.gov), you will likely find an enormous number of useful texts and images.
So I'm assuming that you're just looking for ideas for what sorts of projects to assign?
The first thing I would think about is making sure that the lower grades get "happier" assignments. There's a lot of sadness and pain involved in black history that might not be as appropriate for the lower grades.
Perhaps you could start the little ones out on accomplishments of African-Americans -- the feel-good stories. Inventors like George Washington Carver, pioneers like Jackie Robinson or Pres. Obama, that sort of thing. Then you could move up to more delicate subjects and people such as Malcolm X or Frederick Douglass.
You might also think about looking at institutions such as the black churches and black fraternal organizations that were important in maintaining a sense of black community.
I hope this helps and maybe if you come back with more specific questions we'll be able to help more.
I have taught Black History to elementary students and middle school students. The students always love to hear the stories about Harriet Tubman and her escape. One of the activities that I did one year was to have each student choose an artifact that could represent something and write a small summary to accompany it.
For example: One student brought in a water hose and wrote a brief summary about the black people being hosed down in the streets when they protested the unfairness. We put it in the Civil Rights section. Another brought in a toy bus to symbolize the bus boycotts.
There was a section on slavery and students brought in pieces of cotton, a book and a letter (symbolic of the restrictions that would not allow black people to be able to read and write), and a pillow case for gathering cotton.
They also had a section on leadership. In this section I had things brought in such as a picture of Martin Luther King Jr., some dolls that represented his family and a cross to represent that he was a minister. One student brought in a brick to share what was taught at the Tuskegee Institute.
In sections of science and medicine a student brought in a peanut for George Washington Carver, etc.
If you have students who have trouble coming up with an idea think up a list of objects and steer them in the right direction. Good luck!
Depending on the grade level you could split it up by time period?
Starting from slavery. Then maybe moving into contributions in the Civil War. Then the Civil Rights movement timeline. Finishing off with notable African Americans from the past and present.
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