Thurgood Marshall’s tombstone
Teachers everywhere are looking for more diverse subjects and projects for students. One way to make education more inclusive is to require students of all races and backgrounds to create a report about a famous person of color who has made a great contribution to society or has been a leader in his or her field. A black history report is an assignment that can be completed in a variety of classrooms–from third grade up to high school. While the depth of research and the complexity of writing may vary, the elements are essentially the same.
The first thing that students need to do is select a person to write about. Because students may have had limited exposure to the vast number of black inventors, scientists, politicians and other leaders, it is important for teachers to provide an overall introduction to the assignment. Before allowing students to conduct research or choose their black leaders, teachers need to guide choices and give students background knowledge about many different people of color so that students can more carefully make selections based on their own interests.
In order to provide students with background knowledge, teachers can direct their students to websites that celebrate black history and give information on various black leaders. Biography.com works well for this; so does History.com. Give students a day to write down three leaders they’d like to work with along with the reasons why those particular leaders were chosen. Then assign students a leader based on skill level, interest and the needs of the classroom.
While the amount of support will vary with grade level, it’s important to give students guidelines for conducting research. Explain that students will need to research the following: who the leader is or was and what her accomplishments are; what background, person, incident or experience influenced the leader in his particular field; and why the leader is considered important today. In younger grades, students may need selected resources linked to a teacher’s website and specifics for using encyclopedias, databases or other research materials. Older students may be required to find primary sources or may be allowed to choose their own materials to research.
Once students have chosen a black leader, they should begin researching their topic. Depending on the level of the students, they can use both Internet and print sources to gain information about their topic. A good way to familiarize students with many different sources is to require one biography, one website, and one encyclopedia article. Without specific source requirements, students will often rely solely on Internet sources, many of which are probably above their reading levels.
Mini-lessons on research, creating a bibliography, note-taking, finding biographies in the library, summarizing, and skimming text can all be incorporated into the daily work time.
Because students will each work at a different pace, ten to fifteen minute lessons at the beginning of each class period will allow teachers to give relevant information without requiring all of the students to stay together on the assignment.
Graphic organizers can be extremely helpful to younger students when researching; additionally, bibliography guides can be used to help students record important reference information for citing sources.
Once students have completed research and had it approved by the teacher, they’re ready to begin writing their reports.