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Black History Month

Holidays

Intermediate Level
Black History Month
Lesson Plan

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Black History Month
Holidays

Black History Month

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Black History Month
Holidays

Black History Month


1. Black History Month is an observance formally known as “Black History Week.” It was set in motion
by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was an African American professor and scholar who felt
that African American history was being forgotten in schools. In 1976, Black History Week became
Black History Month. Throughout the month of February, in both the US and Canada, students learn
about notable African American figures. They also study black American history, culture, and
traditions.

2. One of the most talked-about periods in black American history is the colonial period. The first
African slaves arrived in North America in the 16th century. They settled with their slaveholders in
British colonies throughout the US and later up through Canada. The slave population grew slowly at
first. During the 17th and 18th centuries, America relied heavily on slave labor to build its growing
economy. Slaves did everything from sewing and cleaning to mining, driving carriages, and building
roads. In Canada, slaves were mainly used as domestic servants and farmhands. Due to the harsh
winters, it was more difficult to keep slaves year-round in northern regions.

3. Slavery was legal in North America until the mid-1800s. The abolition movement began gaining
popularity in the northern regions around 1790. Upper Canada (now Ontario) became a safe haven
for southern slaves after the 1793 Abolition Act. Thousands of slaves used a system called the
“Underground Railway” to escape to the northern states and Canada. This was a secret route of safe
houses that slaves used to find freedom. Slavery was abolished across the British Empire by 1833.
The abolition of slavery did not mean the end of discrimination, however. Equality is something
African Americans still struggle for today.

4. New languages, music, and recipes were born out of slavery. Slaves who had different African
languages were often placed together. This required them to come up with their own mixed languages
such as Creole. Uneducated African Americans popularized oral storytelling. Music forms, such as
jazz, blues, and swing, were also popularized by African Americans. Later came the hip-hop genre.
African American cuisine, sometimes called “soul food,” is served at Black History Month
gatherings. Like the stories and fables, African American recipes were passed on orally. Slaves living
on plantations made use of local crops such as sweet potatoes and okra. They also ate discarded cuts
of meat such as pigs’ feet. Even after regaining freedom, many African Americans continued to use
these ingredients.

5. Not everyone agreed with Woodson’s vision back in 1926. Today, Black History Month still has its
critics. Some historians and scholars feel that it is wrong to dedicate an entire month to one race and
culture. They don’t agree with separating African American studies from general American history.
Others feel that this observance forces new generations to take on decades of guilt. Like other
holidays and observances, Black History Month has also become commercialized.

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Black History Month
Holidays

Comprehension
Practice asking and answering the following questions with your partner. Then write the answers in
the spaces below.

1. Why did Carter G. Woodson want to develop an official observance called Black History Week?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
2. What do people typically learn about during Black History Month?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
3. Why did America rely heavily on slaves during the colonial period?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
4. How did slavery in the colonial period differ in Canada and the US?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
5. What was the “Underground Railway”?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
6. What effect did slavery have on language?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
7. Why does the reading mention pigs’ feet?
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
8. Describe one criticism of Black History Month.
_________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________

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Black History Month
Holidays

Vocabulary Review
A. Match the words on the left with the correct meanings on the right.

_______ 1. observance a. a place where you feel protected from harm


_______ 2. scholar b. the time period when Britain inhabited much of the US
_______ 3. notable c. the celebration of a holiday or ritual

_______ 4. colonial period d. unfair treatment due to a quality such as race or gender
e. a person who cleans and cares for another’s home and family
_______ 5. domestic servant
f. to put much time and energy into something
_______ 6. harsh
g. people who are against or unsatisfied with something
_______ 7. abolition
h. very severe
_______ 8. safe haven
i. a person who studies and knows a lot about a specific subject
_______ 9. discrimination
j. the complete removal of something
_______ 10. oral
k. related to the mouth
_______ 11. cuisine l. worth mentioning
_______ 12. plantation m. a type or style of food
_______ 13. critics n. a large piece of land where crops are grown and many
_______ 14. dedicate laborers work
o. associated with profits
_______ 15. commercialized

B. Choose the word with the closest meaning to the underlined word in the following sentences.

1. The slaves worked twelve-hour days on the cotton plantation.


a. cuisine b. labor c. farm
2. My grade school teacher became a history scholar after I graduated.
a. researcher b. critic c. opponent
3. Canada was a safe haven to many black people escaping slavery.
a. retreat b. railway c. school

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Black History Month
Holidays

B. Continued

4. Most families on our street had domestic servants when I was growing up.
a. slave holders b. maids c. waitresses
5. The true abolition of slaves came later in the South.
a. disadvantage b. discrimination c. discontinuation
6. It was a harsh winter, so nothing grew on the plantation.
a. severe b. fruitful c. laborious
7. Being allowed to fight in the war was a notable achievement for a black American.
a. commercial b. remarkable c. necessary

C. Choose the correct word from the list to complete the following sentences. One word will not be used.

critics orally discrimination colonial observance commercialized dedicate cuisine

1. African American ____________________ is sometimes called “soul food.”

2. Street vendors have ______________________ Black History Month by selling T-shirts and CDs.

3. ______________ of Black History Month feel that American history should be taught as one single

subject.

4. We will _________________ the whole month of February to studying African American musicians.

5. During the _______________ period, many slaves were brought to America.

6. There were no cookbooks. Recipes were passed down _________________ from one slave to another.

7. Rosa Parks did not accept ______________ on buses. She refused to give up her seat to a white man.

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Black History Month
Holidays

Pair Work – Student A


Directions: You and your partner have different information about African American “firsts.”
Share the information below with your partner in your own words. Work together to complete the
questions that follow.

One important part of Black History Month is remembering and honoring important “firsts” by black figures,
such as Eugene Jacque Bullard, the first African American to become a combat pilot. Bullard served in the
French Flying Corps in World War I and received the Legion of Honor. Another notable figure is Booker T.
Washington, who was born to a slave. This author wrote extensively about slavery, and was the first black
American to ever be invited to the White House. We also remember Thomas L. Jennings, the first African
American patent holder, and Jackie Robinson, the first Major League Baseball player. Some “firsts” happened
more recently. In 1997, Tiger Woods became the first African American to win a Masters golf tournament, and
he became a millionaire. In 2003, Canadian Jerome Iginla was named the first black captain in the NHL.

1. What is the main difference between the two readings?


______________________________________________________________________________________
2. What different fields did the historic figures from these readings specialize in?
______________________________________________________________________________________
3. What is the most recent “first” mentioned in the readings?
______________________________________________________________________________________
4. In what ways were Booker T. Washington and Mary Ann Shadd similar?
______________________________________________________________________________________
5. In what ways are Tiger Woods and Mary C.J. Walker similar?
______________________________________________________________________________________
6. Why might Oprah Winfrey belong to this reading? Work together to write a sentence that could be added to
the reading. Where would your extra sentence go?
______________________________________________________________________________________
7. Now work together to write an additional sentence after the line about Tiger Woods.
______________________________________________________________________________________

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Black History Month
Holidays

Pair Work – Student B


Directions: You and your partner have different information about African American “firsts.”
Share the information below with your partner in your own words. Work together to complete the
questions that follow.

One important part of Black History Month is remembering and honoring important "firsts" by black figures.
Many of these firsts were accomplished by women. The first female publisher in North America was Mary Ann
Shadd. Though she was born in America, she found her way to Canada, where she established an abolitionist
newspaper in 1853. Almost 150 years later, Toni Morrison became the first Nobel Prize for Literature winner.
In 1910, Mary C.J. Walker became the first self-made African American millionaire. She was a business woman
who specialized in beauty products. She invented a hair growth product that helped women with scalp
problems. Madam Walker grew her business by marketing her hair solution and cosmetic products throughout
the southern US. Later she helped other women start their own businesses. We also can’t forget the “First Lady
of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald. She was known for being able to sing every type of music, from jazz to ballads.

1. What is the main difference between the two readings?


______________________________________________________________________________________
2. What different fields did the historic figures from these readings specialize in?
______________________________________________________________________________________
3. What is the most recent “first” mentioned in the readings?
______________________________________________________________________________________
4. In what ways were Booker T. Washington and Mary Ann Shadd similar?
______________________________________________________________________________________
5. In what ways are Tiger Woods and Mary C.J. Walker similar?
______________________________________________________________________________________
6. Why might Oprah Winfrey belong to this reading? Work together to write a sentence that could be added to
the reading. Where would your extra sentence go?
______________________________________________________________________________________
7. Now work together to write an additional sentence after the line about Tiger Woods.
______________________________________________________________________________________

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Black History Month
Holidays

Debate Topic
Directions: Work in small groups or as a class. Have a debate about the quote below. One side
should agree with the quote. The other side should disagree. Spend a few minutes brainstorming
with other members on your side before the debate begins.

“If Obama's election means anything, it means that African American history is
American history and should be remembered and recognized every day of the
year.” ~ Stephen Donovan (lawyer)

Notes...

Words and expressions to use in a debate: More words and expressions for debates:
In my opinion...
I firmly believe... _____________________________________
I disagree with that because... _____________________________________
What you’re saying is... (rephrase the previous _____________________________________
speaker’s point) _____________________________________
As a matter of fact... _____________________________________
I agree with you, but...
_____________________________________
I see what you’re saying, but...
I beg to differ. _____________________________________
I agree with you 100%. _____________________________________
_____________________________________

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Black History Month
Holidays

Group Work
Write a “freedom song” for Black History Month with a small group of your classmates.

Here is a popular song that is sung by African Americans:

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith
that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope
that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Choose a popular tune that you think members of your class will know (such as the alphabet song or a
national anthem). As a group, write some original lyrics about freedom that can go with the tune you chose.
Practice your freedom song and sing it for the class.

_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________

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Black History Month
Holidays

ANSWER KEY

Lesson Description: Students read about Black History Month and slavery in America. They are introduced to important
black American figures and “firsts.” Includes a reading with comprehension questions, a vocabulary review, a pair
activity, a debate, and a group song.

READING COMPREHENSION
1. Carter G. Woodson wanted to develop the observance to help students know more about African American history as well as the
contributions that African Americans have made to American society.
2. People typically learn about the history, culture, and traditions of Black Americans. They also learn about important African
American figures.
3. America relied heavily on slaves to build an infrastructure and grow the economy.
4. In Canada, it was difficult to hold slaves year-round because of the harsh winters. It was more common for Canadians to keep
slaves as domestic servants and farm helpers. In the US, slaves worked in many other areas such as plantations, mines, and
construction.
5. The Underground Railway was a network of safe houses that slaves used to move north to find freedom.
6. Slaves from different regions of Africa got placed together and had to invent new languages to communicate.
7. The reading mentions pigs' feet because this was a type of food that was discarded by whites and used by blacks. It became part of
the African American cuisine.
8. One criticism of Black History Month is that it separates the period of slavery from the rest of American history. Some feel it is
wrong to devote a whole month to one race or culture. Others feel it causes new generations to take on the guilt of their ancestors.
It also has become commercialized.

VOCABULARY REVIEW
A. Match the words
1. c 2. i 3. l 4. b 5. e 6. h 7. j 8. a 9. d 10. k 11. m 12. n 13. g 14. f 15. o

B. Choose the words with the closest meaning


1. c 2. a 3. a 4. b 5. c 6. a 7. b

C. Choose the correct word


1. cuisine 2. commercialized 3. Critics 4. dedicate 5. colonial 6. orally 7. discrimination

PAIR WORK - Comprehension Questions


1. The main difference between the two readings is that Student A’s reading focuses on male African American figures while Student
B’s reading focuses on female African American figures.
2. The historic figures from these readings specialized in the army, sports, business, beauty, publishing, and literature.
3. The most recent “first” mentioned is by Jerome Iginla, who in 2003 became the first black NHL captain.
4. Booker T. Washington and Mary Ann Shadd were both interested in writing about slavery.
5. Tiger Woods and Mary C.J. Walker both worked very hard to become millionaires.
6. (Answers will vary.) Oprah Winfrey was the first African American female billionaire. A sentence about her could go in Student
B’s reading after Madam C.J. Walker is mentioned.
7. (Answers will vary.)

Spelling Note: This lesson shows the American spelling of the words Labor (p. 3 & 5), Laborers (p. 5), Honor (p. 7), Honoring (p. 7
& 8), and Practice (p. 4 & 10). Most other English-speaking countries spell these words this way: Labour, Labourer, Honour,
Honouring, and Practise (when used as a verb, Practice when used as a noun). Make it a challenge for your students to find these
words in the lesson and see if they know the alternate spellings.

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