Celebrate Black History Month with Fishtank ELA

January 31, 2024

Black History Month provides an opportunity for students to focus on Black voices, stories, and experiences throughout history during the month of February. While Fishtank ELA centers Black voices in our curriculum year round, we know it can be particularly impactful to dedicate this time to these stories. To help you make the most of this opportunity, we’ve collected some of our favorite texts and units to teach for Black History Month.


Elementary School Highlights

Across the elementary ELA curriculum, students build their knowledge of Black history through exploring key events, leaders, and changemakers. 

Students begin their exploration of the civil rights movement and African American history in kindergarten with the unit What is Justice? Students will learn how communities came together to organize and stand up to injustice, including how Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.’s influential leadership influenced and inspired others to fight for change. This unit sets the foundation for students to further explore Black changemakers in the 1st Grade unit Movements for Equality

The Movements for Equality unit uses narrative nonfiction to develop students’ knowledge of multiple movements for equality including the women’s rights, civil rights, and disability rights movements. Students learn about trailblazing individuals including Shirley Chisholm, Kamala Harris, Clara Luper, and Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah.

Elementary texts from the Movements for Equality and What is Justice? units

In 2nd grade, students continue their dive into nonfiction in the biography-based People Who Changed the World unit. Students are introduced to the lives, contributions, and legacies of Black changemakers like Charles Henry Turner, Wangari Muta Maathai, and Barack Obama. In 3rd grade, students are introduced to the power of oral storytelling in African American culture through folktales that have been passed down within families and communities for generations in the unit Passing Down Wisdom.

Elementary texts from the People Who Changed the World unit

Based on the foundation they have built in previous years, 4th grade students deepen their knowledge and understanding of American history and the civil rights movement. In the unit Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, students read about and discuss United States history, from slavery to the civil rights movement, grappling with the discrimination and broken promises that African Americans faced. In 5th grade, students shift the lens through which they explore the civil rights movement to focus on the young people that lived through it in the unit Young Heroes: Children of the Civil Rights Movement. Students will analyze firsthand accounts and photographs to explore the relationships between historical events and individuals in context.

Elementary texts from the Heart and Soul unit and Young Heroes unit

Middle and High School Highlights

As students engage with more complex texts in middle and high school, they continue to explore the lives and experiences of Black Americans, both in modern and historical contexts. 6th grade students begin their yearlong exploration of the topic “coming of age” with Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham. Through this novel—and the additional supporting materials including poems, nonfiction articles, and audio interviews—students learn what life was like for African Americans during the 1960s and the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. 

The 7th grade course guides students to deeply consider what it means to be an American and, through this lens, students read Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. This classic play, and the supporting materials in the Pursuing Dreams unit, encourages students to consider how race can shape a person’s identity. Additionally, students learn about the Great Migration and the history of housing discrimination against African-Americans in the United States.

Middle school texts from the Developing Resilience and Pursuing Dreams units

In 8th grade, students are challenged to consider whether humans are fundamentally good or evil through discussing a variety of texts and historical events. The year begins with the unit Facing Prejudice, centered around the core text All American Boys and supporting text Flying Lessons, which allows students to discuss racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. It is our hope that students will feel better equipped to meaningfully engage with issues of racial injustice in their own lives after engaging with this unit.

Middle school texts from the Facing Prejudice unit

In high school, students explore the theme of racial injustice as it relates to power and otherness. This begins in 9th grade where students use a variety of texts to unpack the development and impact of personal identity. The first unit of the year, Me, Myself, and I: Examining Personal Identity in Short Texts, encourages students to consider how race, among other factors, impact how people view themselves and how others view them in society. Later in the course, students use the core text The Central Park Five to begin to explore the ways in which power dynamics have impacted Black Americans. Additionally, students begin to develop a feminist lens within this unit that sets the foundation for their 10th grade study of Toni Morrison’s Sula

In the 10th grade Feminism and Self Respect unit, students discuss what it means to have self-respect and how both race and gender influence a person’s identity through reading the core text Sula. In addition to Sula, which many consider to be one of the first Black feminist novels in the United States, supplemental essays, poems, and short stories help students uncover how race and societal expectations influence a woman’s lived experiences.

High School texts: The Central Park Five, Sula, Feminism is for Everybody

Stay up to date with timely texts and ideas for engaging students year round on the Fishtank Blog and our social media accounts. We want to know how you’re elevating Black voices and experiences this month! Tell us your favorite texts to teach and activities for Black History Month.

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