Lessons about Black history should never be limited to a single month. However, Black History Month can provide an opportunity to dig deeper into these stories. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of classroom discussion resources for Black History Month that you might find useful this February — and throughout the year.
If your curriculum doesn’t include topics related to Black history, you can still consider holding classroom discussions like the ones listed below to help expose students to different perspectives, develop a culture of civil discourse in your classroom, and activate critical thinking skills in history lessons to consider Black history’s place within American history.
Discussion topics about Black art: literature and music
The theme for Black History Month 2024 is “African Americans and the Arts.” Celebrate the rich cultural contributions of Black Americans with these discussion topics on Black literature and music.
Who contributed the most to founding rock music?
Black artists have often been at the forefront of musical innovations that have changed the world — from jazz to rock and roll, disco to hip-hop.
However, sometimes their contributions were not properly acknowledged. Should Elvis Presley have ever been dubbed the “King of Rock and Roll”? Or should that title have gone to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, or the electric guitar virtuoso Sister Rosetta Tharpe? Reclaim the history of rock’s roots with this discussion topic!
Does Their Eyes Were Watching God advance a feminist worldview?
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a classic work of the Harlem Renaissance: The flourishing of Black cultural production in 1920s and ‘30s New York. Like Zora Neale Hurston herself, the book is complex, layered, and surprising.
This discussion asks whether the novel advances a feminist worldview, and encourages students to cite evidence, draw inferences, and apply a critical lens to this story of race and gender in the Jim Crow South.
Like Hurston, Langston Hughes is synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance. Poems such as “Let America Be America Again” speak to a difficult relationship between the promise and reality of America. Explores these themes by leading students in a discussion on whether Hughes’ poetry was more praising or critical of America.
Is Go Tell It On the Mountain an antireligious novel?
James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain is filled to the brim with religious allegory and biblical allusions.
But do these literary references — and the protagonist’s experience of religion — coalesce to portray religious faith in a more positive or negative light? Bring students’ perspectives to this ongoing literary debate by asking whether Baldwin’s masterpiece should be understood as an antireligious novel.
Discussion topics and class resources to teach the civil rights movement
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s is a common topic of study during Black History Month. And yet, it is often taught via simplistic narratives that paint a just-so picture of this tumultuous era. Use these classroom discussion resources to encourage deeper engagement with the history of the civil rights movement.
Was Rosa Parks’s bus protest the most important factor in advancing the civil rights movement?
Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat to a White passenger — and her subsequent arrest — is an iconic moment in the struggle for equal rights for Black citizens in the United States.
In some retellings of that history, Parks’s actions are the single most important factor in the explosion of protest that brought about real change. But is that an oversimplification? This discussion asks students to analyze different interpretations of history and the crucial factors behind social change. You can further extend this activity into a discussion on the ethics of breaking unjust laws.
Has the popular memory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism been sanitized?
Today, Martin Luther King Jr. is universally lauded as a heroic figure for his tireless work toward racial justice. But Dr. King was not just a campaigner for equality for Black Americans — he was also a staunch critic of both capitalism and US military actions overseas. Have these more radical stances from King been airbrushed out of popular memory?
Students can research and analyze a selection of King’s speeches and writings to practice primary source literacy. For a discussion that asks students to reflect on a close reading of a text, have students read passages from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and consider whether King’s criticism of the White moderate is fair.
Was violence justified to fight injustice during the civil rights movement?
While King and many other prominent civil rights leaders advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve equality, violent protests were not uncommon. Were such protests a justifiable response to the injustice that Black people faced?
This discussion requires students to work through both the ethical and practical considerations of violence as a tool to fight injustice during the civil rights movement. You can extend this theme — and draw connections to the Black Lives Matter movement — by asking which is more important: justice or peace?
Carter G. Woodson — whose efforts eventually led to the creation of Black History Month — believed that teaching Black history would bring about a positive change in society. Continue his vision by relating Black history to present issues of racial injustice with these discussion resources.
Should the US government pay monetary reparations to Black Americans?
You can have students map out the key ideas and evaluate the reasoning around this debate by analyzing Ta-Nehisi Coates’s influential essay “The Case for Reparations.” This discussion can also be edited to suit contexts outside the US, or paired with an exploration of reparations in an international setting.
Should we remove statues of problematic historical figures?
How we remember and preserve history says a lot about the present. This discussion on whether statues of problematic figures should be removed explores historical preservation and legacy within the context of the ongoing debate about the removal of Confederate monuments.
Make this topic more concrete for students by having them research Confederate monuments in their locality using this interactive map, or tie this into a historical analysis of the post-Civil War era by asking whether Reconstruction should have been harsher on the former Confederacy.
Do schools have an obligation to teach about racial inequality?
In history lessons, students often learn about the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that desegregated schools and profoundly changed public education in America. Draw connections between the education system of the past and present by having students discuss whether today’s schools have an obligation to teach about racial injustice.
Encourage students to reflect upon the transformation of social structures and to evaluate the role of education in reducing or exacerbating racial inequities.
Black history is American history, and Black History Month can serve as a time to assess students’ understanding of Black history, as well as for educators and school administrators to review how Black history is integrated across the curriculum.
If you have used Kialo Edu to hold discussions on topics connected to Black history or have an idea for a Topic Template to add to our library, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out to us on any of our social media platforms, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.