Black History Month – Middle School

Showing “Courage in the face of Racism” is a central idea that can be applied to nonfiction, historical fiction, images, video and more when exploring the plight of the African American.  I have taught middle school ELA for many years, and the history and struggle of the African American is a sensitive subject, and can often be confusing for students.  The time period that I like to focus on is the century between the end of the Civil War and Civil Rights movement.  Students are often unaware of the struggles that African Americans still faced after slavery was abolished, but before the Civil Rights movement.  After many years, I’ve adapted the idea of showing “Courage in the face of Racism” to learn about the African American throughout history.

First, I use a list of words that can be categorized as a “courageous” word or a “racist” word.  I assign an individual word to each student and they become the “expert” on their word throughout the lessons.  Using historical fiction, articles, a webquest and a reader’s theater, this topic is explored.  Click here for a free PowerPoint presentation of the words that I use for this unit.

Second, I use Mildred D. Taylor historical fiction pieces to give  accourage-precurate examples of an African American living in the South during the Great Depression.  Click here to view the unit in its entirety or click on the picture to the left.  This was a time of economic struggle and discrimination.  The students are able to see how courage was needed to fight and stand up for basic human rights.  The excerpts in the unit are taken from “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and “The Gold Cadillac”.  They are also found in the book 101 Read Aloud Classics.  As Mildred D. Taylor celebrated her 40th anniversary, her book covers have been recently updated.  Click here or on the picture to see the article.  roll

Next, I use article from  You do need an account to access these articles, but it is free to use.  Here are the links below:

Slavery in the North

Front of the Bus is an excellent site to find informational text.  You can search by subject, grade level, or Lexile level.

I also like to incorporate technology whenever possible.  Because seventh grade studeimg_0319nts find this century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement so confusing, I created a simple virtual field trip that gives and overview of the time period.  I use this on
Google Classroom and ask simple questions about the content of the slides, video links and images within the field trip.  The Virtual field trip can be found in the “Courage in the face of Racism” unit above, or in my “Song of the Trees” unit which is available here.

“Song of the Trees” is a short novella which can be used as an extension to this unit, or on its own.  The book describes the white men trying to take advantage of the Logan family while the father is away working because of the Great Depression.  It touches on “courage in the face of racism”, protecting the environment, and paints a true picture of the economic struggles and prejudice at this time in American History.  I use it with my seventh graders, but could be used effectively for grades 4-6 as well.

Lastly, I try and incorporate poetry into the unit as well.  Langston Hughes is probably the most prominent African American poet during the Great Depression.  The unit includes a reader’s theater where the biography of Langston Hughes is acted out and students are called to explain how “their word” is once again exemplified in the piece.

My entire Langston Hughes unit can be found here.

This unit is BRAND new and has not yet been rated.  It is currently at a discounted price, so check it out as this price will be going up soon!  It includes “I, too, Sing America”, “Poem”, “April Rain Song”, “Mother to Son”, “Harlem” and “Dreams”.  This unit also includes the reader’s theater of Langston Hughes, as mentioned above.

Finally, “A Long Walk to Water” is the perfect middle school book to use to study Black History Month.  Especially during this political time where refugees are being banned from Sudan, this unit touches it all.  Please click on the photo below to read my blog post on this incredible unit.



A Long Walk to Water – Activities

The book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is one of the best books I’ve ever taught!  I teach this book to my seventh grade students and each year it gets better. You can check out my complete unit HERE!

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I roughly follow the NYS Module for the book, but I have so many wonderful experiences to share.  Here is a BUNDLE of PRINTABLES for the unit.  water center

Here are some ideas to enhance this book and make it completely awesome!

  1.  Teach an author study about Linda Sue Park!  Check out my entire unit HERE!


2.  Take your students on a field trip to meet Linda Sue Park!!


3.  Create a timeline of the events in the novel.  Check out student work here:


4.  Personification!  Explore the figurative language in the book!persontn


5.  Create your own Walk for Water!  Raise money for Salva’s organization Water for South Sudan Inc.





Niagara Falls – Taking a field trip or implementing a virtual field trip

This summer, I had the unique opportunity to explore Niagara Falls and all the beauty is had to offer.  I was truly overwhelmed.  Even though I live and work within a 20 minute drive of the Falls, I rarely get the opportunity to take time to explore the area.  As a middle school educator, I kept thinking – WHAT A GREAT FIELD TRIP!  If you can’t make a visit to the falls, check out this Niagara Falls mini-unit plan that will bring you an your students a little closer!

For those who might have the opportunity, there is so much to do on both the American and Canadian sides of the Falls.  Since we toured the American side, I’ll let you know about its highlights.

First, is the Cave of the Winds tour.  This takes place off Goat Island, beside the Falls.  It gives the visitor the opportunity to walk next to, and at times, almost directly underneath the falls, feeling its power. See the visitor’s link here.

cave of the windsPan Am 320Pan Am 324

Next, we took a trip on the Maid of the Mist.  This is a boat ride that departs off the base Terrapin Station and takes you to the base of both the American and Canadian Falls.  It is truly beautiful.  Here is the link.

They do sell a 5 pack for admission to a trolley tour, walk out onto the pier, and a movie, but both of these activities can be time consuming and are NOT TO BE MISSED.

Pan Am 360Pan Am 372Pan Am 376Pan Am 389

However, I know it is impossible for some schools to visit Niagara Falls.  So, I have created a unit to meet NYS CCLS and engage themselves with the historical context and power of Niagara Falls.  Please use these photographs in your lesson (free to use even commercially).

How Niagara Falls Helped Light America!

Historical Context: 1901 – Buffalo Pan Am Exposition. Students will learn how hydroelectric power generated from Niagara Falls amazed America when Buffalo was the “City of Light” and center of America’s progress in electricity.

Time frame: 3 lessons – In this three day lesson, the students will complete a close reading activity on a piece of informational text to learn about the history of hydroelectric power. They will use the information from this article to form an opinion defending the industrialist or preservationist during this time. Then, they will complete a virtual field trip on iPads, where they will observe and study different locations that were essential in hydroelectric power. Finally, their assessment with be a writing activity of their choice.

Subjects: ELA, Social Studies, Science

Students will have the opportunity to work cooperatively to answer “right there” and inferential questions based on a piece of informational text. Use iPads to explore Niagara Falls in 1901 utilizing a QR Code activity, and complete a RAFT writing task of their choice for assessment. Photographs are original, taken July 2015 that can be uploaded into a PowerPoint presentation to enhance lesson.

Here is a picture of the hydroelectric power plants that remain today:

Pan Am 392

More photographs available HERE

I have many related activities available centered around Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition.  Here is a freebie of a QR activity relating to the Children of the Pan.

I also have task cards and a QR Code Scavenger Hunt dealing with different aspects of the Pan American Exposition, including Niagara Falls.  However, the Pan An Exposition is another blog entirely.  More on that to come in the near future including:    Louise Bethune – first female architect
Pan Am – photography as art
Forest Lawn Cemetery
Children of the Pan
Buffalo’s Millionaire’s Row
The Darwin Martin House
US Presidents – Cleveland, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt

Follow this blog for exciting, interactive ideas, activities and lesson plans designed for middle/high school.  My husband and I are social studies and ELA teachers respectively and have a combined 38 years of experience!  Have a great school year.