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CNN Student News Learning Activities: Black History Month

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  • Students will learn about the history, culture and achievements of African-Americans
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Use these activities to encourage your students to learn about and appreciate the history, culture and achievements of African-Americans.

1. A Milestone in U.S. History

Remind students that they recently witnessed a truly historical event: the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American U.S. president. Ask students: What will you remember most about this milestone? What do you want future generations to know about it? Challenge students to write letters to future young Americans, describing President Obama's inauguration and its significance for all Americans. Combine the letters into a book or create a video of students reading their letters. Present the book or recording to your school's historian or media specialist for archiving.

2. Covering Black History

Ask students: What if CNN correspondents had been on the scene to record key moments in black history for the entire world to see? Organize students into small teams of reporters, and have each team select a time period in American history and a key figure or event that helped to define that time period for African-Americans. Then, have students imagine that CNN was there to cover the historical figure or event. Ask: How do you think that CNN reporters might have covered these stories? For example, reporters might have conducted interviews, gathered footage of key events, produced stories on the events or people or had newsmakers as guests on live programs. Encourage the teams to write scripts for news stories on their historical figures and events. After students have presented their scripts, have them compare their reports to eyewitness accounts and local newspaper reports that were written at the time.

3. Harlem Renaissance

Inform students that during the 1920s and 1930s, an African-American cultural movement occurred in the United States that was known as the Harlem Renaissance. It was a literary, musical and artistic explosion that was born in Harlem, New York, and it had a profound impact on African-American culture and on the U.S. as a whole. Have your class host a Harlem Renaissance cultural fair. Direct students to online resources to learn about some of the great artists, writers and musicians who were part of the renaissance and their contributions to this cultural movement. Some of these individuals include:

• Marian Anderson

• Countee Cullen

• Langston Hughes

• Zora Neale Hurston

• Lena Horne

• Billie Holiday

• Duke Ellington

• Count Basie

• Louis Armstrong

• Charles Sidney Gilpin

Have each student select one of these African-American artists and design a display that tells about the life and times of the artist and the importance of his or her work. Invite guests from your school and community to attend the exhibit. Have students serve as "roaming curators" to instruct and interest guests in the Harlem Renaissance and the creative works of these great African-Americans.

4. Profiles in Black History

Do your students show a personal interest in science, music, politics, theater, sports or education? Inspire them to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans by having them write profiles of African-Americans in the categories that interest them. For example, a budding young scientist might choose to profile the inventor of the ironing board, the lawn mower or the space shuttle retrieval arm, all of whom were/are African-Americans. Direct your students to online and print resources, and have them conduct research on their chosen individuals. Then, encourage students to write proposals to have their selected persons commemorated in new postage stamps. Students should accompany their proposals with designs for the stamps. In their presentations, students should try to convince classmates why their profiled persons should have a stamp created in their name. Post the designs around the classroom.

5. Local African-American History

Valuable lessons in black history may be found just a few steps away in the stories and documents that can be found in local libraries, historical organizations, universities or colleges and online. Encourage students to venture out into the community to investigate the history and contributions of black Americans in their city or town. Students might choose to use milestones in black history as a way to organize their research, gathering information on how those events impacted the community and its residents. They may also decide to profile influential black community members. Have students invite community members to a celebration of local black history.

6. Black History Museum

Celebrate black history by creating plans for a local Black History Museum. First, have students decide where the museum should be housed. Suggestions might include a school or local library, an exhibit in an existing history museum or perhaps a virtual online museum. Next, discuss how the museum should be organized. Students may choose to categorize the content by theme, by specific time periods, by specific dates, by people or by local landmarks. Then, challenge students to consider what people, events or contributions to include in their Black History Museum. Ask: Will the museum be interactive? Will it offer multimedia elements? What messages or lessons do you want visitors to take away from the exhibits?

7. Not Just for February

Inform students that, while Dr. Carter G. Woodson chose the month of February to recognize the accomplishments of African-Americans, black history can be celebrated all year long. Challenge students to create year-long calendars or timelines that highlight the contributions of African-American newsmakers, illustrate key events in black history and encourage an ongoing celebration of black culture.

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