Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Lesson Plan Ideas for Black History Month, Part 1

By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

As the month of February approaches, you may be searching for ways to create guided reading lessons that not only help struggling readers, but also engage students in important discussions that celebrate Black History Month. Today's blog post is the first of a three-part series that is intended to help you engage older students to read and write, as well as listen and speak, about important people during Black History Month. This blog-post series is also a great tool to encourage struggling readers to practice reading biographies at guided reading levels M–R. Let's get started with ways you can help students practice each language domain while they read Harriet Tubman: The Path to Freedom , which is a level M informational text from the Hameray Biography Series .

One of many benefits that comes with teaching students about Harriet Tubman is that they will develop an appreciation for what can happen when the importance of helping others becomes a priority. The story of her life can motivate your students to think critically about their roles in their communities after learning about a strong person who fought for freedom for all people. In the fifth grade, social studies focuses primarily on American history, which means you can use Harriet Tubman to help students achieve Common Core reading standards in class groups or guided reading groups.

Teach Reading Skills with a Biography

Standards recognize the importance of reteaching and providing chances to practice essential strategies for various grades, which is especially true with regard to vocabulary development for struggling readers. In order for students to make meaning of new vocabulary, you should provide them with many opportunities to use context clues, figurative language, and the glossary. You might also consider having kids write in journals to record new vocabulary. Try using the following prompts for kids to practice reading skills as they read Harriet Tubman .

  • Clarify the purpose of idioms by exploring the phrase  stand up to on page 13: I see the use of figurative language on page 13. Can anyone help us understand what type of figurative language is on this page? Why do you think the author decided to use this figurative language?
  • Simplify the root word in reasoned on page 17 to help students interpret multiple meanings: Does anyone see a base or root word on page 17? What affix has been added to it? Let's write another word or two in our journals
  • Discuss the helpfulness of a glossary: Where can we go to find a definition of a word? Why is there a table of contents? Why might rereading parts of the book help us to understand what conductor means on page 24?
  • Encourage students to search for context clues to understand  emancipation on page 28.

Improve Writing with a Biography

To teach students how to express their points of view on a topic with supporting details, you should start with a review of the definition of opinion . Then tell students that they will need to use their journals to collect details about Harriet Tubman's good deeds. You can use the following prompts to help your students collect information about Harriet Tubman:

  • Let’s go to page 24. Scan this page and find something special she did early in her life. When you find it, write the phrase from the text in your journal. Then look up when you have done so. Did you write a phrase like “helped her family”? Good!
  • Now turn to page 27 and reread quickly to find something else Harriet Tubman did. Let’s check your finding here. Did you write the words “joined Union army and became a nurse” in your journals? Great!
  • I will write page numbers 30 and 32 on the board. You will need to scan each page and add three more facts about Harriet Tubman in your journals.

After they have collected details in their journals from the text of Harriet Tubman , have students copy the following sentence in their journals: I learned the following things about Harriet Tubman. Explain that this will be a topic sentence in a paragraph about special things Harriet Tubman did. Model the process of using the first phrase from the rereading activity to write another sentence. Get ideas from the students about possible sentences for other details they collected in their journals. Then have students write more sentences to form a paragraph in their journals.

In another session, have your students work in pairs to reread the paragraphs they wrote. Encourage each pair to brainstorm character traits they feel helped Harriet Tubman do the things that they wrote about. After they've brainstormed, compile a list of their suggestions on the board. Then encourage them to open their journals to show them how to write another paragraph about Harriet Tubman's traits and reasons why she had those traits.

Practice Listening & Speaking for Oral Language Development

A fifth grade standard for listening and speaking requires students to present opinions orally. Events must be sequenced logically and contain appropriate facts and details that support students' understanding. The two paragraphs they wrote can be a good way for you to provide students with opportunities for oral language development. Try using the following script to provide a framework for a listening and speaking activity:

Today we are going to conclude our study of the life of Harriet Tubman. You are going to share the writing in your journals about the ways she helped people. Since you've written about your opinions regarding how she helped others and her character traits, you'll share your paragraphs with some of your neighbors. Can you share some things good listeners and speakers do? (Be sure the students include the desire for their audience to receive a message and respect others in the group.) You will now sit in groups of three to four and share your two paragraphs.

This activity will give you the opportunity to evaluate listening and speaking needs of your students while they demonstrate their reading comprehension of the life of Harriet Tubman. This also provides an opportunity for students to explore character traits that Tubman had that they might want to develop in their own lives.

Using the ideas shared will help the students understand the importance of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. All four of these are essential parts of testing standards and are attributes needed by proficient readers and writers. Your students will also leave the study with a new appreciation for Harriet Tubman if you choose to use this nonfiction book for kids during Black History Month.

Be sure to visit our blog soon because, in the next part of this three-part blog post series, I'll provide tips you can use to incorporate Barack Obama: Making History . This is a level P biography that can be a useful resource for you and your students during Black History Month or throughout the year.


Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog .