7 creative ways to mark Black History Month in your school

1 October 2020

A list of creative resources to support teachers in making the most of Black History Month, compiled by Marina Lewis-King and Salwa Rogers

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Black History Month is an opportunity to ensure that all young people, no matter their background, learn about Black history, the achievements of Black Britons and their contributions to British society. As David Olusoga said in the recent BBC series Black and British, “this is our national story, this is British history, it belongs to all of us.”

There are plenty of creative ways to engage with the month beyond school assemblies – we have put together a few suggestions alongside some useful resources below.

1. Use literacy to explore British history

Narratives of the African American experience and South African apartheid are important for young people to learn about, but it is equally important to learn about the experiences of Black people in Britain. One way to explore key events from history is through creative writing and poetry.

An event schools often choose to study is Windrush – you may have missed the day to mark it back in June if your school was closed, but there are lots of resources out there to help, such as these informative resources from the Black Cultural Archives to provide context, a range of creative ideas from Brent Museum & Archives, these writing ideas from The British Library, and this Royal Museums Greenwich resource that includes a spoken word activity.

The Black in the Day Instagram account is a submission based archive of black life in Britain - you could choose a selection to look at with pupils and practice visual literacy by reading the photos.

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Notting Hill Carnival • 1990. That year, @ebonysteelband had finished 2nd at the Panorama Steel Band Competition. No worries though, they went on to win the competition 9x in a row ? Catch them on a special episode of #NS10v10 tomorrow on @theresnosignal

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To find other events as inspiration for creative writing, and to link to existing history or geography units, online tools you might find useful are Boukman Academy, a pan-African online school, and Black Past which includes a list of short descriptions of major events that have contributed to the shaping of global African history, including the UK.

2. Celebrate the achievements of Black Britons

Instead of simply sharing a short biography of a person with your class, you could challenge them to do their own research and put together a creative fact-file, or use drama to role-play key events and hot-seat as individuals. The Black History Month website is a useful tool for information and profiles on a variety of people and events. This year they have created a resource pack including posters, worksheets and teaching notes.

The Black Curriculum have learning packages and some free resources for KS2 and KS3 which focus on some notable figures such as Lilian Bader and Fanny Eaton, and include an animation with prompts for pupils to respond to, from portrait drawing to poetry.

You can find video and sound profiles of some notable figures on the BBC along with creative activities and ideas. For example, why not use this video about Victorian Showman Pablo Fanque to inspire performances in P.E? Or have a go at designing and writing your own show advertisements?

Also keep an eye on our Create Jobs site where we will be profiling the work of young creatives from our employability programmes, as well as work from other creative industry partners.

3. Use resources which include Black people and their stories

As an ex-teacher myself, I know how easy it is to fall back on the tried and tested storybooks in the reading corner, or the films you watch in English. But this Black History Month could be an opportunity to assess whether your list of texts are as inclusive as they can be, and for you to discover more diverse resources for your classroom across the curriculum where you could learn, for example, about Black scientists such as Maggie Aderin-Pocock or Katherine Johnson or Black designers like Jessica Bellamy or Ozwald Boateng.

Puffin have lists of books for teaching Black history along with empowering stories, and The National Literacy Trust has collated lists of texts that exemplify the principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

This list by Into Film aims to highlight the range and diversity of Black filmmaking talent, both on screen and behind the camera. With additional info on age ranges, length, and synopsis, you could use it to choose your next visual literacy text, and many of the suggestions have linked Into Film resources to get you started.

In music lessons you could explore calypso music in Britain, the history of blues and rag time, the context of Notting Hill Carnival, learn reggae or listen to some Highlife.

4. See (or take part in!) a show, exhibition or performance

A trip in person might not be possible at this stage in the year, but a virtual one could be – or you might choose to plan one for the future.

The Black Cultural Archives in Brixton has an online version of their exhibition Breaking Barriers about the journeys of pioneering Black British women who have overcome adversity, with oral history interviews accompanied by a portrait photograph.

You could watch an online show – such as Pegasus Opera’s virtual concert ‘Legacy and Hope’ inspired by music from the Caribbean diaspora. It will feature professional opera singers of Caribbean heritage, emerging artists from diverse backgrounds, two London schools, and their community choir.

Dance Days are offering workshops both in school and online to explore dances from Africa, which could work for P.E or outside of classroom learning.

It is also worth noting this recent report by the National Trust outlining their commitment to ensuring that the direct and indirect links to colonialism and historic slavery in many of their properties are properly represented and shared. You may want to consider a virtual ‘trip’ to an establishment where you could address some of these issues.

5. Search LookUp for more resources

Our online LookUp platform allows teachers to quickly and easily browse schools programmes, events, resources and opportunities from London’s arts & cultural sector, and refine results based on Key Stage, artform and more.

Recently, we've specifically asked organisations to add resources, programmes and events relating to Black History Month. Check out the Black History Month tag on the site to browse relevant content.

If you know of a resource or event that isn’t isn't currently listed which you’d like to share with other teachers, please do get in touch.

6. Discuss the Black Lives Matter Movement

Black History Month is a time to focus on parts of history which are often over-looked, and the recent Black Lives Matter protests – particularly surrounding events in the USA – are not just linked to our history but are an example of history in the making. This October could be the moment to set aside time to make sure your pupils have had a chance to understand what is happening and why.

You will likely have already started or continued conversations with your students following the recent news coverage, and tools such as Newsround are helpful for fact sharing, while creative activities can support young people in expressing their responses to it.

One creative way to address Black Lives Matter is through Votes for Schools – where subjects are set in a framework that encourages children and young people to express their opinions. They currently have free resources for KS1 (‘Should you stand up for other people?’) and KS2 (‘Will the recent anti-racism protests lead to change in the US?’).

Serpentine Galleries’ poetry resource from their Cracks in the Curriculum workshops aims to open up a space for teachers and students to talk about race and racism in the classroom, with exercises in exploring the principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Show Racism the Red Card offer training, workshops and activities to educate young people about the causes and consequences of racism – including some online teacher modules.

7. Make sure Black history isn’t confined to a month

Black History Month can be an opportunity for educators to make a conscious decision to go further in diversifying the curriculum for the whole of the academic year. As a start there are small things, which many teachers are already doing, which can make a difference to supporting inclusivity in the classroom – such as making sure all ethnicities are represented in photos, artwork or pictures used in resources across all subjects, all year round. Any of the Black History Month resources or activities in this blog, or elsewhere, can be taught year-round, not only in October.

This Guardian article by Lola Okolosie outlines three ways for UK schools to improve their race relations now, and BLAM UK offer resources and training for educators wishing to learn how to embed black British cultural heritage and African and Afro-Caribbean histories into their everyday teaching.


Broadening the curriculum – what next...

At A New Direction we are currently working on ways to support educators to diversify the curriculum further to include individuals and communities currently underrepresented in our National Curriculum, including those who identify as Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity, disabled or working class.

This is an ongoing piece of work that we anticipate will take some time, however we hope to share some practical activities and ideas with you soon – sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date. For any artists interested in collaborating with us on this, we will also be sharing details of how to express interest later this month.