Black History in the ELA Classroom


Black History in the ELA Classroom 

Written by Rikki Carter

I was never taught Black history when I was in middle school. In fact, the Black history that I did know I researched and discovered on my own as an adult well into her twenties. As a first year teacher in 2014, I knew that I didn’t want that for my students, so I made a conscious decision that I would be ever so intentional with what I taught my 7th graders throughout the school year, and especially during Black History Month, about historical Black figures that have shaped our world in incredible ways. 

Where do I start? Research. 

As I said before, as a Black woman in America, I was never taught Black history growing up, so how was I going to teach my students about historical Black figures that I didn’t know about? Well, it was simple--I researched. 

As teachers, we know that all learning starts with an essential question. My learning started with the question, “Who are historical Black figures in America?” It then progressed to, “Who are historical Black figures in the world?” I quickly realized that my learning was infinite. 

Teachers must always remember that they are, first and foremost, students. If I wanted to learn about Black history, my history, I had to pull up the good and faithful Google and discover for myself what my teachers failed to teach me growing up. With a simple Google search, my unknown Black history popped up on my computer screen with force and certainty. Link after link, article after article, video after video, photo after photo, revealed what I never knew, but was now discovering. In my research I learned about powerful women, such as Angela Davis, Marian Anderson, and Zora Neale Hurston. I learned about great men, such as Nelson Mandela, Frederick Douglas, and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. As they say, knowledge is power. I was now able to teach my students about these historical Black figures because I equipped myself with knowledge of their great achievements. 

Will I have to discuss potentially awkward topics, such as racism, slavery, and segregation? Yes. 

What I have learned in talking with my colleagues over the past 7 years is that many of them shy away from teaching Black history because this then forces them to teach about the three dreaded words: racism, slavery, segregation. In researching Black history, you will find that many of these historical figures experienced overwhelming racism, dealt with segregation, and their inventions, accolades, and achievements were stolen by their White counterparts. Is this uncomfortable to discuss? Absolutely! Should we discuss it anyways? Absolutely.

As awkward as these conversations may be, they need to be had. And what I have come to realize is, our students are largely more knowledgeable about equity, equality, and social justice than we give them credit for. In teaching this Black history in full, not shying away from the harsh realities, you are affording your students the real truth and knowledge of our history as a nation. 

As your students are researching and learning about these historical figures for themselves, they will learn, for example, that Marian Anderson was banned from performing opera at Constitution Hall simply because she was a Black woman. But they will also learn that first lady Eleanor Rooselvelt stood with Anderson against this blatant racism, opening the doors for her to perform for thousands in front of the Lincoln Memorial in protest of the indescribable racism in America. 

Your students will learn that yes, racism and segregation is a huge part of many of these Black historical figures’ stories, but their tenacity, their vigor, their determination, did not falter. Through these historical figures they will not only learn right from wrong, justice from injustice, and love from hate, they will also learn what it means to be relentless in their pursuits. 

What about resistant parents? Get them involved!

I have taught in both Title I public schools with a large Black and Hispanic population, as well as a public school in a very affluent area of my city with majority white students. I have never, in my 7 years of teaching, experienced a parent resistant to my Black History Month lessons or projects. Why is that? Because this is our history. It is not my opinions, my views, my outlook of situations--these are facts and were the realities of these historically Black figures’ lives. 

Also, I would encourage ELA teachers to let their lessons or projects be exploratory for their students, allowing them to choose the historical figures they would like to know more about. Giving students a choice and voice in what they want to learn, closes any doors for resistant parents. 

You can also get parents involved by including them in the learning! In the current climate of our world, we are all on a journey of learning when it comes to social justice issues. Allowing the parents of your students to learn alongside their children, discovering new information about the historical Black figures of our world, creates connections between your students and their parents, as well as gets parents involved in the happenings of your classroom. 

What if I don’t know the answers to questions? That’s okay! 

If you don’t know the answers to every question your student asks about a historical Black figure, then guess what that means? You’re human! I certainly don’t know every historical Black figure that ever existed, and I make it very clear to my students that I am learning right alongside them. This has created so much excitement in my classroom because they get to teach me new things! It’s an incredible feeling to walk around my classroom and hear, “Ms. Carter, did you know this….?” and, “Ms. Carter, did you know that...?” You have now created an environment of learning that is reciprocal. You teach them, and they teach you. What a beautiful thing. 

Next Steps. Look to those who have done it before. 

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and guidance of mentor teachers who have gone before me and figured out the “tough stuff.” Same is true with this. If you’re still unsure of your next steps in creating a Black History Month unit of study for your ELA students, look to those who have done it before. 

There are tons of Black History resources, including my Women of Black History Month Bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers, that will take your students on a journey of discovery as they read, research, and learn new information about historical Black figures that have changed the trajectory of those who came after them. 

Remember, this is a part of history. Research it, learn it, embrace it, teach it. 

Thanks for reading,

Rikki Carter

Instagram: @Widlflower_Classroom,

Teachers Pay Teachers: The Wildflower Classroom

Show, Don't Tell: Strategies for Improving Student Writing

Your students have just handed in a creative writing assignment, and you can’t help but notice that they have delivered a basic chronological overview of the plot.  You're disappointed in the lack of detailed description that allows you to experience and visualize the story.  

So, you might be wondering, how do you teach your students to replace a basic summary of events with detailed, sensory writing that draws the reader into the story?  

To put it simply, you teach them how to show, not tell.  

The strategy of showing vs. telling isn't one that comes naturally to all writers, but it is one that can be taught.  

Below is a breakdown of how I help students show rather than tell in their own writing:

1. Start with a Quote Analysis 

I typically introduce this strategy to student by having them examine a quote by Anton Chekhov that encapsulates the spirit of the showing vs. telling strategy.  

"Don't tell me the moon is shining. 

Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov  

This quote will pique their interest before you even introduce the strategy.  Ask students to explain the meaning of the quote and how it might relate to writing.  I also like to circle back to this quote at the end of the lesson to see if it holds more significance after students have an understanding of showing vs. telling. 

2. Examine the Difference Between Showing and Telling 

For students to wrap their heads around the showing vs. telling strategy, you'll want to explicitly make the difference between these them very clear.  They will need to see it in action in order to emulate it in their own writing. 

Below are the definitions that I provide to students: 


When you show the reader what is happening or how a character feels, you are allowing them to engage their own imagination. You are painting a picture with your words to allow the reader to connect with the story. They will almost be able to smell, taste, touch, see, and hear what the characters are experiencing.


When you are only telling the reader what is happening, what a character is doing, or how they are feeling, it does not fully allow your reader to feel truly connected and engaged with the events and characters in the story. 

Once students have a grasp on the difference between the writing strategies, you'll want to follow up with lots of examples of this strategy in action.   This easily allows them to see the power of the strategy and they will naturally begin to apply it to their own writing.  Here is an example you can share with your students: 

Telling: She was scared of the dog.

Showing: When she saw the dog approaching, her knees buckled, her plum cheeks turned ghost white, and her hands clutched the metal railing so tightly that she practically needed the jaws of life to pry them off.

You might consider having students close their eyes as you read sentences to them and ask them to visualize your words.  This will further  illustrate the power of showing in engaging the reader.

3. Model the Process with your Students

Another powerful way to drive the message home is by modelling the process for your students by writing a basic ‘telling’ sentence on the board and working your way through improving it.

I would highly recommend doing this without preparation by starting with a simple sentence and letting students observe the challenges you encounter as you are working to improve it. Let them see you taking time to reflect, making mistakes, and changing your mind as you go along, etc. It’s important for them to witness the very real, very human struggle that often accompanies the creative writing process. Demonstrating this in real time without preparation will give students permission to be imperfect themselves! 

You could even have each student contribute a basic ‘telling’ sentence on a small slip of paper. After collecting them, you would then pick one out of the hat and model the process of making it a ‘showing’ sentence to the class.

4. Share Specific Strategies for Students to Use

Help students improve this skill by sharing some specific strategies that they can use to improve showing in their writing.  Below are three they can use: 

Examining the 5 Senses: 
Before students begin the writing process, have them complete a graphic organizer that includes a space for each of the 5 senses.  Have them consider their topic and the events of their story and how they can improve setting, character, or plot descriptions by bringing in more imagery. 

Not all senses work for all stories, but have them consider each.  What sights might they encounter?  What textures and sensations might they be experiencing? What sounds are they hearing? Are there are any taste or smell elements that make sense to include? This is a great way to start off on the right foot, so students are entering the writing process with showing already at the forefront. 

Using Figurative Language
Teach students how they can use figurative language like metaphor, simile, personification, or onomatopoeia to improve their descriptions and showing in their writing.  For example, you might say “A white blanket covered our town while we slept,” rather than simply saying, "It snowed last night." 

Using dialogue, interior monologue, body language, and actions
Teach students how they can relay information about character traits by avoiding stating them directly using the character's words, body language, and actions.  Instead of saying that is a character is untrustworthy, for example, you could show it in an action they take (stealing something - telling a secret) or in something they say.   A writer can reveal a lot about a character in this way.  As another example, instead of saying that a character is insecure, a writer could demonstrate that she is, based on an interior monologue, her body language, or through a conversation with another character.  Teach students to give credit to their reader that they will be able to infer character traits without having to be told directly.

4. Give Scaffolded Opportunities for Practice 

Learning something new can be intimidating for the best of us, and it’s no different for students. It's important that you scaffold by easing students into independence with practicing this strategy. Just like it’s ideal to get a child used to riding their bike with training wheels before unleashing them to do it on their own, it’s a good idea to ease students into the showing vs. telling strategy before taking off their proverbial training wheels. Introduce the concept, provide plenty of examples and work for them to practice with before cutting them loose to try it independently.  

Use the activities below to ease students into writing using the showing strategy: 

Examining pre-written sentences

Have students examine short pre-written examples. This takes the pressure off, but still allows them to examine the difference between the two strategies.   I do this by adding a fun spin where the correct answers reveal a mystery word.

Partner Practice

Once students have a solid grasp on the concept and have examined some sentences of showing in action, they’ll be ready to practice with a partner. A simple but effective way to do this is by having one person write a basic ‘telling’ sentence, which the other person has to improve upon by making it a ‘showing’ sentence. 

Exploring Other Authors 

Have students pick a book off the shelf and find sentences or paragraphs that show and sentences that tell.  Then, have them rewrite each of those sentences so that they do the opposite. Grab this free activity here. 

Scripted Sensory Sketch

One of my favorite ways to have students practice showing vs. telling in their writing is with a scripted sensory sketch assignment like the one I use hereStudents will secretly be given a visual photo prompt.  They complete a 5 senses assignment to gather words to describe the photo, and proceed to write a paragraph using the showing strategy. When they are done the paragraph, they give it to their partner to draw what was described in writing.  In the end, they can compare their drawing to the original image.  It’s a fun way for students to immerse themselves in the showing vs. telling strategy, and refine their skills based on how someone else visualized their description.

I hope these suggestions help give your students the confidence to implement this strategy in their own writing.    

Find all the resources you need to teach this strategy in digital and print format here.

Resources and Tips to Start a New Semester

A new year is here and so is a new semester! There are so many great things to having a fresh start in terms of a new calendar year, but also new students and classes. On this post, a few of our bloggers are sharing some tips and resources to help you ensure the transition to a new semester is as smooth as possible.

Resource and Tip #1 from Room 213

Building a classroom community is so much harder when students are learning from home, but it's so important that we do it. You may not be able to do your usual getting to know you activities, but you can get your kids to create a slide or a video that they can use to introduce themselves to you and the class. 

Then, you can create a scavenger hunt based on what your students give you: Which student has a black belt in Karate? Who has lived in South America? Whose student's favorite book is Lord of the Rings? It's not the same as the ice breakers you might use if they are in front of you, but students do enjoy this activity.

If you'd like a resource that is all ready to go for this activity, just click HERE. And, you

can check out Jackie's Back-to-School Digital Stations if you'd like an activity that helps you get to know your students while they find out about the expectations of your course.


Resource and Tip #2 from The Classroom Sparrow

Digital learning has not only taken over the way we teach, but it might possibly become the new normal. Why? It's paperless, lessons can be recorded and replayed at one's leisure, studies become more self-directed, tracked progress and more! 


One way that I am incorporating digital resources into my classes this semester is via interactive digital notebooks. I use my digital flip books as mini-lessons and review tools for English Language Arts. They are paperless. No printing. No cutting. No glue. Just send the link and your students can create their own digital reference points. 


Click HERE to check out these digital flip books in more detail!

Resource and Tip #3 from Presto Plans

Establishing routines are so important at the start of a semester, and my favorite classroom routine is instituting regular bell-ringers. I first realized the power of bell ringers years ago, thanks to a particularly unruly class that would bounce off my walls after lunch. After consistently wasting the first ten minutes of class getting the students seated, settled, and read to learn, I decided to give bell-ringers a try. They were immediately a classroom game-changer. 


Bell-ringers - sometimes referred to as "warm ups" or "do nows" - are questions, tasks, or other warm up activities that students complete at the beginning of class (or when the bell rings, as the name suggests.) They jump start students learning, calm classroom chaos, reduce uncertainty, and make transitions smoother, all the while allowing the teacher to maximize their time and maintain their sanity. 


Some tips to consider if you plan to implement bell-ringers:


1. Mix-up your bell ringer task each day. You might consider having students improve word

choice, locate figurative language, watch a video clip and respond or correct grammar errors. 


2. When you introduce the idea of bell-ringers, model a strong response for different tasks, so students will know what is expected of them. 


3. Set expectations for collecting the bell-ringer notebooks and returning them or sharing the digital files with you. Having a process set up in the beginning keeps the paper/digital cluster at bay. 


4. You don't have to grade everything. Listen, the LAST thing I want to do is add more work on your plate. Bell-ringers can be used as formative assessment and don't need to be graded. You might do a quick check to see where you need to focus your instruction or grade a week here or there, but keep it simple. 


Want to try some free bell-ringers to get you started? Grab a free sample of my favorite volume in digital and print format by clicking below:


Volume 3 Bell Ringer Sample PRINT Version (grab the FULL YEAR here


Volume 3 Bell Ringer Sample DIGITAL Version (grab the FULL YEAR here)

Thanks for reading! We hope these tips and resources will give you a heads start to the new semester! Happy teaching!

Teaching Research Skills

I learned many things during distance learning, but one of the biggest lessons was that there are more interesting ways to teach students the skills they need for research. 

We tend to teach research through a series of lessons and activities that lead students toward a research essay full of carefully selected sources, perfectly embedded quotations, and meticulously crafted works cited pages.

Or not. 

Most often, if you're lucky, you'll get a reasonable facsimile of the mythical paper I just described.

The reality is that students often struggle with the research process. If writing and research is not their "thing," many find the process boring and even difficult. However, it doesn't have to be that way because you can teach research skills with activities that will actually engage students - and help them learn to research properly.

Researching is a very natural activity

We do it all the time. In fact, a Google search may even have brought you here. And when you're done reading the post, you may look up a recipe for your new air fryer, or start wistfully looking for vacation spots for when you can finally travel again. 

Most of us spend a lot of time searching for answers on the Internet, and our students are no different. That's why remote learning provides a wonderful opportunity to help them hone their research skills - if we do it the right way.

And what is that? Well, I don't know for sure, but I do have three suggestions for you - and several free resources to get you started!

1. Tap into students' interests

In my experience, one of the biggest reasons students struggle with the research process is that they bite off way more than they can chew. They choose topics that are too big to cover in a short paper, or ones that they have no interest in because they think they should choose something complicated. I've read so many papers that are deadly dull because the students had zero interest in the topic and very little understanding of it.

When students connect to a topic, they will be more engaged and they will write better. It's as simple as that. 

So I start the research process with an activity that zeros in on something that my students are probably doing already: looking up facts that help them understand things they are wondering about. We use this bell ringer activity, so I can show them that researching is something they do already.

Teaching research skills online

2. Scaffold the skills slowly

The research process can be overwhelming for students. And, if they are doing it at home, it's going to be even more so. That's why I scaffold the process to give them the confidence and skills they need to do it well.

After the bell ringer activity, I ask students to use their"wonders" as the basis of a very short research 
assignment. I don't ask that they paraphrase or quote yet; they just need to explore their "wonder" and submit some notes on what they discovered. It's low stress but lets them dip their feet into the process.

Next, I do some mini-lessons on how to search, paraphrase, and quote, and give students a short assignment that allows them to practice the skills in a way that is not too overwhelming.

3. Assign something fun to showcase what students have learned

Everything students do for us does not have to be fun and exciting. I firmly believe that, and the traditional research essay is something I always do in class, sandwiched between other more engaging activities, because I think it's an important activity for students to do.

But it's a lot easier to help my students with that sometimes arduous process when I have them in front of me, so when they were learning remotely I came up with a creative way to keep them tuned in and working - and it worked so well, that I will be using it forever in the classroom too:  the research magazine.

The process begins with them choosing a topic that they'd like to explore and focuses on the questions they have about that topic. I use climate change as an example and use some of the typical questions that people ask about it - couldn't the weather changes be just random? What does a colder than normal summer say about global warming? 

The next step is to find answers to my questions and then to present them in a format that's a little more interesting than a research paper. 

After the students create an eye-catching cover page, the first page of their magazine introduces the topic, so it's like an introductory paragraph. Then, each page has a focus, so they are kind of like the body paragraphs. And, there's a final page that makes some conclusions - and a works cited page. So, the final result looks much different, but it does the same job as a paper.

One-sliders are another engaging way to have students showcase their research skills - and they take less time than the magazine. They will choose a narrow topic or question. research it, and illustrate their learning on one slide only, using images, paraphrased information, and quotations. The one-slider forces them to think carefully about what they select, so they can create a unified, easy-to-read slide that presents the information in a clear and focused manner.

So, I truly believe that distance learning offers us a great opportunity to teach research skills. Students are home and most likely spending a lot of time online. By offering them engaging assignments that scaffold the skills of effective research, they can learn while they create products they are proud to share - and we are excited to read.  

Don't forget to grab your freebies!

My friends here at the coffee shop have some amazing resources for teaching the research process too. Check them out!

Addie Education: Research and Inquiry Graphic Organizers for Distance Learning

Tracee Orman: MLA Style & Format 8th Ed: Instruction, Practice, Examples Distance Learning

Jackie, Room 213

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