Teaching resources for Black History Month
Titles and curated vocabulary lists for 2023
Each year, Black History Month is observed during the month of February.
In classrooms across the country, it's a time to honor the contributions that African Americans have made to our history and our culture, and to reflect on the issues that we face as a society today.
Integrate vocabulary instruction with your curriculum
Vocabulary.com makes it easy to seamlessly integrate vocabulary instruction into your lesson plans. Here's how:
Try some new books this year, and leave the vocabulary to us. Introducing new titles to your curriculum doesn't have to mean starting from scratch. Our content team has developed thousands of ready-made vocabulary lists that are designed to align with your curriculum. You can use the lists as they are, or copy and customize them.
Pair assigned reading with a practice activity. With each reading assignment, assign a corresponding practice activity on Vocabulary.com. When students practice the words on the lists you assign, they learn key vocabulary and preview the text before they tackle the reading. Practice activities boost your students' comprehension and their overall word-knowledge.
Have students create their own lists. Students love our list-making tool as much as teachers do. Have them "collect" the words that interest and challenge them as they read, then invite them to share, discuss, and practice each other's lists. If your learners like incentives, have them vote for their favorite student-made list and then use it to create a Vocabulary Jam for an engaging follow-up activity.
Wide array of high quality, culturally relevant material
Below, you'll find recommended reading for Black History Month, along with links to our curated vocabulary lists for each text. Our suggestions include a range of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that addresses major topics in African-American history, including slavery, life under Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement, and immigrant experiences.
Bear in mind that the recommendations below represent only a fraction of our vocabulary lists. You can find more great resources on our Lists page.
Recommended for everyone
March by John Lewis. Book One. Book Two. Book Three. John Lewis's award-winning March trilogy offers an unflinching look at the life and work of the congressman and civil rights icon. The engaging graphic novel format vividly brings to life the Freedom Rides, the Selma march, and other key events in the Civil Rights Movement.
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo. Melba Patillo was one of nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. In this memoir, she recounts how she and other African-American students survived and thrived in the most harrowing circumstances.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection. This collection includes vocabulary lists for some of the great orator’s most famous speeches, as well as from contemporary reflections on King’s legacy.
Recommended for middle school students
March Forward, Girl by Melba Patillo Beals. In this companion to Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine, describes growing up in the South under repressive Jim Crow laws.
Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimmer. Richly illustrated with archival photos, this book offers an account of the 1961 Freedom Ride, a protest of unconstitutional racial segregation on buses.
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown. This acclaimed nonfiction book tells the story of Hurricane Katrina in graphic form.
Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe. The murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 shocked the nation. Crowe's novel explores Till's tragic death from the point of view of a white teenager visiting his grandfather in Mississippi.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis. In order to repay a debt, twelve-year-old Charlie agrees to help the cruel Cap'n Buck to capture several fugitive slaves. But when Charlie is confronted with the horrors of slavery, he is forced to reconsider his plans.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. In this historical novel, a fun family trip to Alabama turns into a life-changing event when a Baptist church is bombed.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. Elijah lives in a Canadian settlement founded by former slaves. Although his family and friends consider Elijah to be "fragile," he must find the courage to help others escape from slavery.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper. Inspired by her grandmother's journals, Draper tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl who confronts racism in her segregated North Carolina town.
The Voice That Challenged a Nation by Russell Freedman. Freedman's biography of singer Marian Anderson follows Anderson's career as she defies the conventions that constrained African-American performers in the 1920s and 30s.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. While spending the summer at her grandmother's house in Lambert, South Carolina, Candice finds an intriguing old letter in the attic. She joins forces with a neighbor to follow the clues in the letter and find a hidden treasure — but solving the mystery means uncovering past injustices in Lambert.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. In this historical novel, Marlee and her new friend Liz get involved in the battle to desegregate the Arkansas school system in the 1950s.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery. In this memoir, Lynda Blackmon Lowery recounts her participation in the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches in 1965.
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s, Sam is a witness to both racism and the growing Civil Rights Movement. But when his father and brother embrace conflicting tactics for confronting prejudice and violence in their community, Sam must figure out where his loyalties lie.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson. Nelson's illustrated sonnet cycle is a moving, lyrical meditation on Emmett Till's murder.
Harriet Tubman by Ann Petry. This acclaimed biography details the life of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery and worked to liberate countless other enslaved people.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée. Twelve-year-old Shayla doesn't like to make waves—but as she learns about the Black Lives Matter movement and educates herself about prejudice in her community, she discovers that sometimes it's good to cause a little trouble.
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome. After the death of his mother, eleven-year-old Langston and his father become part of the Great Migration of African Americans, moving from Alabama to Chicago. There, Langston finds comfort in the writing of his namesake, the poet Langston Hughes.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. In this thought-provoking exploration of bias and injustice, a twelve-year-old boy meets the ghost of Emmett Till (an African-American teen who was lynched in 1955) in the afterlife.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor's classic, Newbery award-winning novel follows Cassie Logan and her family as they face prejudice and hardship in Depression-era Mississippi.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern explore their identities as African-American girls when they travel to California during the summer of 1968. The Gaither sisters’ adventures continue in P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. An instant classic when it was published in 2014, Woodson's collection of autobiographical poems won both the National Book Award and the Coretta Scott King Book Award and was named a Newbery Honor Book.
Recommended for high school students
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Blending science fiction and historical fiction, this novel tells the story of an African American woman who travels back in time to a Southern plantation.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates's acclaimed and award-winning essay collection, which is framed as a letter to his son, is a profound meditation on race and power in American society.
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper. A searing dramatization of the brutality of the slave trade, Draper's novel follows fifteen-year-old Amari from her capture in an African village to her enslavement in North Carolina.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. A new teacher helps Maleeka stand up to bullies and feel comfortable in her own skin.
A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield. This book, which won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2019, traces the history of racial tension that led to the Chicago Race Riot of 1919.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Reynolds and Kiely tackle the issue of police brutality in this novel told from the alternating perspectives of two teenage boys.
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina. This powerful graphic novel, illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, explores the life and afterlife of a teenager who is a victim of gun violence.
X: A Novel by llyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon. Cowritten by Malcolm X's daughter, this novel presents a fictionalized account of the civil rights activist's early years.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. In this popular memoir, Noah recounts growing up in South Africa under apartheid. You can find lists for the young readers’ adaptation of the memoir here.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone. In Nic Stone's popular 2017 novel, seventeen-year-old Justyce writes letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. as he encounters racism and prejudice in his community.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Already navigating the competing pressures of her prep school and her neighborhood community, sixteen-year-old Starr must grapple with prejudice and her sense of identity when she witnesses the shooting death of her best friend.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Whitehead's novel confronts the horrors of slavery as it traces a woman's journey to freedom.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi. Zoboi's debut novel, nominated for the 2017 National Book Award, is a powerful and thought-provoking story of a young Haitian immigrant's attempt to live the American dream.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. This first volume of Angelou's autobiography details the acclaimed poet's childhood and adolescence.
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin. In this semi-autobiographical novel set in Harlem in the 1930s, a boy learns about his family history on his fourteenth birthday.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. In two essays, Baldwin reflects on America's history of racial injustice and the role of religion in the Black community.
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. In Parts One and Two of this essay collection, Baldwin explores race in American art and society. In Part Three, he details his experiences in Europe.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery, Douglass became an accomplished orator and writer and a leading abolitionist. In this autobiography, he recounts his experiences as an enslaved person.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. In this classic exploration of race and identity, an unnamed protagonist delineates the ways society has rendered him invisible.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. In the 1940s, a working class African-American family in Chicago must decide how to best spend a ten-thousand dollar insurance payout.
"The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes. A leading poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes wrote this poem about a jazz musician in 1925.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Although it was not well received when it was first published, this novel is now considered a classic of African-American literature. Set in Florida in the early 1900s, Their Eyes Were Watching God follows Janie Crawford as she searches for love and happiness.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. After escaping to New York, Harriet Jacobs wrote this account of the horrors of slavery, focusing particularly on the experiences of enslaved women.
"I Have a Dream" Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. King's famous speech, an impassioned call for equality, was delivered at the 1963 March on Washington.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. While imprisoned for taking part in civil rights demonstrations, King wrote this powerful argument in defense of nonviolent protest.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In Morrison's first novel, a troubled young girl dreams of escaping the abuse, prejudice, and bullying she faces.
Jazz by Toni Morrison. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, this follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved explores a love triangle that ends violently.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. Lyrical and devastating, Morrison's masterpiece tells the story of Sethe, a woman haunted by her experiences as a slave.
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. This memoir tells the story of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the nineteenth century.
"On Being Brought from Africa to America" by Phillis Wheatley. Enslaved when she was a child, Wheatley found fame and freedom when her collection of poetry was published in London in 1773.
Fences by August Wilson. Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows former baseball player Troy Maxson as he tries to find his place in the world and navigate troubled relationships with his wife and son.
Native Son by Richard Wright. This novel explores the ways that poverty, racism, and hardship lead a young man to commit a shocking act of violence.