Welcome to Oxford African American Studies Center's lesson plans.
These lesson plans illustrate how teachers and professors can use Oxford African American Studies Center to bring online learning into the classroom, streamline their course materials to one accessible location, and connect with today's technologically savvy student. Students today are increasingly accustomed to using technology in their research. With that in mind, we have collected lesson plans from educators of African American studies who use this site in their classrooms. By encouraging the use of authoritative websites in the classroom, educators can guide students in their studies while teaching them responsible research methods.
Each lesson plan highlights the resources available on Oxford African American Studies Center and provides discussion questions, supplementary reading suggestions, and a summary of the topic for lecture preparation. These lesson plans can be used to supplement existing syllabi, to provide ideas for integrating the site into the classroom, or as outlines for self-guided study.
We will add lesson plans with each update, so please check back for new plans.
Baltimore Youth Movements, 1930s-1960s
This lesson plan explores two distinct youth movements in Baltimore during the 1930s and the 1950s/1960s which placed the city in the vanguard of the civil rights struggle. Students will be familiarized with leading figures of Baltimore's Civil Rights history, compare Maryland's struggle for equal rights with other struggles further south, look at the role of young people in Baltimore's civil rights movement, and learn about the dynamics of gender in the emergence of Civil Rights strategies and leadership.
Rights Bound to Respect: African American Rights and Citizenship from the Early Republic to Dred Scott
Between the founding of the United States in the 1780s, and the start of the Civil War in 1861, African Americans helped to influence how people defined American citizenship. In turn, African American social, political, and economic history was affected by the ways in which they were viewed (or not viewed) as American citizens. This lesson, by Kerri Greenridge of the University of Massachusetts Boston, provides students with an opportunity to analyze how American concepts of citizenship evolved during the early nineteenth century, and to consider how African Americans were affected by these concepts. The lesson will also provide an opportunity for students to understand the complex nature of American Constitutional and legal history as it relates to African-Americans, slavery, and freedom.
The Cult of True Womanhood and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
In this lesson, Theresa Vara-Dannen, an educator at the University of Connecticut Early College Experience at University High School of Science and Engineering, advances an understanding of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs in its cultural context. Students will first have to determine what the values of 19th century true womanhood were, based on a period text that clearly articulates those values. They will then have to apply their understanding of those values to the predicament faced by Harriet Jacobs and other enslaved women. This multi–part lesson requires students to have read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1860–1), and “The Angel Over the Right Shoulder” (1852), two antebellum works, one non–fiction and the other fiction. Students will compare the experiences, and the very different conflicts and concerns, of Harriet Jacobs and the fictional mother in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ story.
Constructing a Narrative of African American Schooling after Reconstruction
Historians hold conflicting views as to whether Reconstruction, the period immediately following the Civil War from 1865 to 1877, represents overall progress or decline for the African American community. While the U.S. government and other organizations provided funding for public schooling and extended other long-overdue services and rights to African Americans during this time, the failures of Reconstruction to fully realize the goals of ensuring equality and protecting citizens' rights led to the establishment of Black Codes throughout the South and ushered in an unprecedented period of white violence toward African Americans. Accordingly, the historical question of whether Reconstruction and the decades following represent a period of progress or decline for the African American community is a relevant one without a definitive answer. This lesson sequence, written by frequent AASC contributor Sarah Thomson, attempts to examine that question through the lens of education. By examining different primary source documents and different perspectives on African American schooling from the Civil War onward, students will construct their own interpretation of a contested time period in American history.
Amongst Slavery: Free Blacks in Antebellum and Colonial America
Pre-Civil War African American history understandably focuses on slavery, but spread amongst the slave population of that era were thousands of free African Americans struggling to secure economic and personal security in the shadow of slavery and in the face of racial prejudice. The presence of these free African Americans refuted widely-held antebellum notions of race, and the examination of their experiences expands the breadth and depth of American history. In this lesson plan, historian and legal scholar William Fernandez Hardin guides students through an array of primary source documents and provides a number of stimulating discussion questions.
Exploring Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement
The modern American environmental justice movement emerged in 1982 in North Carolina over the dumping of illegal PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) in a predominantly African American community. This lesson plan, written by University of Michigan Ph.D. student and former classroom teacher Sarah Thomson, provides instructors with a set of tools and resources that will help students to understand the significance of both this movement and the concept of environmental racism more generally. The plan's objectives are aligned with the Common Core.
Paths to African American Social Equality: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois's Competing Philosophies
In this lesson plan, educator Matthew North employs a wide range of primary source documents and subject entries, all available through the Oxford African American Studies Center, to give students a full understanding of the philosophical differences that emerged between Washington and Du Bois at the beginning of the 20th century. The plan is suitable for middle and high school students, and asks them to consider a number of open-ended, thought-provoking questions. Teachers will also find the plan's objectives mapped to Common Core standards.
The Myth of Medea in African American Literature:
W.E.B. Du Bois's Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911)
Michele Valerie Ronnick, Professor in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Wayne State University, traces in this plan the surprisingly complex web of Classical influences and allusions found in the writings of Du Bois. The lesson, intended for college undergraduates but easily modified for use in advanced high school literature courses, provides educators the opportunity to expose students to Du Bois's often-overlooked literary work.
Something the Lord Made: Lesson Plan, Film Discussion, and Class Activities
In this lesson plan, Pamela Felder, Ph.D., program manager in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, uses film to examine the tensions that can arise in an organization when the diversity of members' beliefs and convictions is not taken into account. The film at the heart of this lesson plan is Something the Lord Made, a 2004 HBO production about the life of the pioneering African American surgeon Vivien Theodore Thomas. The plan provides a wealth of supplemental materials and can be easily adapted for use by high school history teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators.
Personal Narratives as Advocacy Tools: Efforts to End the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Sarah Thomson, M.Ed., presents secondary school teachers with a lesson plan that allows students to explore the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade through the writings of those who experienced it first-hand. The plan also makes extensive use of multimedia and suggests a number of thoughtful questions for discussion.
Expanding the Private and the Public: Analyzing the Writing Practices of Nineteenth-Century Black Women
In a lesson plan designed to utilize primary sources, Kaye Wise Whitehead (Loyola University Maryland) uses journals entries and essays written by Emilie Davis, Ida B. Wells, Charlotte, Grimké, and Allison Dunbar Nelson in order to explore social media content produced by African American women in the 21st century.
Throwing Off Their Fetters: Analyzing the Work of Sarah Parker Remond and Maria Stewart
Sarah Parker Remond and Maria Stewart were two of the most influential speakers and essayists of the abolitionist movement. This lesson plan by Kaye Wise Whitehead (Loyola University Maryland) invites students to evaluate their writings, and to apply their ideas to the major challenges facing American society in the nineteenth century.
The Black American Arts Movement (c. 1963—1978)
Cameron Van Patterson (Harvard University) provides teachers with the tools for placing the influence of the Black American Arts Movement within the broader context of late-twentieth century America. The plan includes a detailed timeline that links to some of the major articles available on AASC.
Language and Controversy
Using videos, testimonials, interviews, and writing samples, educator and documentarian Thomas Patrick Huston (Indiana University) explores the relationship between language and identity, specifically how racist language is developed, redefined, and—in the case of the so-called "N-word"—reappropriated to mean something entirely different in certain situations. This challenging lesson plan invites students and educators to reevaluate the use of language in certain historical, literary, and multimedia contexts
The Orangeburg Massacre
The evening of February 8, 1968, was a cold night in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Outside the town's bowling alley, three African American students—Sam Hammond, Henry Smith, and Delano Middleton—lay on the ground, dead or dying, while twenty-seven others were wounded from gunshots. When the group staged a protest against segregation at All-Star Lanes, the South Carolina Highway Patrol opened fire on the demonstration. Though the event has been marginalized in the canon of civil rights history, its similarities to protests from Alabama to South Africa are striking.
Fighting for Social Justice: A Comparative Historical Analysis of the Protest Strategies Employed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the NAACP during the American Civil Rights Movement
Martin Luther King Jr. is commonly imagined as a secular saint whose moral righteousness alone routed the forces of segregation. While public histories often romanticize the civil rights movement by presenting a one-dimensional image of King, this simplistic view ignores King's formidable strategic talents. In this challenging lesson plan, Cameron Van Patterson (Harvard University) and Janet H. Mason (University of South Carolina) assert that it was Dr. King's deft formulation and execution of strategy that was key to the relative successes of his political struggle against the entrenched forces of racial segregation and inequality. In doing so, they raise important questions regarding the relationship between a political strategy and the ideals that it purports to uphold.
"We Are Gonna Start Saying 'Black Power'": The Political, Economic, and Artistic Aspects of the Black Power Movement
In a lesson plan geared toward a high school audience, Ashley Farmer (Harvard University) focuses on the primary black power activists, the political and economic expressions of black power, and cultural visions of black power. Besides offering an overview of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the readings and creative activities show how a movement was defined, how competing interpretations arose, and how black power came to influence more than simply politics.
The Great Debaters
Theresa Vara-Dannen, an educator at the University of Connecticut Early College Experience at University High School of Science and Engineering, presents a lesson plan utilizing the inspiring story of the Wiley College debate team, depicted in the 2007 film The Great Debaters. In this three-part lesson, the movie is a starting point for discussions, research activities, and in-depth writing assignments on the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, the contributions of historically black colleges and universities, and the Communist movement within the African American community.
The "Harlem Renaissance" lesson plan, prepared by Dr. Cary Wintz of Texas Southern University and Dr. Kelly Woestman of Pittsburg State University, explores the creative arts revolution that was based in Harlem but resonated throughout the country—ultimately affecting the cultural landscape of the entire nation. The lesson plan focuses on writers and the poetry and short essays they produced. Questions for discussion and links to biographies and primary source documents supplement the plan.
We invite you to send us suggestions for new lesson plans by writing to the editor.