Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is obviously recognized with a national holiday.  In my area, some schools observe it with the day off, and some schools are in session to learn more about him and the Civil Rights movement.  With Black History month being just after, it’s also a great time to be intentional about teaching about other influential African-Americans that helped to create positive change in our country. I have tried to be intentional and mindful about giving my students an opportunity to learn about important and influential African-Americans all year long; being intentional with a focus during February ensures students are learning about leaders of diverse races.

Throughout the year I also try to be mindful of the main characters in the texts I present and ensure I not only present a variety of characters and texts, but that the characters are also relatable for my kids.  I love THIS POST from Scott Woods Makes Lists.  It gives a list of texts with black characters who are presented in positive, and often not the least bit controversial ways.  These are ordinary characters who just happen to be African-American.  While there are so many amazing books that discuss the injustices, triumphs and struggles that have been the experience for people of color, it’s also important for our students to see themselves in the literature we present as ordinary citizens.

Black History Month also means we’re getting into test prep season with our first round of state testing in just 4 weeks.  I hate test prep as much as the next person, but since I teach third grade, it’s the first time the kiddos are going to take this big and important test and they’ve never seen the format before. It’s super important that we get them ready for the question types and formats they’ll be exposed to so they can demonstrate what they know.   I need my instruction to also stay relevant and meaningful, and not just test prep, so incorporating practice while we study Black History Month is a perfect application. I created this unit to bring both of those ideas together.

It is a series of informational texts on African-American heroes that’s perfect during Black History Month.  Each biography includes extended and constructed response comprehension questions related to the texts.  The questions are text-based, but the far majority are inferential questions and require text evidence.  This time of year I spend a lot of time refining our written responses to text using PQA  and text evidence. You can see a bit more about PQA here.

There are 9 heroes included in the set: Martin Luther King, Jr., Doris Miller, Rosa Parks, The Little Rock Nine, Booker T. Washington, Sojournor Truth, Thurgood Marshall, Madam C.J. Walker, and Harriet Tubman.  This African-American Heroes unit was designed to go beyond the typical heroes studied during Black History Month to include a few lesser known individuals who created positive change.  Each text is written with a Lexile level of 800 and above.  This is to really help push students through text complexity.  For my third graders, I’ll be doing much of the reading and guiding them through this set.  For fourth and fifth grade students, they’ll be able to complete the texts much more independently.

Each biography is several pages long and features real photographs.  Each biography also includes both extended and constructed response questions so students get much needed practice with short answer and essay based literature responses.  There are also extended response questions comparing two different biographies since that skill is often asked of students.

To let you try it out with your students, and see the unit more up close and personally, I’ve put the text and the questions for Martin Luther King, Jr. for FREE in the Preview file.  Just click here to go to TpT and download the preview for yourself.