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Designing Black History Lessons for Elementary Music

Are you looking for ways to integrate authentic Black History Month lessons naturally into your elementary music classes?

Keep your lesson design simple. With an engaging storybook and an authentic African American spiritual, you can easily create attainable music activities for multiple grade levels..

Read on for ideas and tips to enrich your students’ music experiences with lessons that are a natural fit at any time of year.

How to Design Authentic Black History Lesson Plans for the Elementary Music Classroom

Choose a Storybook

Familyeducation.com has published a summary of their Top 15 Children’s Books for Black History Month. Be sure to scan this list of highly recommended books. While this is far from an exhaustive list, there is a lot of variety represented here which may spark some more ideas for you.

In the last several years, many new, award-winning storybooks have been released. Check with your school librarian. They should have several quality books from which you can choose.

Choose a Spiritual

Once you have chosen your storybooks, look for themes throughout each book. Is the book about the Underground Railroad? Pair it with Get on Board, Little Children or This Train. A storybook about Ruby Bridges pairs well with This Little Light of Mine. If you are reading about Rosa Parks, consider pairing that story with I Shall Not Be Moved. Think in broad terms to draw correlations.

How to Design Authentic Black History Lesson Plans for the Elementary Music Classroom

Add Music Elements

Once you have your storybook and song chosen, plan to extend your lessons over several class sessions by adding some of the following musical elements.

  • Create rhythmic Orff patterns from the storybook or the song.
  • Layer one or more patterns to create an accompaniment for the song.
  • Play around with the form. Create an introduction, interlude, coda.
  • Using your rhythmic ostinato patterns, create various forms – ABA, ABC, ABACA.
  • If the harmonic structure of the song is compatible, create melodic Orff patterns and add melodic instruments to your arrangements.

There are many opportunities to integrate music literacy and performance skills into these lessons.

Learn About the Underground Railroad

It is very hard for elementary-age children to understand the concept of the Underground Railroad. There is some controversy about the book Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd. Dr. Prince Brown, the Director of the Northern Kentucky University Institute for Freedom Studies offers some interesting insights in this succinct afterword, Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History, “Is This Song ‘Authentic'”?

This storybook is a simple way to help students understand the concept of the Underground Railroad, the compassionate people who made up the underground railroad, and a glimpse of the hardships of escaping to freedom.

by Jeanette Winter
Follow the Drinking Gourd, by Bernadine Connelly  | A Story of the Underground Railroad - Elementary Music Classroom
by Bernadine Connelly

Use Authentic Music

Whatever songs you choose, make sure they are authentic. The book All Night, All Day: A Child’s First Book of African-American Spirituals by Ashley Bryan pulls together many of the most common spirituals into one resource if you need more song ideas.

All Night, All Day: A Child's First Book of African-American Spirituals by Ashley Bryan

Ready-To-Use Resources

If you are short on time and need NO-PREP ready-to-teach activities, click to preview the resources included here. Each of these resources includes differentiated Orff accompaniments designed for grades K-5.

Short biographies of a civil rights leader are included in each resource as well.


Black History should not be relegated to February. These songs and stories should be taught throughout the school year. They are perfect for the classroom and performance. These Orff accompaniments are also appropriate for performance in a church setting.

Related Post – Black History Music Lessons that Multitask.

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