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Black History Reading Passages

February is Black History Month and a wonderful time to help our students learn about the the history of the African American people. Although a history filled with suffering and pain, it is also filled with brave and courageous people, brilliant minds, extraordinary artists, and determined athletes. We owe it to our students to teach them about the events of the past so that they can learn from history.  We owe it to them so they can be the world changers we know they are capable of becoming. These Black History reading passages are a great way to connect history and language arts in the upper elementary classroom.

Black History Month Reading Passages Close Reading Activities for Upper Elementary Classrooms

Social studies and language arts connect so well. Using a cross-curricular approach in the classroom allows us to dedicate more time and dig a little deeper into topics that might otherwise be limited to a 45 minute block of time.

What is Close Reading?

Using a close reading approach, students are taught important reading comprehension skills they can use to dig deeper into a text.  This results in increased comprehension and a better understanding of the text and how it connects to life.  Students will use the same passage for multiple days to focus on a variety of different reading skills.  Each day students will read the passage with a different focus.  This allows them to build upon their understanding of the passage in a new way with each reading.

reading comprehension with close readingEach of these Black history close reading passages includes 5 activities.  It works well to complete one activity each day for a week.  By the end of the week students will have worked on:

  1. Annotating a passage to identify unknown words and concepts, confusing information, questions they have, interesting information, and facts or events they can make connections with
  2. Reading for basic information (dates, names, events)
  3. Identifying unknown vocabulary and focusing on word meaning to better understand the passage
  4. Deeper Reading Comprehension by finding text evidence to support personal conclusions
  5. Summarizing the text
  6. Analyzing the text and supporting statements with facts and personal conclusions

Benefits of Close Reading

Not only do each of these activities lead to a deeper understanding of the text, but they also increase in rigor.  Traditional reading passages so often only work skills in the bottom two layers of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  However, through close reading, students are able to better their comprehension thus allowing them to move to higher level thinking skills and activities.

Everything you need for each activity is included.  These resources include a printable and digital version of the activities which makes them perfect for any teaching situation.   All you have to do is copy the pages or share the resources through a link or your online learning management system.  Each close reading unit also includes differentiated reading passages to help you meet the needs of all your students.  Students are able to learn and focus on the same topic while working on key reading comprehension skills at their level.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman reading passage digital and print included close reading activitiesTake your students back to the 1800’s and pre-Civil War America.  A time of division, slavery, inequality and war.  Not a shining time in our history, but a time when a courageous hero emerged. Your students will love learning about Harriet Tubman’s determination and perseverance to help others. They will be inspired by her bravery and ingenuity.

Here’s a list of wonderful resources to help you teach about Harriet Tubman:

  1. Harriet Tubman Close Reading
  2. A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David Adler
  3. The Breathtaking Courage of Harriet Tubman (video by TED Ed)

Rosa Parks

Another amazing African American woman emerged in the 1950’s. Engage your students with the courageousness of Rosa Parks and her determination to stand up for right and wrong. Your students will be engaged with the happenings in Montgomery, Alabama as they learn about the discriminatory practices of the South during this time.

Rosa Parks Close Reading passage for reading comprehension

Here are some teaching resources for your lessons on Rosa Park:

  1. Close Reading Passage of Rosa Parks
  2. Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
  3. Rosa Parks for Kids (video by Homeschool Pop)

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King reading comprehension activity

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most well-know men when it comes to the unfair treatment of African Americans. He is a leader of the Civil Rights movement and a great hero we can all learn much from. His “I Have a Dream” speech is famous worldwide for his dream of seeing a society where all people are treated equally.  These resources are great for both Black History Month or the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in January.


Here are some great resources for teaching about Dr. King with your upper elementary students:

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Close Reading
  2. Martin Luther King, Jr. Activities and MLK Activities
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr. Flip Book
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. Activities and Projects for Kids

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges will inspire your students with her bravery.  Perhaps more than any other historic hero, our students can best identify with this bravery of this young girl who was the first to enter a desegregated elementary school.  Students are able to easily make personal connections because they are so close to her age.  Learning about Ruby Bridges is often a starting place for many wonderful discussions about empathy.

Ruby Bridges Close Reading Passage for Black History Month

Here’s some excellent resources to help you teach your students about Ruby Bridges:

  1. Ruby Bridges Close Reading
  2. The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
  3. Ruby Bridges for Kids (video by Homeschool Pop)

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens close reading passageAmidst the terrible tyranny of Germany in the 1930’s emerged an African-American athlete who proved that the ideas of a supreme race were absolutely wrong. In the 1936 Summer Olympics Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals, more than any other person. He is known for his dedication and determination to work hard and never give up.

Here are some great resources for teaching about Jesse Owens:

  1. Jesse Owen Close Reading
  2. A Picture Book of Jesse Owens by David Adler
  3. Jesse Owens – A Short Biography (a video by Suncoast Technical College)

Black History Reading Passages

You can find all of these close reading units in the Appletastic Learning store.  While they are available individually, grab the bundle and fill your entire month with the lives of amazing people that will inspire us to learn from the past in order to make the future better.

More Black History Month Resources

Sometimes we can get in a rut teaching the same things year after year.  Or, worse, our students get in a rut with grade level after grade level teaching about the same people and events.  Here are some additional people you might like to teach about for Black History Month that can help your students get a more well rounded view of the amazing contributions from African-Americans in our country and world.  Pair these with the engaging Black history reading passages for an amazing unit and month of teaching.

More Black History Month ideas

  • Muhammad Ali (athlete)
  • Jackie Robinson (athlete)
  • Langston Hughes (writer)
  • Phillis Wheatley (poet)
  • Maya Angelou (poet)
  • Barak Obama (politician)
  • Shirley Chisolm (politician)
  • Colin Powell (military leader)
  • Benjamin Davis, Sr. (military leader)
  • Clarence Thomas (Supreme Court Justice)
  • Jane Bolin (judge)
  • Mae Jemison (astronaut)
  • Ronald McNair (astronaut)
  • Sojourner Truth (abolitionist)
  • Rebecca Lee Crumpler (doctor)
  • Alice Ball (scientist)
  • Sarah Boone (inventor)
  • George Washington Carver (inventor)
  • Bessie Coleman (aviator)
  • Hattie McDaniel (actress)
  • Denzel Washington (actor)
  • Duke Ellington (musician)

You can find out more about the amazing lives of these and many others at

Save these Black History Month Teaching Ideas

The web is filled with lots of great ideas and it can get really overwhelming to try to get back to something you previously saw.  Save these Black History reading passages and ideas by saving this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board.  That way you can quickly come back when you need more teaching ideas and resources.

Black History Month Close Reading Passage with printable and digital options

Amy Hughes

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I'm Shelly Rees of Appletastic Learning. First and foremost, I'm a mom of 4 boys, wife of 25 years to Aric, and Wyoming girl at heart. I love being creative, making resources for teachers, baking cookies, Diet Coke, teaching, public speaking, and spreading kindness wherever I can. After teaching in the upper elementary grades for over 23 years, I retired early and focused on creating and helping teachers around the world with my teaching ideas and resources. I also serve as a mentor to hundreds of teacherpreneurs and help them get focused on growing their own successful businesses. With 100% honesty, I LOVE my life! Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll stay awhile and come back often. Read More

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