February is a great time to celebrate important events: Presidents’ Day, Valentine’s Day, even Groundhog Day. But did you know it’s also dedicated to celebrating the achievements of black Americans? Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is a special time set aside each year to recognize the central role African Americans have played in US history. From academic research to professional sports to scientific inventions, black Americans have helped shape this country by achieving many great milestones. So how can Black History Month energize your lesson plans during February? Read on to find out about some of the incredible accomplishments of black Americans—and how you can turn those into exciting learning opportunities!

How it all began. The origins of Black History Month go back to 1915. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, and Jesse E. Moorland, a prominent minister, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and dedicated the organization to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent. The group sponsored a national Negro History Week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This event inspired schools and communities across the country to organize clubs and join in celebrations. In the years that followed, and thanks to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month, an official, month-long celebration to pay tribute to black Americans.

Classroom tip #1: Quiz your students about Abraham Lincoln. What important proclamation did he make that paved the way for Black History Month?

First things first. Did you know that soccer phenom Freddy Adu was the youngest athlete to play in a professional American sports league? Or that poet Maya Angelou’s autobiographical book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was the first non-fiction work by an African American woman to make the best-seller list?

Classroom tip #2: After learning about historic first-time achievements, have students make a list of things they’d like to accomplish first.

Little-known facts. You might be surprised to learn that when champion boxer Muhammad Ali was a child, he asked Sugar Ray Robinson for an autograph and was refused. When Ali became a prize-fighter, he vowed never to deny an autograph request, which he has honored to this day.

Classroom tip #3: Have students tell the class a little-known fact about themselves.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to learn about and celebrate Black History Month with your students. After all, black history is American history! Got any other teaching tips to share? Leave us a comment.