Resources for Talking About Race in the Classroom

by | Jun 7, 2020 | Tips & Tricks

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

Have you thought about how you will address the Black Lives Matter protests when school starts in the fall? It’s going to be an elephant in the room, and it cannot just be ignored. 

Your students will have questions and opinions, and they need to discuss and express this movement. These resources for talking about race in the classroom will help you prepare for some tough discussions.

Disclaimer, I am a white middle-aged woman who has taught in a predominately white high school in a small midwestern town. I know white privilege, and I am not going to tell you how to talk about the racism in your classroom because it will greatly depend on your location, student age, and community. You know your students, and you are the expert in your classroom. 

However, my thirty plus years experience in public schools has taught me that regardless of the community you teach in, racism exists. Educators often find race discussions uncomfortable, so too often they skim over the topic or do not discuss it at all. In fact, textbooks often do the same thing. For example, there are textbooks that refer to slaves as workers brought over from Africa. 

From my own experience, the racism that occurs is not often in blatant view of the teachers. It happens in the hallways, at lunch, and on the school bus. I know my minority students have been taunted at school with racial slurs and mean comments about building the Wall. In the community, they have been followed inside of stores, and an Indian family was mooed at in a store parking lot. 

Silence is not the answer

We can cause far more harm ignoring the race topic than if we talk about the elephant in the room.

“We may be uncomfortable talking about race, but we can no longer afford to be silent. We have chosen a profession, which—like parenting—requires that our comforts come second to those of children.”

-Teacher Jamilah Pitts

What I am going to suggest is that you address racism and ethnicity, put it into historical context, and keep the lines of communication open. Our students need you, and they need this moment. 

As teachers we need to acknowledge students’ feelings and create a safe environment for students to have tough discussions. Make sure that your classroom is a culture of respect and that you have laid the groundwork for how students will conduct themselves. They need your support and guidance. 

Teacher Resources for Talking About Race

As you work on plans for fall, I’ve compiled resources for talking about racism and teaching tolerance that you might find helpful and may save you time from digging for information yourself. 

These resources were created to help teachers figure out how to talk about race in the classroom. However,  there are some resources that may be appropriate for teaching tolerance to high school students.

“Don’t Say Nothing,” is a must read. In it, Jamilah Pitts, a Black teacher, explains the dangers of staying quiet and how to discuss race in the classroom, including tips for specific subjects and why teachers in all white school need to also address these topics. 

“Let’s Talk”– a guide for teaching race, racism, and other difficult topics with students. In addition to tips on how to conduct these conversations with students, this 24 page download also has a wealth of resources for teachers to use.

Learning to Talk About Race from the National Museum of African American History & Culture includes tips, videos, conversation starters. This site has a wealth of resources for your planning.

From EdWeek- The Urgent Need for Anti-Racist Education is an article with suggestions on how teachers can talk about racism in the classroom.

Teaching ideas and resources is provided to help students make sense of the George Floyd protests. From The New York Times, this detailed list of ideas, videos, questions, and activities provide a great guide for teachers.

Seeing White is an educational podcast on the history of race in America from sceneonradio.org.

Teaching Tolerance: race, and ethnicity from tolerance.org provides multiple resources for teachers.

Schoolcounselor.org provides guidance for “Addressing race and trauma in the classroom” in a pdf prepared by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Creating space to talk about racism in schools from the National Education Association is a short 4 page pdf with tips on how to normalize discussion of race issues.

Explaining the news to children can be difficult, but this article from Common Sense Media provides tips for teachers and parents to use with children of all ages.

Books for Teachers

Teaching for Black Lives edited by Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, and Wayne Au is a book written as a handbook to help teachers fight racism in the classroom. This link includes multiple resources to accompany the book.

Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom

40 Books for Anti-Racist Teachers

10 books about racism for adults

Books for Students

These award winning books for students were curated by Kara Cleveland, Professional Development Office Supervisor, at the Indiana State Library. 

Indiana residents can access these for free through TeachingBooks.net as a part of INSPIRE. Each selected book contains Book Guides/Lesson Plans, Book Readings, and Author Resources to make your planning easier.

Grades PK-2

  • Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Selina Alki, and Sean Qualls
  • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier
  • Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
  • Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marainne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard, and Jennifer Zivoin
  • Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome
  • The Blacker the Berry: Poems by Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper
  • Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Floyd Cooper
  • Smoky Night by Eve Bunting and David Diaz
  • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges and Margo Lundell
  • 28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr. and Shane W. Evans
  • We March by Shane W. Evans

Grades 1-5

  • Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves,Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan by Ashley Bryan
  • The Other Side by Jackqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis
  • When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, Jim Burke, and R Gregory Christie
  • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson
  • Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
  • A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson and Eric Velasquez
  • The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman and E.B.Lewis
  • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson
  • Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell and R. Gregory Christie
  • The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
  • Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and Jerome Lagarrigue
  • Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box by Michael S. Bandy, Eric Stein, and James Ransome
  • Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Stephen Alcorn
  • Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
  • Wings by Christopher Myers
  • The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman

Grades 4-8

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes
  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
  • The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
  • Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; and Sarah Jane Coleman
  • Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge
  • Revolution by Deborah Wiles
  • In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slaver, 4 Presidents, & 5 Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis
  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa oore Ramee
  • Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham
  • Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford

Grades 7-12

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • March Book One, Book Two and Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
  • Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, Susan Buckley, and P.J. Loughran
  • A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson and Philippe Lardy
  • How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
  • Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
  • Open MIC: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices by Mitali Perkins
  • Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon
  • Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe
  • I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacy Robinson, and John Jennings
  • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
  • Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards
  • Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity by Winon Guo and Priya Vulchi
  • We Troubled the Waters by Ntozake Shange and Rod Brown 

Videos

From The New York Times- 26 mini films (1-7 minutes) that explore race, bias, and identity with students. It includes teaching ideas, related readings, and student activities.

PBS Black History Documentaries

The resources included in this article are meant to be a starting place for educators as you evaluate how you will teach about racism and teach tolerance in your classroom. As always, all material you use in the classroom should be vetted by you and used in accordance with your district policies.

If you have a resource you recommend, please share it in the comments below.

4 Comments

  1. I love this list, Susan! I am adding a link to my district’s resource page.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Rachelle! I hope they find it helpful.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the resources Susan. Like you I am in an almost entirely white school. When we discuss the Civil War I find most kids have no idea that the Confederate flag is a flag that represents the southern states during slavery. I try and let them know that is why many African Americans are offended by this flag. ten year olds really have no clue so I take it as a responsibility to be some of the first to show them fair treatment of all people no matter how they look.

    Reply
    • I hope you find them helpful. It looks like a great list of books for your grade level!

      Reply

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