African American Biographies

George Washington Carver, half-length portrait, facing right, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama

Who are some people who have made a
difference in our lives?

Download Primary Source Set: African American Biographies

A picture book, such as Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, introduces students to an ordinary person, Rosa Parks, whose actions made a tremendous difference in the lives of others. Students learn about a variety of men, women and children whose contributions can be appreciated by young children and whose achievements have directly or indirectly touched the students’ lives or the lives of others. Included, for example, are scientists such as George Washington Carver, Marie Sklodowska Curie, Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Charles Drew, and Thomas Edison; authors; musicians, artists and athletes, such as Jackie Robinson and Wilma Rudolph; and humanitarians like Clara Barton, Jane Addams, Henri Dunant, and Florence Nightingale. Teachers may read biographies aloud as well as utilize biographies written at a variety of reading levels, such as the Rookie Biography series, for students to read independently. As students meet these heroes from long ago and the recent  past, they understand the importance of individual action and character in one’s life. As students identify and discuss the skills and knowledge that helped these people achieve their goals, they have opportunities to cite textual evidence, write informational reports, and create presentations.

Students can also make a difference. Students can work together in groups to brainstorm problems that exist at their school and in their community, such as litter or bullying. Students can evaluate and vote on a solution, which for litter might include hosting a clean-up day, increasing recycling, or working to change a rule. Students can create a plan and work in teams to carry it out. Together they can then evaluate their effectiveness. For example, is there less litter? Teachers can invite community members who are making a difference on issues important in the students’ lives as guest speakers or partners in student projects to make their communities a better place to live. By meeting local “heroes,” students will have role models from their own communities who are making a difference.