A Call to Action: Creating a Periodic Table of Black History

by Tonekia L. Phairr

The idea for the Black History Month periodic table came about from a faculty meeting. Our principal wanted all the teachers to incorporate a piece of Black history into their lesson plans. As an aspiring leader in the building, I wanted to contribute to those plans while encouraging conversations among the students of Cambridge High School. I looked for ideas on social media, I saw people discussing different displays at their school for Black history and someone mentioned the possibility of doing a periodic table, and the concept came to fruition!

Periodic Table of Black History

One thing I wanted to do was to make sure all departments were represented. So, I created the categories and placed current and historical figures on the table. I left the categories off so that students could figure out how I formulated the table. Once the display was finished, I emailed teachers and provided several ideas for lesson plans. Here are some ideas I came up with that teachers could do:

Essential Question: What impact did African Americans have on U.S. History?

Bell Ringer: Which person in the periodic table do you feel had the most profound impact?  Why?

On-level Lesson Plan: Based on the different color variations, see if you can figure out the category groupings.

Homework: Select one element and do a research paper answering the essential question.

Honors/AP Lesson Plan: Although the elements are grouped into categories, there are some elements that can be grouped into more than one area. Identify five elements and at least 3 categories that they can be grouped in.

Building on the AP Skill of Contextualization: Several individuals have paved the way for other individuals in the table (i.e., Alvin Ailey → Misty Copeland) figure out two pairings and then explain how and why they are paired together.

AP Live Lesson Model: Provide copies of the poem, Booker T & W.E.B., by Randall Dudley. Have the students read through the poem and discuss the impact they had during the Progressive Era based on the poem (i.e., What reforms did Washington and DuBois have for African Americans in the late 1800s?). After the discussion, have the students select two or more individuals that would mirror the ideas of Washington and DuBois.

AP U.S. History Review Assignment: Build your own periodic table using the categories provided.  Try to avoid using any of the people from the example provided. Teachers could also use the table to have students review a period (Periods 2-8), working together in groups of 3 or more.

Download materials to complete these activities in your own classroom.

If you are looking for more Black History Month teaching resources, check out our Black History Month resource page here .


Tonekia L. Phairr started working in Fulton County in 2010, where she served as the Small Learning Communities Coordinator and the Coordinator for Advanced Learning at Westlake High School.  For the past five years, she has worked at Cambridge as a classroom teacher and then transitioned into administration serving as the testing coordinator and AP® coordinator.