Juneteenth in the Classroom: Exploring History Through Timelines, Stories, and Student Projects

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On June 19, 1895, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with life-changing news: the Civil War had ended two years prior, and all enslaved individuals were now free. Despite the belated announcement, the city erupted in joyous celebrations filled with prayers, feasting, and lively singing and dancing.

June 19 is an annual commemoration within the African-American community, a tradition that started in June 1867. One distinctive aspect of this celebration is the prominent use of red, particularly in foods like red velvet cake and red punch, which symbolize the blood shed by enslaved people. Through time, the celebration of Juneteenth expanded beyond Texas, reaching other states. The United States achieved a significant milestone on June 17, 2021, by officially recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

As part of Juneteenth lessons, students learn about enslaved Black individuals’ delayed liberation and struggle after the Emancipation Proclamation, emphasizing core American values such as equality, resilience, and optimism. Through exploration of primary sources and historical records, students develop empathy and gain a deeper understanding of the experiences and challenges faced by African Americans during the Civil War era.

Let’s look at some helpful free resources to include with Juneteenth lessons. These resources allow your students to learn about this important time in American history and creatively share their understanding.

Generate a Timeline

Timelines provide a visual perspective of the context and graphic sequence of events. They are an effective way to introduce the topic of Juneteenth while providing opportunities for further exploration. The following tools use AI to quickly generate timelines relating to Juneteenth using short prompts. When using AI tools, always check the generated content for accuracy.

Use timelines like the ones below to present a quick overview of important dates and events, then encourage students to discuss and share additional information. For example, ask students to contribute ideas for additional events to include on timelines or use the information provided as a basis for additional research and discussions.

  • MyLens (reviewed here) – Create a timeline like the one found here by entering Juneteenth as the prompt. This timeline begins in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation and ends in 2021 with the declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Adjust your prompt to fit your lesson objectives; include specific dates or people in the timeline.
  • Preceden (reviewed here) – Build multi-layer timelines with Preceden using AI or manually. Provide a prompt in English or one of the several language options to view an interactive timeline with images and editing options. Free accounts allow users to create unlimited timelines and add up to ten events per timeline. Use Juneteenth as a prompt to create a timeline such as this one in just seconds.
  • Microsoft Copilot – Copilot is an AI chatbot that generates information, images, and more based on user input. Create a simple timeline like this with a prompt of “Create a timeline of Juneteenth,” or add specific information to generate a timeline personalized to your needs.

Find Information About Juneteenth:

  • The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth (reviewed here) – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture shares the history of Juneteenth and a digital toolkit that invites learners to explore and enjoy this holiday’s tastes, sounds, and experiences. One interesting section of the toolkit shares the story of how a family incorporates the color red into their celebrations.
  • The Birth of Juneteenth; Voices of the Enslaved (reviewed here) – The Library of Congress presents a blog that chronicles Juneteenth using first-person accounts from people who experienced it. Follow the links in the blog to access letters, images, and audio recordings of formerly enslaved people sharing their stories of slavery and freedom.
  • Genially (reviewed here) – Use this interactive image shared on Genially to engage students as they learn about the Juneteenth flag, view the military orders, and learn about the Emancipation Proclamation. Reuse this template to add content to fit your lesson, such as videos, quizzes, and articles.
  • Edpuzzle (reviewed here) – This original Edpuzzle lesson shares the story of Juneteenth using a short video that includes several multiple-choice and open-ended questions. Access your Edpuzzle account and personalize the lesson by making any necessary edits. Assign the lesson to your class once you are satisfied with the changes.
  • Wonderopolis (reviewed here) – This Wonder of the Day explores the question,  “If slavery ended, when did slavery end?”  The easy-to-follow explanation includes definitions of highlighted words, correlation to national standards, and suggestions for additional activities. 
  • Juneteenth Resources Special Topics Collection (reviewed here) – This curated collection shares several resources for all grade levels that provide information and activities related to Juneteenth.

Show What You Know with Choice-based Projects

Provide a diverse range of presentation options that cater to students’ individual needs and learning styles to ensure all students can express their understanding of Juneteenth.

  • Make a poster – Ask students to use the templates shared in Canva for Education (reviewed here) to design posters that tell the story of Juneteenth using images, infographics, or timelines.
  • Create an interactive timeline – As discussed earlier, timelines are an excellent visual tool for sharing information sequentially. In addition to the templates shared above by Canva, Genially also includes timeline templates that allow users to include interactive elements in timelines. 
  • Design a Slide presentation – Allow students to share their understanding of information and incorporate links and multimedia with a slide presentation. Search Slidesgo (reviewed here) for a Juneteenth presentation template for Google Slides and PowerPoint.
  • Record a Podcast – Students love listening to podcasts; encourage them to create a Juneteenth podcast that tells the story and history of Juneteenth or interview a community member to discuss their annual celebrations of this event. Find podcast creation resources on this special topics collection and learn more about how to create podcasts in your classroom by viewing this OK2Ask web workshop on demand. 

Juneteenth, a symbolic event in US history, signifies the end of slavery and honors African American resilience. Take advantage of the many free resources available to develop lessons that deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of Juneteenth. Including activities such as timelines, multimedia projects, and podcasts allows students to explore primary sources, develop an understanding of events related to the Emancipation Proclamation, and then share their learning creatively. 

How does your class learn about and celebrate Juneteenth? We would love to hear your ideas in the comments below as we learn together. 

About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.

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