In honor of Black History Month, the fourth graders at our school participate in an African American Wax Museum every year. It has become an annual event that is enjoyed by parents, teachers, and the entire student body at our school.

In mid-January, fourth grade students are given a list of African Americans (both past and present) who were important figures in history or who have made a positive difference in our world. Students sign up for the person of their choice and begin doing research for the next few weeks on their chosen person using books and online resources. The research is done at both school and home.

Using the information the students have collected on their famous African American figures, they write a speech in the first person that they will eventually read to an audience at the African American Wax Museum. In preparation for the opening of the wax museum, students try to memorize their speeches (although they do make note cards that they can use if they forget their lines). They also create posters with pictures of the African American they have chosen. Students are asked to dress up as their person and bring props or other things that will bring authenticity to their character.

On the day of the African American Wax Museum, students bring their posters to the cafeteria and hang them on the wall behind where they will stand. The fourth grade students line the outer walls of the gym, and the lights are dimmed. When classes visit the wax museum, visiting students are divided into groups of two or three and instructed to stand in front of one of the wax figures. When one of the fourth grade teachers rings a bell and brightens the dimmed lights, the wax figures “come alive.” The wax figures give their speeches and then answer questions for a total of about three minutes. The next time the bell rings, the wax figures freeze and the lights are dimmed again. The small groups of students move to the next wax figure and wait until the bell rings again signaling the wax figures to come back to life and give their speech to the next group of students.

Fourth graders look forward to this project each year! Thanks to fourth grade teachers Gail Cowger and Lora Herbert for allowing me to share this great activity with you!