Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Black History Stamps
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Extending the lesson


Media Components:

Web Sites:

The following sites are useful to bookmark and review.

Materials -- Students may choose to use the following in the design of their final project:

  • paper
  • poster board
  • markers

    Students may opt to use computer software programs in the design of their final project:

  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator

    Computer Resources:
    While many configurations will work, we recommend:

  • Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.

  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.

  • Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MBs of RAM.

  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MBs of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MBs of RAM, running Windows 95 or 98.

    Prep for Teachers:
    1. Teachers should bookmark and review the Web sites listed above.

    2. Teachers should check out relevant books or other supplementary material from the school library and/or have books available for students to use during research times in the classroom.

    3. Teachers should print out the worksheets located in the Organizers for Students section.

    4. Teachers may want to use the following Web sites to familiarize themselves and/or the students with Photoshop and Illustrator:

    5. Teachers may want to use the following Web sites to help their students prepare for writing a persuasive letter:

    Learning Activities:

  • Begin with a discussion about the people in all walks of life whom we admire most in American culture. Concentrate on people whose influence lives on after their deaths, rather than current popular figures. Prompt students to think of people from various avenues: leadership, science, the arts, sports.

  • In what ways does our society commemorate people? Consider local commemoratives (for example: street names, school names) and then go on to broader geographical regions until you come to the national level. How do we commemorate people on a national level? (national holidays, important buildings, currency, postage stamps).

  • In groups, ask students to write down the names of people who have been commemorated, how they were commemorated, and why they think they were commemorated. After listing the results on the board, ask students which talents are most commonly honored? Define "values" and ask them, based on our list, what qualities from the list do our society appears to value.

    Optional: Students can be engaged in a discussion by asking: Do you agree with this? What are some other qualities that you personally value?

  • Tell students that in honor of African-American heritage month, they will choose their own person to nominate for commemoration by writing a persuasive letter to the Postal Service stating why the selected person should be commemorated. In order to make the most convincing argument, they should start by researching who has been nominated in the past, and examine why they were nominated. For tips on writing a persuasive letter, see Prep for Teachers.

  • Groups of students can begin gathering background information about the post office and commemorative stamps by exploring the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, The U.S. Postal ServiceWeb site, and the Who Decides What Is Pictured on a Stamp? Web site. Have each group list a fact from the site that they find and pass the sheet of paper on to the next group. The next group should add two new facts to the sheet. Continue this process until the sheet has gone around the room once. Have them also check out the FAQ section to find out about the nomination process for commemorative stamps. Ask the students how they might use this information in their letters, and what additional information they might need to find out to make their arguments more convincing.

  • Now it's time for students to learn about the black history series of stamps. Have student groups go to the Stamp on Black History Web site to find three examples of famous African Americans already commemorated in stamps. (You may want to ensure that each group reports on a different set of commemorated people.) Have students follow the links to find out more information about the individuals. They can start their investigation by looking at the stamp from a design perspective. Students can answer the following questions:

    • Are there any objects included in the person's portrait?
    • What facial expression does the person have
    • What colors are used?
    • Based on this description, what do you think the stamp designer was trying to emphasize about this person?

  • Have students deepen their knowledge of the person by exploring the bookmarked Web Sites to find information about the person's achievements and the historical and social context they came out of. Students should do this by creating a list of facts about the honoree. They can develop their own research questions in advance of going online, or they can be supplied with the Research Organization Sheet in the Organizers for Students section.

  • After students have completed their research, ask them to draw conclusions about why they think their selected individual was honored. After sharing with the class, extend this by drawing conclusions about what our society values as a whole based on the kinds of people or qualities honored in the commemorative stamps. Write the qualities on the board and ask students to come up with the name of another African American who has similar qualities. Students will then use this person as the subject of their commemorative stamp campaign.

  • Students will write a persuasive letter addressed to the Commemorative Stamp Committee arguing why their candidate is worthy of commemoration of a stamp. As a class, come up with a list of strategies for persuading the committee of their candidate's worthiness. Then have students complete their research on this particular individual and write the persuasive letter. For tips of writing a persuasive letter, see the Prep for teachers section.

  • Students can choose from one of the following projects to complete after writing their letters:

    • Stamp Design: Choose 2 main qualities to accentuate about your candidate. Write a short paragraph describing how these qualities can be emphasized visually, then design a new stamp using Photoshop, Illustrator, or markers and paper
    • Museum Exhibit: If you were to design a museum exhibit in honor of this person, what would be displayed? Imagine that you have space approximately half the size of your classroom. You may describe your museum exhibit in words in any form you like (paragraphs, notes, lists) or you may make a model of your display. Or design a room of your museum in HTML. Include the wall text for the items in your exhibit. Instead of written wall text, you may choose to make an audio tape that will guide the viewer through the exhibit.

  • Give students a few days to complete this project. When finished, have all students display their stamps and exhibitions and email their letters to the post office.

    Culminating Activity:

    Students present their projects alone or in pairs. When the students give their presentations, ask the class these essential questions about the honoree:

    1. What does the fact that the United States has this person as an honoree on a commemorative stamp imply about what we value?
    2. How is life in America today enriched by this honoree?
    3. Do you think this person would be honored in a non-Democratic society? Why?

    Cross Curricular Extensions:

    Music: Many of the Americans featured on the stamps are famous for their musical talent. Have students find, bring in, and play for the class some of this music. Note that many of the stamps feature jazz musicians mentioned in the Ken Burns' documentary on PBS. The Web site is located at

    Examine and discuss the "Celebrate the Century" Commemorative Stamp Collection. This series tells the story of the twentieth century through U. S. Postage stamps, decade by decade. Information on the "Celebrate the Century" series can be found at:

    Community Extensions:

    The newest black history stamp was issued in January of 2001. Have students visit the post office and ask for this stamp. Find out from the post office how often this stamp is requested. What is the most frequently requested stamp? While they are there, they may wish to purchase a page of commemorative stamps of other topics of interest.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students