Emancipation Proclamation


With our Emancipation Proclamation lesson plan, students learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, including what it was, what it did, and what its lasting impact on U.S. history is. Students read passages from the document and learn its significance in relation to the Civil War.

Included with this lesson are some adjustments or additions that you can make if you’d like, found in the “Options for Lesson” section of the Classroom Procedure page. One of the optional additions to this lesson is to invite a historian to speak to your class about the Emancipation Proclamation.

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What our Emancipation Proclamation lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Emancipation Proclamation introduces students to the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln as the first step in freeing the slaves during the 1860s. Many students may have heard of the document but do not know the details or history of the document. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to define and explain the Emancipation Proclamation, how it relates to the Civil War and its importance in history. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. The only supplies you will need for this lesson are dictionaries and the handouts.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. One optional addition to the lesson is to print out the entire Proclamation for the activity and translate it into common language. You can plan a debate with half of the students from the south and half from the north where they discuss whether slavery should be ended. You can also have students write an imaginary Proclamation that grants all people in the U.S. freedom from federal taxes. Finally, you can invite a historian to speak to your class about the Emancipation Proclamation.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.



The Emancipation Proclamation lesson plan includes two pages of content. The lesson begins by stating that one of the worst things in world history was slavery. Slavery was the practice of buying and selling mostly African men, women, and children. Slave owners forced them to work or do other things against their will. Slaves were people who became the legal property of someone else. The roots of slavery were along the western coast of Africa, and the practice of slavery in America began in the 1600s. It was widespread in all of the 13 colonies and in other parts of the world, like Europe. Children of slaves became slaves themselves.

Slavery continued to exist in the United States through the 1800s, and was especially prevalent in the Southern states. The Civil War, in which the Northern and Southern states fought each other, eventually led to the end of slavery. However, slavery did not end overnight and they did not set all of the slaves free at the same time. Many people who owned slaves did not want to set them free. Some of the people in the Northern states were against slavery, but some of the states in between the North and South still had slaves. The President at that time, Abraham Lincoln, was against slavery but needed the support from the states in the North to end it. During the Civil War, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which was one of the first steps to ending slavery in the United States.

Freeing the Slaves

Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It ordered that ten Southern states—Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana—had to free their slaves within 100 days.

Lincoln announced this during the Civil War between the Union (the Northern states) and the Confederacy (the Southern states). These ten states were all a part of the Confederacy, and many of them did not free their slaves immediately. Of approximately four million slaves in those states, slave owners only freed about 20,000.

Lincoln knew that they wouldn’t free the salves immediately, and used this as a strategy to get support from the Northern states in the war against the South. Most of Europe had already ended slavery, and this undermined the Confederacy’s efforts to have England and France officially recognize the Confederacy. Lincoln knew that these European countries would support the Union because of this.

As the Civil War continued and the Union army advanced, they contributed to the freeing of thousands of slaves every day. Many of these slaves signed up to fight in the Union army to help defeat the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation targeted just the ten Southern states, but there were also five Border States (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia) that were slave states but did not have to comply with the order. The government did not require them to free their slaves because they were part of the Union and were not at war with the government. Tennessee and some areas in Virginia and Louisiana, which were already occupied by Union forces, did not have to comply either.

The 20,000 slaves who were already behind Union lines when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 were set free immediately. Some of the exempted border states willing ended slavery before the end of the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation led to many freed slaves, but it was not a law and did not make slavery illegal.

As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, they passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865. This amendment officially made slavery illegal in the United States. However, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated eight months before the amendment, on April 15, 1865. He was attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. and a man named John Wilkes Booth shot and killed him. Booth was a well-known actor and Confederate spy from Maryland.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery and used it as a strategy that led to the end of the Civil War. Over 18,000 former slaves fought in the Union Army against the Confederacy. In his Gettysburg address, Lincoln referred to the order as “a new birth of freedom.”

The freed slaves contributed to the South’s defeat in the Civil War, as it reduced their forces. These states were also dependent on their labor for both their living and business functions.

Key Terms

Here is a list of the vocabulary words students will learn in this lesson plan:

  • Slavery: The buying and selling of African men, women, and children
  • Slave: A person who becomes property of another
  • Civil War: A fight between the Northern and Southern states
  • Abraham Lincoln: President during the Civil War
  • Emancipation Proclamation: The order that Lincoln signed to end slavery
  • Confederacy: Southern states during the Civil War
  • Union: Northern states during the Civil War
  • Border States: Slave states that were not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation
  • 13th Amendment: The constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery in the U.S.
  • John Wilkes Booth: The man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln


The Emancipation Proclamation lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet.


For the activity worksheet, students will read a partial text from the Emancipation Proclamation from January 1, 1863 and will then rewrite and edit the information in their own words. They will update the language so readers can easily understand it.

Students can work in pairs to complete this activity if you’d prefer.


The practice worksheet asks students to complete two short exercises. For the first, they will place an X next to the Southern Confederate states and a check mark next to the Border States. For the second, they will answer six questions about the Emancipation Proclamation and its effects.


For the homework assignment, students will first answer ten questions about the Emancipation Proclamation. They will also read eight statements and tell whether each is true or false.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the activity worksheet, the practice worksheet, and the homework assignment. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies

State Educational Standards


Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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