Underground Railroad

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Students learn all about the Underground Railroad using this lesson plan. They learn the history of the Underground Railroad, including its historical context, key figures and vocabulary words, and its lasting impact on the United States.

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 have students use a U.S. map to identify the route a slave may have taken on the Underground Railroad.

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Description

What our Underground Railroad lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Underground Railroad introduces students to the Underground Railroad, used to help slaves escape from the South to freedom. Most students may not know about the Underground Railroad, but they have heard of the Civil War and slavery. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to define and describe the Underground Railroad and how it aided African-American slaves in their journey to freedom from the South to the North. 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 orange 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 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. For an additional activity, you can have students use a U.S. map to identify the route a slave may have taken on the Underground Railroad. You could also invite a historian to speak to your class about slavery and the Underground Railroad. You can assign each student a participant in the Underground Railroad to research and present to the class. Finally, your students can create a stage play showing how the Underground Railroad worked.

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.

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD LESSON PLAN CONTENT PAGES

Slavery in America

The Underground Railroad lesson plan includes three content pages. Slavery was widespread throughout the 13 colonies in the 1600s, especially in the southern states. Slavers brought the first slaves to the American colonies in 1619, bringing them to Jamestown, Virginia. These slaves were African people who became the legal property of another person. Slaveowners forced their slaves to work long hours in very bad conditions. They beat and sometimes even killed their slaves.

Slavery existed in America until the 1800s when people, mostly in the northern states, began to change their opinions. They started calling southern states slave states and northern states free states. Slaves who wanted to escape had to travel to the north. This was very dangerous because, if someone caught them trying to escape, they could be beaten or killed. They also arrested, fined, or jailed people who helped slaves escape.

Because of these risks, slaves used a system called the Underground Railroad to escape to the north. This did not include a real train or railroad tracks, but instead consisted of a network of people, houses, and hiding places that they used to secretly travel.

The Railroad Without Trains or Tracks

They established the Underground Railroad in about 1810 to help runaway slaves escape. However, a less organized system had existed for this purpose since the end of the 1700s. George Washington himself once complained about one of his slaves escaping with the help of the Quakers, a religious group that believed in abolition.

As time went on, the system grew larger and larger, adding people and places to the network. They did not call it the Underground Railroad until about 1831, but by that time it had already helped hundreds of escaped slaves every year.

They called it the Underground Railroad because they used railroad terms to describe the people and places in the network. Before they reached the Underground Railroad, slaves needed to escape from their slaveowners, which was often the most dangerous part of their journey.

Underground Railroad Terms

On the Underground Railroad, stations and depots were the homes, barns, churches, and businesses where slaves rested and ate while on their journey. These trips were very long and difficult, and the slaves had to stop at these places to sleep before moving to the next station.

They called the escaped slaves packages, freight, or cargo. Saying that a “package” was on the move meant that a slave was traveling from place to place.

Stationmasters were the people who managed the stations and depots. Some of them were white, but most were black. They had information about the local area, which helped keep the Underground Railroad a secret.

Stockholders were people who contributed money, food, and other goods to help the escaped slaves and stationmasters. They helped keep the system running smoothly. They also used money to help with the appearances of the escaped slaves, as most arrived in torn clothing, which was suspicious.

Conductors moved slaves from one station to the next. They usually moved in the middle of the night, with stations about 10 to 20 miles apart.

After slaves arrived at their final destination, abolitionists in the northern cities helped them settle into a community, find jobs, and recommend them for jobs and other opportunities.

Several conductors became famous, most notably Harriet Tubman, who helped about 300 slaves escape over 19 trips to the south. At one time, slavers offered $40,000 for her capture. They never caught her.

John Fairfield, the son of a slaveowning family in Ohio, and Levi Coffin, who helped free more than 3,000 slaves, were some more notable members of the Underground Railroad. Susan B. Anthony and her friends helped the escaped slaves as well, giving them warm clothing for the journey to Canada. Benjamin Still, a free black man and abolitionist leader, and Thomas Garret, a Quaker businessman, were two more important figures.

The U.S. government passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in response to the Underground Railroad. This made assisting or helping slaves hide a federal offense, punishable by six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.

Between 1810 and 1850, the Underground Railroad helped approximately 100,000 slaves escape. Even more escaped on their own to Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, South America, and elsewhere.

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD LESSON PLAN WORKSHEETS

The Underground Railroad 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.

CONVERSATION ACTIVITY WORKSHEET

The activity worksheet asks students to imagine that they had access to cell phones on the Underground Railroad and to write down a conversation that the slaves, stationmaster, stockholder, and conductor may have had. They will review each person’s role before writing, and will present their conversation to the class.

Students can either work alone or in pairs to complete this activity. They can also write down their conversation instead of performing it. They can use real cell phones as props.

MATCHING PRACTICE WORKSHEET

For the practice worksheet, students will match the information to the correct person or term. They will then tell the name of each part of the “railroad” and answer three questions about the lesson material.

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT

The homework assignment first asks students to match the description with the correct railroad term. Next, they will tell the significance of each number as it relates to slavery or to the Underground Railroad.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for 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

grade-level

4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade

subject

Social Studies

State Educational Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.3, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.3, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6.2, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6.4

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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05/26/2020
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