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Underground Railroad Lesson Plan

Class/Subject: 8th grade Social Studies

Time: 50 minutes

Big Idea
Students will understand the significance of the Underground Railroad in the greater
context of the Civil War and the life of a slave.

Essential Questions
1. How and why did America’s popular opinion change about slavery over time?
What changes occurred that reflected over this time period?
2. How did the Underground Railroad change the prevalence of fugitive slaves?
3. What were the consequences of helping a fugitive slave?

Student Objectives/Student Outcomes:

1. Students will understand the interactions of the Underground Railroad with the
Fugitive Slave Law.
2. Students will understand the roles of key figures on the Underground Railroad.
3. Students will be able to critically think about and articulate ideas on helping
escaped slaves.

Content Standards:
1. 16.D.3 Identify the origins and analyze consequences of events that have
shaped world history.
2. 16.D.3a Describe characteristics of different kinds of communities in various
sections of America during the colonial/ frontier periods and the 19th century.

1. PowerPoint
2. Computer and Projector
3. Whiteboard
4. Student Journals
5. Homework Handout

Teacher’s Goals:
To help students understand the journey of the Underground Railroad from the
perspective of both a slave and a conductor. The teacher will help facilitate discussion
and help students learn how to articulate their ideas about the pros and cons of aiding
fugitive slaves and working on the Underground Railroad.

I. Introduction - 5 minutes
II. Lecture - 20 minutes
A. Give a short lecture to students on the Underground Railroad using pictures and
powerpoint slides.
B. Topics to cover:
1. Quick recap of prior knowledge from previous lectures, especially the life of a
2. The beginning of the Underground Railroad
3. A look at the journey and some of the routes slaves would have taken
4. Why Canada?
5. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and other laws and their impact
6. Quilts and other symbols for safety
7. Key figures such as Harriet Tubman and John Brown, and famous escaped
III. Activity - 20 minutes
A. Have students get into their groups for 5 minutes and discuss whether or not they
would have helped fugitive slaves. Why/ why not and what would have been the
consequences for the side you chose?
B. As a class, spend time having students give their answers and rationale. Discuss
these answers as a class.
C. On the board, have students come up with the pros and cons for each side
(helping, not doing anything, or turning in fugitive slaves) and write these down.
1. Have students draw answers from the class discussion.
2. Students should take this chart down as notes so they have it as a reference
IV. Closing - 5 minutes
A. Have students take out a piece of paper to write a quick journal: If you were
willing to help fugitive slaves, what role would you have taken to help them along
the Underground Railroad? What historical figure we discussed in class today
would this have most resembled?

• See attached homework sheet - “Write a Letter”
I. Informally assess students as they discuss in groups and as they participate in the
class discussion.
II. Closing journal
III. Homework assignment
Homework Assignment
Either on this page, or typed in a word processor, write a short letter as if you were a
conductor on the Underground Railroad and you were “shipping cargo” to the next
station. Remember that this needs to be secretive. You want the next person along the
railroad to be able to understand this, but make sure it is nothing that would make the
slave catchers suspicious! Keep in mind the letters/ messages that we looked at in class
today. Tomorrow, we will discuss your letters at the beginning of class.