Lesson Plan:
Building a Memorial to the Underground Railroad

Building a Memorial to the Underground Railroad

Theme/Topic of Lesson:
Honoring the Courage of the Travelers on the Underground Railroad

Time Commitment:
7-10 45-minute class periods

Subject Areas:
Social Studies, Reading & Writing

Grade Level:

Lesson Challenge Question:
How did people help each other to freedom on the Underground Railroad?

STAGE 1: Identify Desired Results


The Underground Railroad was a secret network organized by people who helped an estimated 60,000 men, women, and children escape from slavery to freedom in the United States during the 19th century. The Underground Railroad provided hiding places, food, and often transportation for the fugitives. People also provided directions for the journey, telling fugitives the safest way to get further north on the dangerous journey to freedom. The Underground Railroad was run by a well-organized network of people, who worked together in secret, to help slaves escape. The work of the Underground Railroad resulted in freedom for many men, women, and children. It also helped undermine the institution of slavery, which was finally ended in the United States during the Civil War.

Deciding to try to escape slavery was very complicated. Living as a slave was extremely hard. But escaping meant leaving family behind. It also might lead to eventual capture, punishment, and sometimes, even death.

In this lesson plan, students will use a variety of sources to learn about how people helped other people to freedom on the Underground Railroad. At the completion of this lesson, students will design and write to inform about a memorial to honor the courage of people that traveled on, "built," and operated the Underground Railroad.

Grade 4 students will be successful with this lesson if they are able to read, interpret and analyze primary source documents and write to inform. Appropriate accommodations for this lesson include annotating the primary sources, assigning the primary sources in a cooperative learning Jigsaw structure, assigning fewer sources, or modifying the culminating writing assignment. Teachers' prerequisite knowledge and skills should general background knowledge about the Underground Railroad. Students can work individually or in groups to complete the activities in the lesson. If students work in groups, teachers should consider reading ability levels and necessary modifications when placing students in groups. This lesson requires both on and off-line activities.

This is an integrated Social Studies, Technology, Reading and Writing lesson.

STAGE 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence

Maryland Learning Outcomes
Social Studies - Grades 4-5

Social Studies Skills
MLO 1.1 Apply the concept of change over time by organizing turning point events in chronological order.

MLO 1.2 Apply, and organize information specific to social studies disciplines by reading, asking questions and observing.

MLO 1.4 Identify and analyze the causes and effects of historical events.

MLO 3.1 Construct and interpret maps using map elements including a title, cardinal and intermediate directions, compass rose, border, longitude and latitude, legend/key, author, date, and scale.

MLO 3.6 Describe causes and consequences of migration to and within Maryland and the United States.

MLO 3.7 Explain how people in Maryland and the United States are linked by transportation and communication.

Content Standard Describe how cooperation and conflict affect the movement of individual and groups.


MLO 4.1 Identify economic wants for goods and services and explain how limited natural, capital, and human resources require people to make choices
Political Systems
MLO 5.3 Explain the meaning of songs, poems, and stories that express American ideals and the context within which they were created.

Reading - Grades 4-5
#2: Students will demonstrate their ability to read for information by examining, constructing, and extending meaning from articles, editorials, content texts, and other expository materials related to the content areas.

Students are able to do everything required at earlier grades, use text support, and read for:

2.1 Global Understanding when they:

2.1.1. Summarize text in a manner that reflects the main ideas, significant details, and its underlying meaning.

2.2 Developing Interpretation when they:

2.2.1 Use common organizational structures such as comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and chronological order to gain meaning from text.

2.2.2 Use prior knowledge and ideas presented in texts to make and confirm predictions.

Writing - Grades 4-5
#1: Students will demonstrate their ability to write to inform by developing and organizing facts to convey information.

Students are able to do everything required at earlier grades and:

1.1.1 Create a paragraph that guides and informs the reader's understanding of key ideas and evidence and that presents effective introductory and concluding sentences, logical sequencing of ideas, and transitional words.

1.1.2 Create a clear organizing structure that includes descriptions placed in a logical, chronological, or narrative sequence in ways that help the reader follow the line of thought.

1.1.3 Connect relevant descriptions, including sensory details, personal experiences, observations, and/or research-based information, linking paragraphs and ideas in ways that make a topic or message clear to the reader.

1.1.4 Improve the organizational and consistency in ideas among paragraphs by revising writing based on given or self-generated criteria and on others' responses.

1.1.5 Write essays of description and problem/solution for an intended audience and purpose that use concrete sensory details to support impressions of people, places, and things.

OPTIONAL: 1.1.6 Write letters (friendly and formal) that address the knowledge and interests of the audience and state the purpose and the context.

Language in Use - Grades 4-5
#1: Students will demonstrate their ability to use the structures and conventions of the English language in their written communication.

Students are able to do everything required at earlier grades and:

1.1 Use standard English language conventions correctly to communicate clearly, including:
  • sentence structure
  • punctuation
  • capitalization
  • grammar and usage
1.2 Select the structures and features of language appropriate to the specific audience, purpose, and context.

1.3 Spell correctly high-frequency, content area, and complex pattern words in their own writing.

ISTE Technology Standards
5. Use technology tools (e.g., multimedia authoring, presentation, Web tools, digital cameras, scanners) for individual and collaborative writing, communication, and publishing activities to create knowledge products for audiences inside and outside the classroom.

Learning Objectives:
At the completion of the lesson, students will be able to:
  • Design a memorial to honor the courage and contributions of the people that traveled on, built and operated the Underground Railroad.

How will student performance be evaluated?
  • Timeline
  • Sequence Chain
  • Map
  • Economic Resources Chart
  • Geographic Characteristics Chart
  • Letter/Paragraph
  • Sense Poem
  • Figure It Out Chart
  • Quilt Design Template
  • Design for Memorial for Underground Railroad
  • Paragraph or letter describing Memorial
What scoring form or tool will be used?
  • Scoring Rule: Writing to Express Personal Ideas
  • Scoring Rubric: Writing to Inform
  • Scoring Rule: Language in Use

STAGE 3: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction

Internet Sites:
Maryland Public Television's Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad has been designed to help Maryland students in Grades 4 and 8 look more closely at Maryland's people, stories, and events that surrounded this important effort.

National Teacher Training Institute
All 2002 NTTI Institute lesson plans, resources, and links can be accessed at this site. Links to the national WNET/Thirteen NTTI site and lesson plans from past institutes are also available.

NTTI Electronic Learning Community
This Electronic Learning Community is the gateway to online resources, a discussion board, virtual chat and loads of links. The programming for this ELC is designed by the Center for Technology in Education, The Johns Hopkins University.

Technology Toolbox
This informative site explains the many Internet projects available on the WWW, including many links. MPT staff compiles this site.

Visit MPT's LearningWorks Web site at www.mpt.org and click on the "K-12 Educational Video Service"

Tom Snyder's Kidspiration Software: Use the Web site: Educational Software Institute http://www.edsoft.com/ to locate software and vendor contact information


Per student:
  • Blank Sequence Chain
  • Map Directions
  • Map Elements
  • Blank Economic Resources Chart
  • Blank Geographic Characteristics Chart
  • Blank Sense Poem Template
  • Figure it Out Chart
  • Figure it Out ThinkSheets
  • Quilt Story Template
  • Directions for Designing a Memorial for Underground Railroad
  • Writing Prompt
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Optional: Computer software Kidspiration
  • Writing to Inform Prompt (LWP)
  • Writing to Inform Scoring Rubric
  • Language in Use Rule

What are the essential terms related to the learning experience?
  • Fugitive - person who has escaped custody
  • Primary source - document original to an historical time period used by historians to construct the story of the past. Sample primary sources can include photographs, paintings, objects, legal documents like wills, inventories; diaries, letters, newspaper articles

In this lesson, students will construct meaning about the Underground Railroad from their interpretations of three sections of the "Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the Underground Railroad" site; "Following the Footsteps," "Figure it Out," and "Secrets: Language, Signs and Symbols."

Children's literature can be used to supplement these electronic resources, either before or after students use the web site. Grouping strategies will allow teachers to match student interest and reading ability with the appropriate activities, maximizing learning. This lesson can be used with any technology configuration - one computer classroom, a lab for each student, or a mini-lab setting so that groups of students can share access to the computers.

Following the Footsteps provides a multimedia (text, music and voiceover) program for students to experience what a journey on the Underground Railroad might have been like. Students are given the opportunity to decide whether they will travel on the Underground Railroad, or stay on the plantation. To use this interactive exploration, you will need to make sure that the Flash software is loaded on the computers your students will use to view the Following the Footsteps feature of the MPT: Pathways to Freedom web site in advance. We strongly recommend you visit the web site prior to your students (on the same day) to increase the speed of the downloading images. Consult your school's technology specialist about ways to increase the speed of the downloading images or installing software if necessary!

To select appropriate differentiation and accommodation strategies, teachers should pre-assess students' skills at reading and interpreting text and data by completing a "think aloud" modeling activity prior to the first activity.

Learning accommodations for special education students include different grouping strategies; modifying the writing assignment by providing a frame paragraph structure; by modifying the other activities included in the lesson.

Advanced learners can complete their choice of the Extension activities (listed at the end of the lesson). For additional resources to differentiate the lesson, view:
  • Students with disabilities [www.uga.berkeley.edu/sled/bgd/disabilities.html]
  • Students who are high achievers [http://www.nagc.org/ParentInfo/index.html]
  • Students with diverse learning styles [http://cast.org]
This lesson can be completed in small groups or as a whole class.

Day 1-3: What happened to a person who traveled on the Underground Railroad?

Activity 1: Pre-Testing Students
To select appropriate differentiation and accommodation strategies, teachers should pre-assess students' skills at reading and interpreting text and data by completing a "think aloud" modeling activity prior to the first activity. For example, share the first frame in the "Following the Footsteps" section of the web site. Read the text aloud. Ask: What is happening here? Who is this story about? What do you know about this situation? (5 minutes)

Activity 2: Accessing Prior Knowledge
Complete a K-W-L or a web (using the software Kidspiration) about the Underground Railroad to assess students' prior knowledge about the Underground Railroad. Discuss student responses. (10 minutes)

Explain that students are going to be investigating a variety of different sources of information about the people that traveled on the Underground Railroad to their freedom. (1-2 minutes)

Activity 3: "Previewing or Pre-Reading"
Lead students in a previewing or pre-reading activity before they continue with "Following the Foosteps." Ask: What do you think will happen to someone if they travel on the Underground Railroad? Why do you think they call it an Underground Railroad? Have you ever seen a Railroad go underground? What does it mean to say something is "underground?" (10 minutes)

Activity 4: Completing a Sequence Chain
Ask students to use the "Following the Footsteps" section of the web site. As they explore, they should create a sequence chain to track the choices of the characters, and the obstacles they encounter. (experienced readers will take 25-30 minutes to complete the interactive; less experienced readers and special needs students may require your assistance and take considerably longer)

Activity 5: Mapping the Story
Track the events of the story by creating a birds-eye map. Instruct students to use their imagination to create a detailed map. Ask them to add the geographic characteristics that they can hear, see, and read about in the story. Remind them to use their map elements! (Do while completing the interactive - 15-20 minutes)

Activity 6: Identifying the Economic Resources in the Story
Tell students there are many economic resources that are referred to in this story. Ask them to complete the chart to make a list of the human, natural and capital resources they hear, see and read about. Can be completed individually or as a group while completing the interactive. (15 minutes)

Activity 7: Identifying the Geographic Characteristics in the Story
Tell students there are many geographic characteristics that are referred to in this story. Have students complete the chart to make a list of the physical (landforms, vegetation, etc.) and human (buildings, languages, etc.) characteristics that they hear, see and read about. (15 minutes)

Activity 8: Write a Sense Poem
Write sense poems to describe the "frames" of Following the Footsteps.

Day 4-5: Figure it Out

Activity 1: Preview the Timeline
Review with students the ways in which historians gather meaning from data using maps, charts, and tables. To select appropriate differentiation and accommodation strategies, teachers should pre-assess students' skills at reading and interpreting charts and data by completing one of the "ThinkSheet" activities as a group. For example, distribute copies of the "How many slaves lived in Maryland?" ThinkSheet and discuss several of the questions. Ask: "What kind of information would you have to have to answer this type of question?" (10 Minutes)
Activity 2: Introduce the Timeline
Show and model for students the interactive timeline from the "Figure it Out" section of the website. If each student has their own computer, have them complete the "Demo" section to learn about the features. Let students explore the features. (5 -10 Minutes)

Activity 3: Analyze the data
Break students into groups of 2 or 3. Tell them will now become historical "experts" on some part of the data. Distribute copies of the one of the four ThinkSheets to each group. Let students work together to answer questions on the ThinkSheets using the interactive Timeline and their own ideas. (15-20 Minutes)

Activity 4: Compare Data
Each group should brainstorm a question they would like to answer in their area of expertise. Have students compare data from 5 counties or 5 decades to answer the question they want to research. For example, students examining the "How many slaves lived in Maryland?" section of the interactive might compare the number of slaves in Washington, Caroline, Prince George's, Somerset, and Baltimore counties in 1840. Have students record their data. (10 Minutes)

Activity 5: Make bar graphs of the data to compare
Construct a bar graph using the data collected by the group. Review the components of the graph: the title, horizontal and vertical axis, selecting the scale, and labeling. Discuss why historians might put information in a graph format. Recommend that students should make their graph easy to read and interpret as possible, as their fellow historians will be using them to answer questions when they are finished. (15-20 Minutes)

Activity 6: Reading and interpreting the graphs
Construct a list of questions that can be answered using the graphs created by the students. These can be created by the teacher, or created by each group and submitted to the teacher for compellation. Arrange the graphs around the outside of the room. Tell students that they will now use the information they gathered to answer some questions about slavery in Maryland. Distribute the list of questions to each student. Explain that they will have to circulate throughout the room, finding the right graph to answer the questions on the list. (10 Minutes)

Activity 7: Analyze and Answer
Let students try to answer the questions. Emphasize that it is not a race, and that each graph maybe have more than one question associated with it. Have students record the title of the graph where they found the data they needed as well as the information they need to answer the question. Walk around the room to help students identify the correct graph to answer their question. (20 Minutes)

Activity 8: Discuss your Findings
After everyone has completed their work, review the correct answers as a class. Discuss which graphs were easiest to use and interpret and why. Ask: "Was there any information on any of the graphs that surprised you?" (15 Minutes)

Day 6-7: Secrets: Language, Signs and Symbols

Activity 1: Accessing Prior Knowledge
Complete a K-W-L or a web (using the software Inspiration) about the Underground Railroad to assess students' prior knowledge. Ask students if they have ever tried to communicate secretly (such as by passing notes secretly or making up a secret code with their friends, for example). Discuss the benefits, difficulties, advantages, and disadvantages of secretive communication. (5-10 Minutes)

Activity 2: Preview the Readings
Hand out copies of text or have students access the "Secrets: Language, Signs, and Symbols" section of the Pathways to Freedom website. Lead students in a previewing or pre-reading activity. Read the introductory text (titled "Hidden in Plain Sight"), asking: "How do you think slaves were able to communicate without others knowing? What mediums (paths of communication) might the people of the Underground Railroad have used?" (10 minutes)

Activity 3: Communicating via Song
Have students read the "Following the Drinking Gourd" text. Discuss why finding which way was North was so important to escaping slaves. Using a prerecorded tape or the online version available at [http://pathways.thinkport.org/secrets/gourd2.cfm], play for students the song "Following the Drinking Gourd." (15 Minutes)

Activity 4: Interpreting meaning from a Song
Ask students if they can guess what the song might be instructing slaves to do. Hand out or click "Can you figure out the codes?" to reach the song lyrics and meanings page (see above URL). Review the lyrics together, discussing how the song's instructions could be interpreted and used. (10-15 Minutes)

Activity 5: Designing a Memorial
The people that built, traveled on and "operated" the Underground Railroad were very brave. The National Park Service, and many local communities want to honor these people with a memorial. Memorials can be statues, like the Statue of Liberty, or they can be simple parks, like the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Think about the best way to honor the courage of the people that traveled and operated the Underground Railroad. What type of memorial would you build?

Activity 6: Brainstorming Ideas for a Memorial
Have students compile a list of people, places, events, and practices they have learned were associated with the Underground Railroad. Students may want to refer to the Geographic and Economic characteristics they compiled earlier, as well as the Sequence Chain of from their "Following the Footsteps" exploration. Ask: "What would you tell people who didn't know anything about the Underground Railroad? What would you want them to know about it?" Have students contribute to a class list that you record on the board or overhead. (10 Minutes)

Activity 7: Describing and sketching the Memorial
On a piece of paper, have students list the 3-5 aspects of the Underground Railroad that most impressed them. These can come from the class list or their own observations. Using this list, have students draw a rough sketch of what their monument could or would include to tell others about the Underground Railroad. Have students label each part of their sketch. (10 Minutes)

Activity 8: Writing to Inform - Your Memory to the People who Traveled, "Built" and Operated the Underground Railroad
Direct student to use the ideas that they brainstormed as a class and in their sketch to write an informative essay about the people who took part in the Underground Railroad and the memorial they have designed to honor them. Give students the "Underground Railroad Memorial" writing prompt. Ask them to reflect on the people, the places, and the practices of the Underground Railroad they wish to include in their memorial.

Wrap up/Closure
Share the Memorial Designs and paragraphs. Select representative memorials and (either) invite a guest to view them or send them to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202 (888-684-7732).

Children's literature can introduce, enhance or extend students' understanding of the Underground Railroad.
  • Read about Minty, young Harriet Tubman after viewing Footsteps to Freedom
    Harriet Tubman : Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry - Reading level: Ages 9-12

  • Minty : A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder, Jerry Pinkney (Illustrator) - Reading level: Ages 4-8
    Hardcover (May 1996)
    Dial Books for Young Readers; ISBN: 0803718888

  • Two Tickets To Freedom by Florence B. Freedman, (Scholastic Inc., New York, 1971)

  • Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson with illustrations by James Ransome (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1993)

  • Harriet Tubman (Junior World Biographies) by Bree Burns - Reading level: Ages 9-12

  • Learning About Bravery from the Life of Harriet Tubman (Character Building Book) by Kiki Mosher

  • Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family, Aladdin Picure Books, by Dolores Johnson, Delores Johnson (Illustrator)
    Paperback - (January 1997) 32 pages
    Reading level: Ages 4-8
    Paperback - 32 pages Reprint edition (January 1997)
    Aladdin Paperbacks; ISBN: 0689809662

  • Journey to Freedom : A Story of the Underground Railroad
    by Courtni C. Wright, Gershom Griffith (Illustrator)
    Paperback - 32 pages Reprint edition (September 1997)
    Holiday House; ISBN: 0823413330
Extensions/Differentiation for Advanced Students:
1. Complete a Virtual Field trip of Sotterley Plantation in Southern Maryland. Sotterley Plantation is a very important historical site in Maryland. [http://www.sotterley.com/slavecabin.htm]

2. Learn more about the song you can hear in "Following the Foosteps."
One of the best known songs sung by enslaved people was Follow the Drinking Gourd. People sang this song to teach other people about escape routes north. The drinking gourd refers to the Big Dipper, the stars in the sky. By using the two stars at the end of the "cup" you could see in the sky, runaways could locate the North Star and follow it to freedom. The chorus of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" says
    "for the old man say, follow the drinking gourd."
Who do you think the old man was?

According to legend, the old man was a sailor known as Peg-Leg Joe, who traveled throughout Alabama around 1840 to 1860 helping slaves escape. He showed them the marks his feet made in the soil (a natural left foot and a round hole made by his peg leg) and told them to follow those marks. The words to Peg-Leg's song gave people a "map" to follow. They walked in the shallow water of the riverbank, and followed the North Star to the Alabama River and on to the Mobile River. When they got to the Ohio River, they followed it to Pennsylvania, New York and on to Canada. Can you find these rivers on a map?

Here are the lyrics to "Follow the Drinking Gourd."

The river's bank is a very good road
The dead trees show the way:
Left foot, peg foot going on,
Follow the drinking gourd.

The river ends between two hills,
Follow the drinking gourd;
Another river on the other side,
Follow the drinking gourd.

Song and translation: [http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/ltc/special/mlk/gourd2.html] and [http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/planetarium/ftdg1.htm] (includes picture of a drinking gourd)

Community Connection
How can students take action in the community through their learning? For additional insight into community-based projects, go to the "Making Family and Community Connections" http://www.thirteen.org/wnetschool/concept2class/month9

Fine Arts
Create an illustration, mural or torn paper collage based on one of the "frames" in Following the Footsteps or your sense poem.

Graph the population data included in the Pathways to Freedom: "Figure it Out" section.

Students can create a Kid Pix presentation describing all that they have learned from these lessons.

STAGE 4: Teacher Reflection

As a reflective practitioner, note how this lesson could be adjusted after its initial implementation. How successful were the students? What did the assessment demonstrate about the students' learning? What skills do the students need to revisit? What instructional strategies worked and what made them successful? What will you change the next time you use this lesson? Why?

Teacher Author of Lesson: Lisa Kissinger
School System: Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Pintable Charts and Graphs:
[Click on the links below for printable charts and graphs]

Underground Railroad Memorial
Limited Writing Process - Writing to Inform

Today you will be writing to inform. When you write to inform, you are sharing what you know about a topic or subject with another person. You have learned about the people that traveled on, built and operated the Underground Railroad. You have designed a memorial to honor the courage of people who helped other people become free in our country's history. Now, you will be writing to inform about the design of your memorial.

In your essay, be sure to include:

Reasons people choose to leave their homes and travel to freedom on the Underground Railroad The people that traveled on, built and operated the Underground Railroad. The courage of people who helped other people become free in our country's history. Other information you may have learned about the Underground Railroad that you will include in your memorial design. An explanation of your memorial design.

MSDE Scoring Rule:
Writing To Express Personal Ideas

2 points
Presents personal ideas in a complete, well-developed whole. Text is uniformly organized and language choices often enhance the text and are appropriate to the literary form.

1 point
Presents personal ideas in an incomplete or partially developed whole. Text is generally organized and language choices sometimes enhance the text and may sometimes be appropriate to the literary form.

0 points
Fails to present personal ideas in a complete, well-developed whole. Text is often disorganized and language choices seldom, if ever, enhance the text and are often inappropriate to the literary form.

© 2001, Middle School Instructional Resource Manual, page F-3