Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
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Lesson Plan: Whispers from the Past

Quick links: Stage 1 | Stage 2 | Stage 3 | Stage 4

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.


Per student:
• K-W-L Handout
• Copies of the primary source document analysis worksheet, "Questions For a Primary Source"
• Computer with Internet access
• Optional: Computer software Inspiration
• Access to a computer with web-page development software, i.e., Netscape Composer or PowerPoint
• Writing to Inform Prompt (LWP)
• Writing to Inform Scoring Rubric

Per student team/group of 4:
Copies of the primary source narratives from the MPT Pathways to Freedom: Eyewitness to History section


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
• Narrative - story, chronicle, account


In this lesson, students will construct meaning from their interpretations of the primary source narratives. Technology will be used to access the primary source documents, and create either an essay or a web page to share the conclusions students draw about the factors people considered when deciding to leave captivity and escape via the Underground Railroad. As students will complete the analysis either individually or in groups, teachers will need to be familiar with the Jigsaw cooperative learning structure to effectively manage transitions from one activity to the next. Grouping strategies will allow teachers to match student interest and reading ability with the appropriate primary source narrative, maximizing learning. Teachers can enhance student discussion of the primary source narratives with the use of literature circles. This lesson can be used with any technology configuration - one computer to provide a paper copy of the primary source narratives, a lab for each student to access their own copies, or a mini-lab setting so that groups of students can access copies.

This lesson plan is based on the primary source narratives located in the Eyewitness to History section of the Pathways to Freedom MPT web site. Eyewitness to History is an activity that is probably best utilized by students at the eighth grade level. Others may need more support in reading and interpreting these documents. There is some annotation included for each account, but you may need to supply more for your students.

Following the Footsteps provides a multimedia (text, music and voice over) 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!

Some primary and secondary accounts show the gross inhumanity that was an unfortunate part of many slaves' experience. You are the best judge of whether your students are mature enough to handle this kind of information.

To select appropriate differentiation and accommodation strategies, teachers should pre-assess students' skills at reading and interpreting primary source documents by completing a "think aloud" modeling activity and a discussion of the introductory paragraphs of a sample narrative.

Learning accommodations for special education students include using a Jigsaw cooperative learning strategy so that groups of students only analyze one document; modifying the writing assignment and/or providing a frame paragraph structure for the essay.

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
• Students who are high achievers
• Students with diverse learning styles

This lesson can be completed in small groups or as a whole class.

Day 1: Description of this Day's Lesson: What was the Underground Railroad? How did we know it existed if it was a secret?

Complete a K-W-L or a web (using the software Inspiration) about the Underground Railroad to assess students' prior knowledge. Discuss student responses. Discuss the evidence that historians would need to be able to prove that an Underground Railroad existed. (5-10 minutes)

Explain that students are going to be investigating the stories of people that traveled on the Underground Railroad by examining some primary source evidence. Share that much of the evidence that we have about the Underground Railroad is in the form of first-person narratives. Explain that during the 1930s, the federal government interviewed many former slaves and gathered these narratives together. Explain that they will be analyzing first person narratives from former slaves. Introduce the activity by talking a bit about primary source documents, and their reliability. Talk about factors that might change one's impressions of a past event, such as the passage of time and the purpose for writing down one's impressions of this event. (2-3 minutes)

Activity 1: Sharing the Focus Question
Share the focus question with the class, "Why did people choose to leave their homes and travel to freedom on the Underground Railroad? What are the some factors people had to consider as they thought about escaping from slavery?" either on an overhead or on the chalkboard. (5 minutes)

If students are going to complete the lesson in Jigsaw cooperative learning groups, groups should be assigned at this point in the lesson.

Activity 2: Modeling the Document Analysis Process
Teachers should model, using a "think aloud" strategy, reading the narrative and completing the primary source analysis chart.

Activity 3: Distribute the Primary Sources and Remind Students to Preview the Text
Distribute the Harriet Tubman narrative either by accessing the MPT web site or handing out paper copies of the narrative to students. Guide the students, either as a whole class, or in small groups, to preview the text prior to reading. Allow the students time to read the narrative silently. (5-10 minutes).

Activity 4: Review the Annotated Text
Discuss the questions used to annotate the text (in the left hand margin of the narrative. Point out the technical features of the web site (text is highlighted when the mouse is moved over a selection, etc.) (2 minutes)

Continue with STAGE 3 »

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