Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad
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about the underground railroad
following the footsteps
eyewitness to history
figure it out
mapping it out
secrets: language, signs and symbols
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Lesson Plan:
Building a Memorial to the Underground Railroad

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

STAGE 3: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction


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, 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)
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