|Defining Us: The American Experience
FCPS Teaching American History Grant
Subject: Virginia History for ESOL Students Grade: 4
Prepared by: Delia M. Bisgyer School: Camelot Elementary
Title: Slavery and Abolition: Three Unforgettable Names
Instructional Time: continuation of short lesson, to cover 5 days
PART I. Context
1. Essential Learning:
The issue of slavery came to bitterly divide the northern and southern states and was a major factor leading to the Civil War.
Abolitionists campaigned in both violent and peaceful ways to end the practice of slavery:
~Nat Turner was a slave who led a band of slaves in a revolt against plantation families in 1831.
~Between 1850-60, Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, led hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
~John Brown led a group of men in a raid to steal weapons from the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859, hoping to arm slaves for a rebellion.
Students will increase their knowledge and understanding of the people and events involved in the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War.
2. Virginia Standards (SOL):
VS.7a - The student will demonstrate knowledge of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War.
3. Fairfax County POS:
Standard 1: Acquire historical knowledge and understanding of important events and developments in Va. and Fairfax County and their influence on U.S. history.
Standard 2: Conduct inquiries and research gathering, analyzing, interpreting and communicating facts associated with themes, movements, and general principles operating in history and civics.
Standard 7: Demonstrate an understanding of economic concepts that have influenced Virginia.
Standard 9: Know and examine issues involving people and places from more than one perspective.
4. National History Standards:
Historical analysis and comprehension
5. Learning Strategies:
1. Activate prior knowledge
2. Make predictions
3. Make inferences
4. Use selective attention
5. Use resources
9. Take notes
6. Connection to TAH Grant:
Dr. Michael O’Malley, “Race in Nineteenth Century America”
I was introduced to a completely new perspective of racism, from a sociological view. This view posits that racism is a social creation used to restrict competition in the marketplace, or to suppress freedoms of certain groups, in a society which must place limitations on who and how many may achieve the “American Dream.” Beginning with the 1600’s in America, O’Malley gave many examples of the different ways society and the laws have dealt with African-Americans (and other ethnic groups) during different eras. One of the many surprising things I learned was that Irish people were considered black in the 19th century!
Eric Foner, “The Fourteenth Amendment from Reconstruction to Today”
Our society before the Civil War was defined by slavery, but the Civil war ended the institution of slavery and raised the issue of black citizenship. Foner delved into the enactment of the Black Codes, the Civil Rights Law of 1866, and the 14th Amendment, as Andrew Johnson, the Congress, and the white South violently opposed each other. After Reconstruction, the Supreme Court played a role in instituting segregation.(Plessy v. Ferguson) which led to many other laws removing the rights of blacks. Not only a fascinating lecture, but I would say should be mandatory for all.
Dr. Rosie Zagarri, “Early America”
The history of the Constitution, was based on political developments within the states. Creating a nation after the Revolution was as challenging as winning the war. Dr. Zagarri discussed vividly and in detail the rise of the rebels opposed to Parliamentary procedure, the Articles of Confederation, the Crisis of Union, and finally, the Philadelphia Convention. She noted that the Constitution did not explicitly address “slavery” in that term, instead using “migration or importation of such persons.” This omission was a compromise to preserve the institution, and for some delegates, a hope that slavery would die out of its own accord. An excellent lecture for understanding the developments leading to our form of government and its view of rights.
Adventure of the American Mind (AAMNVA): “Say It, Write It, Pass It”
Students view a photo and say an idea, write it down, and pass the paper to their buddy. In a modification, two photos are shown to students for contrasting. Students are to ask “How are these photos alike?” “How are these photos different?” In my case, the photos of John Brown and Nat Turner will be shown to help in filling out a Venn Diagram.
Dr. Leon: “Using and Analyzing Primary Sources”
Dr. Dennenberg: “Hooray for Heroes! – Sing!”
Songs are a way for disenfranchised people can speak out. She passed out Blues songs which Alan Lomax collected as part of the New Deal. I pass out two Negro spirituals (“Go Down, Moses” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd”) which are songs in code which enabled slaves to communicate to each other.
Alice Reilly: “Word Splashes,” “Vocabulary Diamonds,” “Alphaboxes”
Dr. Stout: “Strategies for Reading Primary Sources - Word Splashes”
All of these are good for assessments. Word Splashes are words splashed onto a page and the students make the connection by categorizing words. Vocabulary Diamonds are diamond shapes in which students write a vocabulary word on one shape and a definition on another shape, and then match all the shapes up. In Alphaboxes, students must think of as many words as they can from A-Z relating to a particular topic.
__________ “Magnet Summaries”
Also good for assessment. In the middle of a box, students write the name of a person or topic and write a related word in each corner. They then make sentences out of all the words.
__________ “Graphic Organizers”
I used a Cause and Effect organizer to help students understand the reaction to Nat Turner’s actions.
Dr. Dennenberg: “Creative Dramatics”
In his version of Reader’s Theater, students use primary sources to write the script with two voices. I have adapted his idea by writing a Reader’s Theater script which is experiential in nature (students act it out). My goal is to help them understand how the Underground Railroad functions.
II. Part II. Lesson Plan
1. Word Splashes: Groups of students are each given a different topic. They write all the words they can think of that relate to that topic. The teacher collects the different splashes and merges the topics and descriptors on one sheet. The students will receive this sheet and individually make the connections or categories for each topical word.
Similarly, can substitute Alphaboxes, etc. – see “Pedagogy.”
2. Venn Diagram for John Brown and Nat Turner – see “Instructional Strategies”
3. Underground Railroad Picture Map – see “Instructional Strategies”
2. Instructional Strategies:
A. Nat Turner
1. Introduce vocabulary: “revolt,” “revolution,” “rebellion.”
2. View image of Nat Turner preaching, on overhead . Image with caption found at
a. Deconstruct. Ask:
Where are the light colors? the dark colors?
Who or what is highlighted?
Where does this scene take place?
Is it daytime or nighttime?
b. Reconstruct. Ask:
Why do you think it takes place when and where it does?
What does the main character seem to be doing?
What is his relationship to his listeners?
Who are all of these people?
3. Read sections about Nat Turner in Nat Turner: Slave Revolt Leader
by Terry Bisson.
4. Primary Sources:
a. Two passages from “Confessions of Nat Turner” (his capture, and his plan),
and “A List of Persons Murdered in the Insurrection” (all attached)
all found at http://afgen.com/nat_turner1.html
b. Image of Nat Turner’s capture from
c. Discuss: How did Nat Turner seem different from other slaves?
What seemed to be motivating his actions?
How did he react during and after the revolt?
5. Cause and Effect graphic organizer found at
Students answer, “How did Nat Turner’s revolt cause southern people to react and
laws to change with regards to slavery?”
6. “Wanted” Poster (attached)
This sheet is a draft. The final poster is to be done on posterboard or construction
paper in color and ink (or typed).
-Draw a “portrait” of Nat Turner.
-Write a detailed physical description of him.
-Describe the actions that caused him to be “wanted.”
-Include a reward amount.
B. Harriet Tubman
1. Image of Harriet Tubman found in Melissa Posters in Gateways, 4th grade social
Review what students have already learned about Harriet Tubman – can use
“what I know, what I think, questions” – written or oral.
2. Introduce vocabulary: “Underground Railroad,” “conductor,” “station,”
“station master,” “Moses,” “fugitive.”
3. Experiential Reader’s Theater: “Escaping on the Underground Railroad”
by Delia Bisgyer
An act-it-out drama narrated by two voices. (Instructions and script attached.)
(I found this act-it-out very useful for clearing up confusion about what the
Underground Railroad was and how it functioned.)
4. Read the chapter “Go On – Or Die!” in Wanted Dead or Alive, The Story of
Harriet Tubman, by Ann McGovern.
5. Distribute Negro Spiritual “Go Down Moses” found at
Sing. Discuss why slaves called Harriet Tubman “Moses.”
6. Video: “Follow the Drinking Gourd” published by Rabbit Ears American Heroes
and Legends Series, narrated by Morgan Freeman; animated; 30 minutes.
7. Distribute song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” found at
Sing. Explain what a drinking gourd is and why slaves followed the celestial one.
Codes in the song explained at http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/ltc/special/mlk/gourd2.html
8. Art: Picture Map of An Underground Railroad Route (detailed instructions
Materials: manila or white construction paper, colored pencils, crayons, markers,
-Students will draw an Underground Railroad route with details based on the
reader’s theater, the readings, the video.
-The map will include both landforms such as a swamp and mountains, and
evidence of people: dogs, boats, crop fields.
-Canada will be labeled in the “north” corner of paper and Virginia will be in the
C. John Brown
1. Images of John Brown found at
Image with final address to the Court found at
Introduce vocabulary “armory,” “arsenal,” and review “abolitionist,” “rebellion.”
2. Map work: distribute map of Virginia and West Virginia.
-Locate Harper’s Ferry, Richmond, Washington, D.C., Potomac River.
-Point out that Harper’s Ferry is located in W.Va. due to the separation
of Virginia and W. Virgina during the Civil War. Ask students if they can
3. Read about John Brown’s raid in selections from:
Harper’s Ferry: The Story of John Brown’s Raid, by Tracy Barrett.
The Story of John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, by Zachary Kent.
John Brown: One Man Against Slavery, by Gwen Everett.
Discuss: Was he, or was he not a hero, according to southerners? northerners?
What motivated John Brown?
How did he react during and after his capture?
4. Distribute song “John Brown’s Body.” Sing first and fourth stanzas. Found at
5. Venn Diagram: Contrast and compare John Brown with Nat Turner.
(This is important because students generally confuse the two.) Good assessment.
6. Art: Tombstone with Epitaph (detailed instructions attached)
Materials: gray construction paper, cray-pas or crayons, scissors.
-Draw and cut a tombstone in any shape (students also like to add
-Write an epitaph of Nat Turner, John Brown, or any other abolitionist
from either a southern or northern point of view, for example, the student
would be writing as a Confederate soldier, or a slave, or a Union soldier, etc.
3. Materials and Resources
-Image of Nat Turner: http://voyager.dvc.edu/~mpowell/afam/Turner.htm
and also in Melissa posters in Gateways, 4th grade Social Studies
-Bisson, Terry. Nat Turner, Slave Revolt Leader. CT: Grolier, 1988.
-“Confessions of Nat Turner”: http://afgen.com/nat_turner1.html
-Image of Nat Turner’s capture:
-Cause and Effect graphic organizer:
-Image of Harriet Tubman: Melissa posters in Gateways, 4th grade Social Studies.
-McGovern, Ann. Wanted Dead or Alive, The Story of Harriet Tubman.
N.Y.: Scholastic, 1965.
-Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses”:
-Song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”:
-Explanation of song’s codes: http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/ltc/special/mlk/gourd2.html
-Video “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Rabbit Ears American Heroes and Legends
Series, animated, 30 minutes.
-Images of John Brown:
-Image of John Brown with Final Address to the Court:
-Barrett, Tracy. Harper’s Ferry: The Story of John Brown’s Raid.
CT: Millbrook Press, 1993.
-Everett, Gwen. John Brown: One Man Against Slavery. NY: Rizzoli, 1993.
-Kent, Zachary. The Story of John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry.
Chicago: Children Press, 1988.
-Song “John Brown’s Body”: www.civilwarpoetry.org/union/songs/
Lessons which provide a variety of instructional strategies benefit any student.
This lesson (written for ESOL students) offers any student both receptive and
expressive opportunities; for example, interpreting visual information and listening to
historical fiction and non-fiction, reading aloud, reviewing, discussing, writing, and
drawing. Teachers may modify any of these activities to best meet their students’
-“Confessions of Nat Turner” (his capture, and his plan).
-“A List of Persons Murdered in the Insurrection”
- Experiential Reader’s Theater: “Escaping on the Underground Railroad” script and
- Picture Map of An Underground Railroad Route instructions
- Tombstone with Epitaph instructions
6. Annotated Bibliography
Bisson, Terry. Nat Turner: Slave Revolt Leader. CT: Grolier, 1988.
This book is most useful for its good photos, drawings, and headlines. It includes
an index, chronology, and a table of contents. The text is really more of a teacher
reference, although parts could be read aloud.
“Confessions of Nat Turner”: two passages: his plan and his capture.
It is illuminating for students to read (or read along silently as teacher reads
aloud) how articulate and refined Nat Turner’s language was. I selected, out of
a 30+ page text, two passages which would help students understand his motives
and personality a little better. Students should be able to note that Nat Turner was no
McGovern, Ann. Wanted Dead or Alive, The Story of Harriet Tubman. NY:
This biography is probably fleshed out with some realistic fiction of what Harriet
may have said or done, no doubt based on oral narratives from the time. It details her
childhood traumas and dreams on a Maryland plantation, and recounts her
extraordinary courage and cunning as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. It
continues with her life after the Civil War.
Barrett, Tracy. Harper’s Ferry: The Story of John Brown’s Raid. CT: Millbrook
This is a teacher reference. I found this book most useful for its good photos,
headlines and color drawings. Parts could be read aloud. A chronology and index are
included, as well as a table of contents.
Everett, Gwen. John Brown: One Man Against Slavery. NY: Rizzoli, 1993.
This is a higher level picture book which could be read aloud, although it’s a bit
long. It is the life of John Brown as told through the eyes of his son. The paintings
are in color. There are historical notes at the end.
Kent, Zachary. The Story of John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Chicago:
Children’s Press, 1988.
This is another good teacher reference which has photos, drawings and headlines.
It has an index and table of contents. Parts could be read aloud.
“Escaping on the Underground Railroad”
Roles: 2 Narrators [N] (take turns or in chorus)
Harriet Tubman [H]
Old Rit, her mother (not a speaking part)
Ben, her father (not a speaking part)
Station Master #1 [SM#1]
Station Master #2 [SM#2]
Station Master #3 [SM#3]
N: One cold night, Harriet leads her elderly parents away from the plantation by the light of the moon and stars. They walk and walk, through crop fields, forests, along the bank of the swamp.
Sometimes they hear the slave-catcher’s dogs bark and the hooves of a horse.
SC: Let’s go, dogs, find me those slaves! Just wait ‘til I get my hands on those runaway slaves!
N: Then the fugitives are forced to wade into the freezing swamp and wait for a long time until the dogs have gone and the danger has passed.
In the distance they see a farmhouse. [Station #1]
There’s a lantern in an upstairs window. The fugitives carefully approach. The door opens.
SM#1: Come in quickly! You must be so cold and hungry! I’ll bring hot food to you in the secret room under the trap door in the floor.
[Hide under desks] I will also give you some money and tell you how to get to the next friend’s house.
N: The fugitives hide all the next day. The next night they go on to the house they were told about [Station #2]. This time they knock on the door.
SM#2: You must be the one they call Moses! You’re Harriet Tubman!
H: How could you know that? I’ve never been around these parts.
SM#2: Oh, my! There have been posters of you all over town for a long time! You are safe here only for a short time. Come with me.
[Hide behind classroom door]
N: That night, Harriet and her parents prepare to leave. They have changed clothes and have eaten. The station master has offered to drive them to the river in her wagon, under the potatoes, where the next abolitionist will row them across. [Walk with coats over heads]
SM#3: Good evening. I’ve been expecting you. Climb in quickly and get inside these crates. I’ll load some empty crates on top of you.
[Get under chairs] When I row you to the other side, I’ll tell you how far it is to walk to the next friend’s farm.
N: Just then they hear horse hooves and dogs barking. The slave catcher appears.
SC: Good evening, sir. I’ve been looking for days for three runaway slaves. Have you seen them, by any chance? Two are old and one is a strong young woman. She’s been gone for months.
SM#3: I am so sorry to tell you, sir, that I have seen no runaways. I travel across this river often and no strangers have come by this way.
[Slave-catcher rides away]
N: The 3 fugitives are rowed across the river in the little boat. They are getting closer to the North and to freedom!
Instructions for “Escaping on the Underground Railroad”
Role cards for: Narrator #1 and Narrator #2
Harriet Tubman, conductor
Old Rit, fugitive
Station #1, Station #2
Station Master #1
Station Master #2
Station Master #3
Props such as money, old clothes, etc. (optional)
Scripts for everyone
1. Teacher might play one of the parts to model.
2. Label 2 desks with station cards; not close to each other. Two
station masters sit at these desks.
3. Set up 4 chairs in reading area for “boat.” Third station master sits
in chair in front.
4. Harriet Tubman should be in the lead, with Old Rit and Ben
behind her, following what narrators read in the script. Pantomime
as much action as possible.
5. May want someone to make sound effects of dogs barking,
horse’s hooves, wading through swamp, rowing across river,
opening and closing doors.
Instructions for Picture Map
Of Underground Railroad Route
1. Materials: manila or white construction paper, crayons,
cray-pas, markers, index card.
2. Label top left corner “Canada.”
Label bottom right corner “Virginia.”
3. In bottom left corner, draw a compass rose.
4. Draw an “S”-like weaving pencil line across paper from
Virginia to Canada. This is the Underground Railroad
5. Fill in the map with a variety of the following: Draw:
-woods -mountains -crop fields
-swamp -stations -dogs in pursuit
-rivers -night sky -wild animals
You may label on the map.
6. You may draw a conductor and fugitives if you wish.
7. Color the map.
8. On an index card, write the title of your map and a brief
description of the route north to freedom (what the fugitives
have to endure and the landscapes they travel through),
and attach to your map.
Directions for Tombstone
Choose a role: abolitionist, slave, plantation owner, or _____________?
Choose who you will write a tombstone
Write your epitaph* from the point of view of your role. For example, an epitaph about Harriet Tubman will be very different from her master, the plantation owner, than from her brother, a slave.
D. Include on your tombstone: Name of
deceased*, dates lived and died, and a
sentence or two about them: something
really important, and Rest In Peace or some
*deceased = dead
*epitaph = message written on a tombstone