Adaptation of the Fugitive Slave Act Lesson Plan
Begin by asking the students to discuss what they know about Reverend John
Rankin and his involvement in the Underground Railroad in Maysville, Kentucky. They will need to select a partner and talk one on one with their selected partners. After the students have been given two to three minutes to discuss the information, have them write down the information they remember on a piece of paper or an index card.
Choose three partner pairs to share what they wrote down/discussed. Go over the important points they made and add information they may have left out.
Introduce students to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by going over the information listed in the introduction to the document as provided on page 1 of 5 of the primary source document.
Hand out the first page of the document after going over the introduction. Have the students read out loud as you lead them through the first paragraph of the Fugitive Slave Act. Ask them to go back and underline important ideas/words individually. Once they have completed the task ask them to share their selections with their partners and make of similarities and differences in thinking.
Translate the meaning of the paragraph for the students, go over what it means in common language. Ask the students to write down important points you make in the margins of the handout for reference. Explain the significance of the paragraph and ask the students if they identified the same things when they underlined key points.
Explain to the students that they will be “translating” an assigned paragraph in the same way—reading it aloud together, underlining important points, rephrasing (and recording) it in more common contemporary English and finally writing down what is significant about it. They will present their work orally to the whole group of students upon completion of the task.
Divide the students into nine groups (some will be smaller than others) and give them the section of the Fugitive Slave Act they will be interpreting. Dictionaries would be helpful but the teacher can provide definitions of the words as well. After having the students repeat the process modeled with the whole group, begin the oral presentations.
Summarize the meaning of the document and go over important points at the end. Have the students reflect on the meaning of the document by writing down what they think of such laws being created during that time period.
Discuss the concept of morality and immorality with the group, give a few real-life examples to illustrate the concepts. Have a discussion with the students regarding the actions of John Rankin and whether or not it is ever “moral” to break the law.