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Slavery and the Underground Railroad
Grade Level(s): 3-5
By: Natalie, fourth grade teacher

Following the map of the Underground Railroad.


  • Given a map, TLW trace the routes of the slaves on their journey north by calculating the mileage each one walked. PI: Learners will find the mileage within 10-15 miles accuracy, and describe in an essay, the severe risks and penalties involved in escaping.
  • TLW define and use accurately the term Underground Railroad. PI: Through a small group brainstorming session, the groups will have at least 3 characteristics of an Underground Railroad that accurately describes it.



  1. Begin by asking students what they know about the Underground Railroad. In small groups students will discuss what they think it is. Recorders in the group will write everything down. Teacher circulates around the room and after about five minutes students will collectively share ideas with the class. Teacher must make sure to stress that students are understanding that the Underground railroad is not an actual railroad but a figure of speech.
  2. Explain and provide a definition of the Underground Railroad- that it had many routes that lead as directly as possible from slave holding states of the southern United States to the closest free territory. After 1850 escaping slaves had to go all the way to Canada and that often meant weeks sometimes months of walking.
  3. Through PowerPoint presentation, introduce new vocabulary terms that students may need some help understanding, also show large map with the routes.
  4. Provide students with handout showing the major escape routes from the south to the north. In small groups, the students will choose a route and figure out how many miles a slave had to travel to reach safety. Maps with mileage will be provided. Students will be given 20-30 minutes to do so. Teacher circulates around room performing informal evaluation in grade book.
  5. When finished, each group will share their results and critically think about the terrain of the land as well as different seasons that would have hindered or slowed the progression of the escape. Once that is figured out and the students know an approximate mileage, each student will write a narrative essay about a fictional slave that could be considered historically accurate. The essay should be detailing the trip from south to north.

Discuss the great lengths and determination used by slaves to get to freedom. Each group will share how long, in terms of mileage, their routes were and what effects it may have had on the escaping slave. Also in the discussion, ask students what other things may have gone wrong on their journey north and what were the penalties. The final question for students to write about in journals "With all the penalties and risks of escaping, do you think you would have had the courage to run away? Why or why not?"


The essays I received were great and the children all have a deeper inside look at the bravery exhibited by the slaves.


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