Underground Railroad Simulation Lesson Plan: Traveling the Path of Runaway Slaves

Submitted by: Mary Ledbetter

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, K-3

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades K-5, students use BrainPOP Jr. and/or BrainPOP resources to learn about runaway slaves who traveled along the Underground Railroad. Students share information about the Underground Railroad with younger students and school community members as they travel along a simulated path, and use web 2.0 resources to share what it feels like to reach freedom after traveling along their own Underground Railroad.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Empathize with runaway slaves who traveled along the Underground Railroad and had to rely on strangers for their safety
  2. Share information about the Underground Railroad with younger students and school community members as they travel along the simulated path
  3. Use web 2.0 resources to share what it feels like to reach freedom after traveling along their own Underground Railroad

Materials:

  • A "Ticket to Freedom" certificate for each student who makes it to Canada
  • Classes at every grade level to serve as stops along the Underground Railroad
  • A teacher or administrator who can be in the breezeway between portables, may help serve as people who are hunting for runaways. (Inappropriate behavior will earn a student a red slip.)
  • Red or green slips for each class to give to runaways after they let them hide for 1-2 minutes

Vocabulary:

Underground Railroad; slavery; bigot; slave; transport; abolitionists; Quakers; dedicated; Harriet Tubman; conductor; convict; fugitive

Preparation:

Send out the following email to school staff and make sure each person has the resources they need to participate:

To: Teachers From: _____________________ Date: _____________________ Re: Underground Railroad Lesson

Our students will be traveling along our own underground railroad here at ___________________in _____ groups on _______________, ___________________ from ___________________ and ______________________.

Half of our students will travel in the morning, and half in the afternoon. My lesson plan is attached for you, but basically I need classrooms for my “runaways” to hide in on their way to freedom in Canada (the office). Here is how it works:

• Fifth graders will need to collect 4 green slips from 4 different safe stations along the way. That is where you come in. If you can help us by providing a place for a few students to hide at a time (for only 1-2 minutes each), it would be greatly appreciated. If you agree to help out, please return the slip below to me. I will then get you your slips and a sign for your door for Thursday. If more than 2 students come to your classroom, you may turn them away and say, “I have no more room.”
• Some of you will have green slips, and others (only a couple) will have red slips. After letting a student hide in your room for 1-2 minutes and allowing them to answer questions that your students have about what they are doing, you will give them a slip and send them on their way wishing them safe passage to freedom (or in the case of a red slip – telling them to be really careful because 2 red slips mean they did not make it to freedom this try).
• After a student receives 4 green slips, they are to go to the office where they will receive a Ticket to Freedom certificate before they return to my room.
• I will be in the breezeway watching for “runaways” to behave properly. If they run or are loud, they will be given a red slip by me.

That’s it. This is a great opportunity for your students to learn from their upper classmen about this important time in U.S. history. I hope you can play along. It is really fun and exciting, and a little bit scary because my students don’t know if your stop is a safe house or a place that might betray them.

Please place the attached slip in my mailbox by Wednesday, Feb. 15th, and I will place what you need in your mailboxes for Thursday. THANK YOU!!

Name: ________________________ Grade:_________________ Room #: _______________

I would like to participate in the 5th grade Underground Railroad experience. My classroom can serve as a station along the railroad from:

____ 10:15-10:45AM ____ 12:15-12:45PM

__________________________ Signature

Lesson Procedure:

  1. After collecting the required 4 green slips, students must hurry to the office (Canada) in order to finish their journey. After collecting Ticket to Freedom certificate, students return to their classroom to become conductors and help other runaways on their journey to freedom.
  2. Explain to students that they will experience what it was like to be passengers (runaways) on the underground railroad. Tell them they will have to travel in secret, to hide, and to depend on others to help them along the way to freedom. Each runaway will try to make it to freedom in "Canada" by collecting 4 green slips and their “ticket to freedom” when they reach the office (Canada).
  3. Explain the rules and let students know that inappropriate behavior will earn them a red slip. Tell students they must collect 4 green slips from stations along the Underground Railroad before moving on to Canada (the office) to collect their Ticket to Freedom certificate. They must hide in other classrooms for up to 2 minutes without disturbing the class. Students in the class may ask fugitives questions about their journey and why they are risking their lives to escape to freedom. After hiding runaways (5th grade students), the teacher will give a green slip (safe house) or a red slip (indicating that they were not a safe house). If a student collects 2 red slips, they have to return to their classroom. (If you want ALL students to make it to freedom, be sure they are granted another chance.)
  4. Have students record audio or video or themselves reflecting on what it was like to participate in the simulation, and how they think the slaves must have felt. Allow students to share their reflections and comment on one another's ideas using Voicethread or another web tool.
  5. Read the book Follow the Drinking Gourd and show the BrainPOP movie Underground Railroad. You may want to have students use the Graphic Organizer to record their thoughts.

Extension Activity:

Have students explore the interactive resources on the National Geographic Underground Railroad website.