Lesson Plan

West Virginia and the Ohio River Valley in the Underground Railroad

Students explore the geography of the Ohio River Valley to understand their regions importance in the Underground Railroad.
Joe T.
Classroom teacher
Cabell Midland High School
Ona, WV
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My Grades 10, 11
My Subjects Social Studies
EdTech Mentor

Students will be able to:

Understand the conditions of slavery and why slaves would choose to flee rather than continue in servitude

Create a map outlining a route from slavery to freedom in the North

SL.9-10: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Social Studies
Grades 8 - 10
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook

Free, Paid

Students will listen to the song, Follow the Drinking Gourd. After listening to the song, the teacher will ask students to work together and think-pair-share what the song is about. Scaffolding can be used to give more clues such as the song being a slave song.

Questions to consider:

Why would songs be important to slaves?

Where would they have learned the songs? 

What is a drinking gourd? For what is the gourd a metaphor?

How can you follow a drinking gourd?

With this new information it might be helpful to play the song a second time.

2 Direct Instruction

Activity: Investigating

Teacher led instruction about why run-away slaves would use the drinking gourd to trace their way to freedom. Issues of literacy among slaves should be discussed as well as consequences of being found with reading materials or maps. This would be a good place to discuss slave quilts and provide examples.

Teminology of the underground railroad that students should know and could research:

Pilot, Conductor, Passengers, stations

Teacher and student background informational handouts from Arizona State University: https://pll.asu.edu/p/sites/default/files/lrm/attachments/HalversonUndergroundRRS.pdf

3 Guided Practice

Students will work individually or in pairs using Sky Map to explore the celestial bodies that were present during slavery and still today.

Questions to answer:

Why would celestial bodies been good for navigation on the Underground Railroad?

Were there anyother ways to guide the slaves to freedom? Do you believe they would have been better? Why or why not.

4 Independent Practice

Using Google Trek, students will map a route from slavery to freedom using know Underground Railroad sites. Students can illustrate this route using a variety of tools including iMovie, Explain Everything, Class Act, Toontastic or draw a map, comic or create a diorama.

Things to include:

Map title, key, scale and compass rose.

An accurate map of the route including landforms.

Known Underground Railroad sites.

5 Wrap-Up

Students will use the game to reinforce learning in a fun way. This can be done as a closing activity or as homework as appropriate. Students should realize the difficulty in achieving freedom through the Underground Railroad and have a more realistic representation of those decisions based on the game. They will experience both the results of being caught and punished, as well the successes of achieving freedom.