Underground Railroad Lesson Plan

Thought Process in College Writing


Audra Rys

Berne-Knox Westerlo School District, Berne, NY


Grades 9-12



Overview:     In this unit/lesson(s) students will become familiar with the process of writing effectively for a higher academic institution using the Underground Railroad (UGRR) as their theme.  The overall unit when finished will give them an understanding of the UGRR through pictures/photographs and also slave narratives/testimonies. 


Time Allowance:     Entirely up to the teacher dependent on how much UGRR content will be used. However, at minimum 4-5 class periods.


Standards:   NYS Language Arts Standards 1-4, NYS Social Studies Standards 1, 5


Objectives:   Students will:


                        *use powers of observation in viewing the art works about the UGRR to

                        give detailed responses to questions and understand thought process for


                        *describe the possible thoughts, feelings, situations of the people in works

                        art in a piece of writing       

                        *read several slave testimonies/narratives and use inference and

                        synthesis to find the common links in an understanding of slavery

                        and UGRR

                        *show an understanding of focus and type of thinking in a written piece

                        using the information garnered from the narratives and artwork


Resources:  Blight, David.  W., ed.  Passages to Freedom:  The Underground Railroad            

                        in History and Memory.  Washington, D. C.:  Smithsonian Books in

association with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2004.


Brown, Henry “Box”.  Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by

                        Himself. Manchester, 1851.  Documenting the American South.  Ed. 

                        Chris Hill and Natalia Smith. 1999. Academic Affairs Lib., U of North

                        Carolina, Chapel Hill, 24 Aug. 2007



Still, William. The Underground Railroad.  Philadelphia:  Porter & Coates,



United States.  Library of Congress American Memory.  Slave Narratives

                        from the Federal Writers Project.  2007. 24 Aug. 2007



United States.  National Endowment for the Humanities.  Dickinso n

College Landmarks of the Underground Railroad:  From Christiana Harpers Ferry. Jan. 2007. 1 August 2007





            1.  Students are to familiarize themselves with the concept of the UGRR using a

couple of general websites:  http://www.albany.edu/~sg0068/isp523/isp02/urrnys.htm (Underground Railroad in NYS) and

http://www.nyhistory.com/ugrr/index.htm. and http://www.ugrworkshop.com.  Students will write their own definition of the UGRR.


2.  Students will view several pictures from the UGRR (Christiana, Henry Box Brown etc.) website at Dickinson College.  They are to answer questions based on these artworks asking about details, interests, feelings, reactions, links in subject matter, composition, what ideas are conveyed, connect this to the concept of writing.


3.  Students will compose their own descriptive piece about the scenario depicted in the artwork.   Variation:  Students can compose their own poem or narrative after viewing the artwork.


4.  Either students singly or teacher and students together will read the narrative of Henry Box Brown.  Students will the use the Library of Congress website to read slave/escape stories.  They will come up with their own list of commonalities or interesting points they would like to discuss.  Class discussion will follow.


5.  Students will generate their own focus paper (examples might be but are not limited to comparing stories or meanings of the UGRR, contrasting feelings the artwork evoked, describe similarities in subject matter or arguing their own interpretation found in the stories or artwork).


Evaluation/ Assessment:


            Class discussion

            Question sheets

            Descriptive piece

            Focus Paper



            This leads into the next phase of the course which is academic writing focusing

on building a research paper.  The skills needed to begin research are established with this beginning set of lessons, especially using primary source

documents and a variety of sources, not just textbooks and google.