Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: A Compare and Contrast Lesson Plan
Use historical texts and biographies to introduce your students to two of the most influential men of the 19th century
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born nine years apart — the former on a humble farm, the latter as a slave — and became two of the most influential figures of their time.
After he escaped from slavery, Douglass became a celebrated writer, speaker, and leader of the abolitionist movement. Lincoln — who was elected president in 1860, issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and led the country through the Civil War — referred to Douglass as the most meritorious man of the nineteenth century.
In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of each man’s pivotal role in American history.
Introduce the class to Lincoln and Douglass by reading aloud from historical texts and biographies in Language Arts or Social Studies instructional time.
This lesson plan is suitable for Presidents’ Day, Black History Month, or during a study of abolition or the Civil War.
- Students will research the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass by reading historical texts and biographies. Students will identify and then record key concepts about each man.
- Students will develop an understanding of Lincoln and Douglass by comparing and contrasting both their life experiences and their major accomplishments.
- A class set of the Lincoln and Douglass: Compare and Contrast Chart (PDF). The chart will also need to be displayed for group work using an interactive whiteboard, projector, or chart paper.
- A collection of historical texts and biographies of Lincoln and Douglass. Suggested titles include:
Step 1: Read aloud from your selected texts, identifying key concepts. Either post or project photographs of Lincoln and Douglass. Or, provide table baskets to your students, and have them work in partnerships to read about each historical figure.
Step 2: Distribute photocopies of the Lincoln and Douglass: Compare and Contrast Chart (PDF). Have students work in partnerships or groups to locate and record the necessary information.
Step 3: After the students fill in the chart, gather the class for group work at the interactive whiteboard or chart paper. Review all the elements, assessing the students’ understanding and helping them where necessary.
Step 4: As a homework assignment or reader’s notebook extension, have your students write an entry reflecting on the facts they learned in this lesson. What surprised them? What impressed them? It may be helpful to model how to write this type of response.
Outline an essay response. Distribute the Lincoln and Douglass Essay Planner (PDF) to help your students create an outline. They should focus on the similarities and differences between Lincoln and Douglass. Students should use the knowledge they have recorded on the Lincoln and Douglass: Compare and Contrast Chart handout.
Write the essay response. After filling in the Essay Planner, your students can use it write an essay, paragraph by paragraph.