The House of Dies Drear Teaching Plan
Learning activities related to the book by Virginia Hamilton that explore the Underground Railroad and abolitionists
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
Who Was Dies Dreer?
- Library books
- Partners or individuals
Explain to students that Dies Drear, the abolitionist mentioned in the selection, was an actual person who built and supervised a house that served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Suggest that students work individually or with a partner to find biographical information on Dies Drear.
Have students begin their research in the library, using computers, the card catalog, and encyclopedias. Ask them to use the following questions to direct their research: When did Dies Drear live? How did he become an abolitionist? What role did he play during the Civil War?
Invite volunteers to present the information they have found to the rest of the class.
Write a Poem
Students will write a poem about the Underground Railroad.
Remind students that a poem is a concise way to express an idea or feeling. A poem does not have to contain rhyme, but the poet selects words and phrases with care, also using rhythm and sound to evoke a meaning.
Explain that in expressive writing, writers express their feelings, thoughts, or personal reactions to an experience or idea. Although expressive writing takes many forms, it should be carefully composed so that it clearly expresses the writer's feelings. Remember that a poem:
- is written in lines of varying length.
- often uses figurative language.
Encourage students to consider writing their poem from a different viewpoint. For example, they might write the poem from the point of view of Dies Drear, Harriet Tubman, Thomas, Mr. Small, or one of the figures shown in “Painting the Past.” The writing can still be expressive because it will express a particular character's thoughts, feelings, or reactions.
Thomas Finds a Secret Passage
- Small groups and partners
Discuss what might happen if Thomas discovers that Dies Drear's house contains a secret passage.
Invite students to write a summary for a new chapter of the book, using vocabulary words to describe how Thomas discovers this passage.
Challenge students to create a floor plan of the house showing where the secret passage is located. Explain that a floor plan is like a map of the house. They will imagine they are looking down on one floor of the house from above. Encourage them to label important areas or features, show directions, and indicate the scale of the floor plan by giving a key or scale.
Write and Perform a Script
- Small groups
Students will turn The House of Dies Drear into a play.
Point out to students that in a play, all information must be transmitted through action or speech. Have the class work together to brainstorm several important scenes that they would like to dramatize.
Divide the class into groups and assign each group one of the scenes. Provide time for students to write dialogue and simple stage directions. Allow one rehearsal where all the scenes can be presented, to make sure the play version of The House of Dies Drear makes sense.
Invite groups to perform a portion of their script for one another or for another class. Students can use simple costumes and props.
Grade students on the quality of the information that they have presented in the dialogue and whether the translation of the narrative text includes most of the author's ideas.