- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
- Read and analyze characters from a story
- Compare characters and themes using a graphic organizer
- Analyze different types of text and non-print sources
- Write journal responses about conflict in the short story and within the world
- Express opinions through writing and speaking
- Learn about supply and demand
- Pencil and paper
- Copies of "Abd al-Rahmen Ibrahima" by Walter Dean Myers (or another nonfiction/historical fiction story about human captivity)
- Copy of Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"
- Audio copy of "Caged Bird" by Alicia Keys (can be borrowed from a student or purchased from a music store)
- CD Player
- Copy (or transparency) of lyrics to "Caged Bird" by Alicia Keys
- A visual of "Caged Bird," a painting by Melissa Christiano, which can be found via an Internet search
- Map of Africa (found in most social studies textbooks)
- World map or globe
- Timeline Printable (PDF)
- Idea Web Printable (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
- Choose which text you wish to use as your main text. If you are unable to acquire "Abd al-Rahmen Ibrahima" by Walter Dean Myers, try choosing one from the Scholastic Read-Aloud Anthology. It is ideal to have a class set, if possible.
- This lesson can be taught in large or small group settings. Determine your desired grouping strategy and make copies of all materials accordingly.
- Find copies of all chosen materials, one copy per group or per student. Most can be found on the Internet.
- If you can make copies of the world map that shows primarily the Atlantic Ocean so that students can draw on them, this would be more effective.
Step 1: Begin the lesson by introducing the theme of incarceration or loss of freedom. I like to play the song "Caged Bird" by Alicia Keys while the students enter the classroom. Then ask, "Have you heard this song before?" Once the students are quiet and settled, play the song again. Ask them to listen to the lyrics. If you wish, you may want to provide a copy of the lyrics to the students or share the lyrics via transparency.
Step 2: Take a quick poll of how many students have ever felt hindered, trapped, encumbered, or imprisoned. Point out that this is a common experience and a universal theme. Ask students how they have dealt with this problem in the past. You may want to record the responses on the board or on a personal piece of paper depending on how you want to use the information later in the lesson.
Step 3: Share an example of a true story of a serious wrong done to someone just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like to use "Abd al-Rahmen Ibrahima," the story of Prince Ibrahima, which is moving and even parallels some horror stories of gang warfare. Depending on the age of your students, you may want to expose the parallels of today's drug wars and gang conflicts to the hook on rum and conflict between African tribes in the 1800s. This is another reason using Ibrahima's story is so powerful.
Step 4: Using the world map and map of Africa, discuss the location of Guinea in Africa and Fouta Djallon, a district in Guinea. Tell the students that this is where Ibrahima's tribe, the Fula, lived. Using the map of Africa, locate Timbuktu, and explain to the students that this African prince went to school there. Now, look at the map of the world. Use this map to explain why slavery was such a tough market to end, in a mini-lesson on supply and demand.
Step 5: Draw an arrow from the U.S. to England. Over the arrow write the words "raw materials." Explain that this includes sugar, coffee, and tobacco that were exported from the U.S. to England, and the U.S. made a great profit from its sale. Now, draw an arrow from England to the west coast of Africa. Write the word "rum" over the arrow. Explain that the Europeans not only sold rum to the Africans to make a lot of money, but also gave guns to certain Africans who could use them to help trap people to be sold into slavery which is what happened to Ibrahima. Now draw the dreaded arrow from Africa to the U.S., above which you will write the word "slaves" imported from Africa into the U.S.
Step 6: Help the students to understand that all of this was a result of greed. People selling sugar and tobacco wanted to produce as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Since not many people lived in the U.S. yet, slavery was the answer to cheap labor and increased profit similar to the way companies now get people in third world countries to make goods for them at a small price. So, as long as the Europeans were paying well for sugar and tobacco, the colonists in America would pay well for slaves. The only way to cut off the slave trade would be to stop the urgency for trade with Europe over these goods. The problem is that Europe is depending on U.S. sugar to make rum, at this point. Without sugar, Europe does not make money from selling rum to Africa. Try to make the complexity of this issue as clear as possible for the students - not that the solutions proposed during the time period were great, but as we see similar links to our own current drug war, we can all understand the complexity of the issue. It may be necessary to briefly explain the current supply and demand scenario of drugs in our society as well.
Step 7: Allow the students to read the short story independently. I have found that this allows them time to reflect on the material as the shocking tale sinks in to the point of comprehension. Assign the Timeline printable as homework, asking students to place important events of the story in chronological order. This will be used as a tool for class discussion later in the lesson.
Step 8: Begin today's lesson by having students complete a double-entry journal. Have the students take a piece of notebook paper and fold it in half. On one side, students will describe Ibrahima's problem-solving strategies as presented in the story. This can include what happened with the rival tribe, his slave owner, or Dr. Cox. The second side of the journal will be more of a reflection or student evaluation as each describes how Ibrahima could have or should have solved his problem. Encourage students to think about what the prince should have done early in the story to settle the problems with the Mandingo tribe, but to also complete the resolution process through the end of Ibrahima's life when he had to decide whether or not to run away from the plantation. There are many issues to be covered, so try to remind students to evaluate more than just one in this double-entry journal.
Step 9: After allowing enough time for students to put some thought into the journal writing, allow students time to discuss solutions from the journal. You have a couple of options here. Students can read what was written in their self-mandated column to the rest of the class, share in small groups, or share with a partner. Review the story plot as students share opinions by taking each stage of Ibrahima's life, asking the students for feedback on his actions, and completing a class graphic organizer that can be displayed on the wall of the classroom. Whatever method you choose, this activity prompts an in-depth class discussion that needs to last as long as the students are passionately participating.
Step 10: Distribute copies of Maya Angelou's poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Remind the students of the song by Alicia Keys in the previous lesson, and ask them to read the words of Angelou's poem.
Step 11: Introduce the "Caged Bird" painting. Ask the students if the picture represents the song by Keys, the poem by Angelou, or the story about Ibrahima. Encourage any point of view. Discuss freedom as a theme in each piece of work, then ask if this freedom is an inalienable right or an American privilege. When leading discussions on topics as sophisticated as these, you may be surprised by what certain students have to say. Make notes of certain comments made by students to prompt journal topics or future class activities.
Step 12: For the closing activity or for homework, assign the students the Idea web printable. Write the theme of "Freedom" in the center circle, and write each of the four connecting main circles as "Caged Bird" by Alicia Keys, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, "Caged Bird" painting by Melissa Christiano, and "Abd al-Rahmen Ibrahima" by Walter Dean Myers. Have the students include ideas, conflicts, similarities, differences, or other topics on the connecting lines. This is a great activity for guiding students through the analysis of different types of texts and non-print resources.
Step 13: Today's lesson is where students take the universal theme of freedom and the ideas explored in the various resources from the previous lessons and formulate their personal opinion. As seen in the Ibrahima story, many conflicts begin over the idea of "Might makes right." This is a relevant topic to students as "might" could be authority like parents or teachers, and students at the middle school level are starting to inherently take more control over their lives. So, this is a great place to start!
Step 14: With the topic of "Might makes right," students have the option of writing a response in an essay format, a letter to the editor, or write a speech to be given at some point to the other students. Remind the students that this theme can be found in other resources, like a song, a story, and a painting. Guide them to make their expression specific to a situation they can comfortably argue. It is important to show them that there is a variety of positive and healthy ways to handle such conflict, and that one of the most effective ways to handle conflict is through speaking or writing.
Step 15: Allow ample time for the students to free write. Allow each to choose whether to communicate feelings about the conflict through writing of an essay, a letter to the editor, or to communicate orally. Depending on your population of students, this may take one to three class periods.
Step 16: Once the writing is complete, all participants must have an audience. If the student chooses to write a speech, he should be allowed to perform the speech in front of the class. If the student chooses to write a letter or essay, take time at the end to allow students to exchange writing. The key here is that students are given an audience to express feelings about a conflict to see that there are peaceful ways to offer a conclusion or at least a compromise. The reason students must have an audience is so that they give feedback as to whether or not their ideas are, in fact, peaceful and not problem-creating.
Step 17: Here's the fun part. If a student shares orally, his peers should give feedback through writing, either through a note to the speaker or by a quick letter to the student that critiques not only his speaking style, but also the message of the argument. If a student shares information through writing, his peers should give feedback group discussion. This ensures that all students are practicing written and oral communication.
Step 18: Conclude the lesson by discussing Ibrahima's ideas as a solution. Until he received help from Dr. Cox in a peaceful, civilized way, his problem was not solved. Make sure students understand that the only way to solve problems without creating new ones is to communicate effectively and peacefully.
Supporting All Learners
Most inclusion will be afforded by a small group arrangement. All learners should experience success in this lesson since students have a choice as to which method they will express their personal opinions.
Allow the students to take a ride on the Underground Railroad through a site set up by National Geographic. It is similar to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, but is an activity sure to encourage a student's point of view given the situation.
- Read a short story
- Complete a Timeline
- Complete an Idea Web
- Express a personal opinion through a speech, a letter, or an essay
You will be able to detect the successful delivery of this lesson by the responses of the students and their messages in the concluding activity. If you have led them to discuss peaceful problem solving solutions and their benefits of this method, and if the students have completed the communication orally and through writing, then the experience was successful. Good job!