Riding the Underground Railroad
Students learn about the slaves' pursuit of freedom during a simulation of slaves escaping from the South to the North.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
- Unit Plan:
Students participate in a simulation of slaves escaping from the South to the North. Students travel from different designated spots until they reach their destination — or until a slave hunter captures them.
Another possibility is to have students experience the simulation at night with volunteers monitoring the different groups of students. Students could travel from various designated locations on campus with a volunteer assigned to each group of “slaves.” Students can cross the track, field, campus playground, and travel from classroom to classroom on their pursuit of freedom.
- Students will gain an understanding of life on the Underground Railroad through research.
- Students will understand the perils and hardships of slaves by participating in a simulation.
- Biography Cards (PDF) – 1 per student
- Construction paper
- Flashlights (1 per conductor)
- Reflection Sheet (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
- Mark off a location large enough for the simulation
- Recruit volunteers to help monitor students
- Have student make signs to indicate the various “stops” for Underground Railroad: house addresses, store names, state signs (northern and southern states)
Step 1: Read aloud biography cards (abolitionist, Quaker, conductor, slave, slave hunter).
Step 2: Randomly pass out one biography card to each student.
Step 3: Volunteers take students to their assigned stations: Quakers and abolitionists should go to their selected safe destinations area. Hunters should hide in various designated places throughout the area.
Step 4: Lead the remainder of students (conductors/slaves) to location of simulation. Groups can start at different addresses. If you have one starting point, you can stagger the release of the groups.
Step 5: Conductors lead the slaves to the designated addresses on the Underground Railroad route. Each house is in a different state, and the trail follows the path from the southern states to the northern states.
Step 6: When they reach a stop, abolitionists or Quakers provide slaves them with a secret password and the location of the next address farther north. The conductor then leads them to the next stop on the railroad.
Step 7: While the slaves are traveling north, slave hunters will pop out of their designated location. They will take the conductor and the slaves back to a designated area where they will labor away. (Our simulation takes place in our multi-purpose room. The captured slaves gather in the cafeteria area and clean the sinks, floors, and counters until the simulation is over.)
Step 8: The slaves that successfully reach the end of the railroad have reached their freedom.
Step 9: Have students complete the reflection sheet (PDF).
Supporting All Learners
Providing background information, video segments, and visuals with the vocabulary terms facilitates connections between content and text. Acting out the event creates another opportunity to make connections to the historical events.
- Students can research different states in the North and the South.
- Students can create a timeline of major historical events involving rights of African Americans.
- Parents can lead a discussion about the various forms of prejudice that exist in today’s world.
- Students can bring discussion topics to class as examples of discrimination around the world.
- Lead a discussion on various ways to stop or prevent discrimination on a local level.
- Have each student participate in the simulation.
- Students should complete a reflection sheet.
- Were the students acting silly or did they act appropriately during the simulation?
- Did the students take on their role of the character on their character card?
- Were their enough volunteers to help monitor the various locations?
- Was there enough time for the simulations?
- Were students adequately prepared with enough background information about the simulation?