With this unit plan, students explore the Underground Railroad, acting as both researchers and passengers as they learn about the slaves who found their freedom and leaders such as Harriet Tubman.
- Gain an understanding of life on the Underground Railroad
- Gain an understanding of the perils and hardships of slaves
- Underground Railroad Simulation Role Cards printable
- Paints or markers
- Large sheets of construction paper or cardstock for signs
- Flashlights, one per conductor role
- Underground Railroad Reflection Sheet printable
- Mark off an indoor or outdoor location large enough for the simulation.
- Recruit parent (or teacher) volunteers to help monitor students and facilitate the simulation.
- Print out enough copies of the Underground Railroad Simulation Role Cards printable so that each student will receive one of the five roles (each page has ten cards, two of each role). If you have twenty students, for example, you will need to print two copies.
- Cut out the Underground Railroad Simulation Role Cards.
- Make a class set of the Underground Railroad Reflection Sheet printable.
Day 1: Preparation
Step 1: Review what students have already learned about the Underground Railroad. Review any vocabulary from the Underground Railroad Simulation Role Cards that students will need to know.
Step 2: Have students use the provided art supplies to make signs that indicate the various "stops" of Underground Railroad: house addresses, store names, state signs (northern and southern states), etc.
Day 2: The Underground Railroad Simulation
Step 3: Explain the simulation activity students will be participating in. Emphasize that although the simulation may feel like a game, it represents a perilous time in American history. Students should be respectful when talking about and taking part in the simulation.
Step 4: Read aloud each of the roles on the Underground Railroad Simulation Role Cards printable (abolitionist, Quaker, conductor, slave, slave hunter). Ask students if they have any questions about the roles.
Step 5: Randomly pass out one Underground Railroad Simulation Role Card to each student.
Step 6: Have adult volunteers take students to their assigned stations: Quakers and abolitionists should go to their selected Safe Destination areas. Hunters should hide in various designated places throughout the area.
Step 7: Lead the remainder of students (conductors and slaves) to the simulation location. Have small groups start at different addresses. If you only have one starting point, you can stagger the release of the groups.
Step 8: Conductors should 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 9: When they reach a stop, abolitionists or Quakers should provide slaves 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 10: 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. (For example, 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 11: The slaves that successfully reach the end of the railroad have reached their freedom.
Step 12: Gather all students together in the classroom again. Have each student complete the Underground Railroad Reflection Sheet printable.
Step 13: Discuss students' reflections and experiences as a class.
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 time line 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.
- Students should 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?