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Underground Railroad Unit Fourth Grade

1. Standards:
Iowa CORE SS.35.H.4 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand the role of individuals and
groups within a society as promoters of change or the status quo.
Iowa CORE SS.35.H.8 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand cause and effect
relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues.
National Visual Art Standard: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.
National Theater Standard: Acting by assuming roles and interacting in improvisations.
National Music Standard: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and
disciplines outside the arts.
2. Core Work: The Underground Railroad, a painting by Charles T. Webber
3. Big Idea Statements:
The establishment of the Underground Railroad and its success depended on the cooperation and
interaction of different groups of people.
Slaves were denied basic human rights.

Slaves were not free to live as white people were during this time, so they took great risks to
escape to freedom.
The people who helped the slaves were abolitionists and believed in peace, equality and freedom
for all people.
Guiding Questions:

What is the Underground Railroad?

What conditions were present in the South surrounding slavery?
Can you describe the life of a slave?
How did the Underground Railroad work?
What were the risks and opportunities of escaping slavery?

4. Key Concepts:
Slavery, Freedom, Roles, Risks, Opportunities, Compassion
5. Skills and Processes:

Students will draw upon schematic knowledge of the Underground Railroad to create a
foundation for exploration of the subject.
Students will interpret a well-known painting, The Underground Railroad by Charles T.
Students will compare and contrast the risks and rewards of the slaves and the
Students will defend and justify a slaves escape to freedom.
Students will characterize the varying clues, paths, hideaways that worked collaboratively
to make the Underground Railroad a success.
Students will reconstruct a dramatized account of escape while pretending to be an
escaping slave.
Students will also identify and explain main points and key vocabulary words within the

6. Art Connections:

The painting will give students a visual portrayal of the interactions and cooperation of
different groups of people in the journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
The music will demonstrate the emotional and physical tolls of slavery and lead to
understanding of the cause and effect relationship of a slaves desire to escape.
The interpretation of the music and hidden clues within the music will also allow students
to apply knowledge of the workings of the Underground Railroad.
The reenactment of an escape will allow children to experience through movement and
emotion the escape to freedom.

The literature will provide both biographical character portraits of slaves and fictional
accounts of escaping to freedom.
Art Resources:
Painting, music and literature to explicitly describe the inner workings of the
Underground Railroad and the different perspectives of the parties involved.
MasterWork: The Underground Railroad by Charles T. Webber
Negro Spiritual Music :
This Train, The Tell Tale Singers
Wade in the Water Vol. 1, African American Spirituals
(Smithsonian Folkways Series)
Unspoken, by Henry Cole
Follow the Drinking Gourd, by Jeanette Winter
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans
Henrys Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine
Other resources:
Classroom Social Studies Textbook

7. Assessment:
Arts-based Formative Assessment:
The following will be assessed by a rubric based on participation, preparation and
cooperation throughout the activity.
o Interpretation of the spiritual music, in that they can describe the meaning to
slaves and the hidden messages within these songs in the context of the
Underground Railroad.
o Preparation of individualized quilt square.
o Dramatized demonstration of Henrys Freedom Box: A True Story from the
Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine.
o Journal writing of a slaves experience and oral presentation.
Unit Summative Assessment:
Students will be asked to describe the Masterwork in an essay using their own words
combined with unit vocabulary that will be included in a key. Students will be expected
to explain why escape was necessary (the lives and conditions of slaves and slavery), the
dangers of escaping to freedom (risks and rewards) and how codes and symbols helped

slaves escape (abolitionists, clues and pathways to freedom) within the context of the
9. Time Line & Lesson Plans
Underground Railroad: Day 1-2
Essential Questions:
What is the Underground Railroad?
Content Objective:
Students will draw upon schematic knowledge of the Underground Railroad to create a
foundation for exploration of the subject. Introduction of Masterwork painting,
The Underground Railroad by Charles T. Webber.
Students will also identify and explore main points and key vocabulary words within the unit and
how they tie to the visual art piece.
Purpose and Modeling:
Modeling: Begin with open-ended questioning in regards to the painting. Say something like, I
see people in a historic setting. When could this be?
Purpose is to establish background knowledge surrounding content area and introduce students to
the idea of the Underground Railroad. Probing questions regarding the artwork will paint the
broad theme of the unit.
Guided Instruction:
Whole Group: Pose probing questions to students regarding artwork.
What do you see?
What is special about this piece of work?
What do you think the artist is trying to convey?
How does this painting make you feel?
In what time period do you feel it is placed?
Is there anything in history you may connect to this painting?
Charting ideas and words as a large group will set the stage for foundational knowledge of the
Explore ideas further through buddy-reading of assigned text within textbook. Students will be
responsible for identifying key vocabulary and concepts with a partner.
The experience for the day will conclude by students posing questions to the artist and posing
questions of the painting by using newly acquired knowledge from the reading and charted
discussion points.
Underground Railroad: Day 3-4
Essential Questions:

What conditions were present in the South surrounding slavery?

Can you explain the life of a slave?
Content Objective:
To conceptualize the contextual situation of the life of a slave during this time. Students will
explore life on a plantation for slaves in order to weigh the risks and opportunities surrounding
escape. By incorporating a biographical account and listening to Negro spirituals, as well as an
online activity, students can immerse themselves into the culture and character of a slave.
Guided Instruction:
Open with playing of African American Spiritual music. Ask students to listen and quick write
for one-minute emotional words that the music brings to mind.
Whole Group: Bring students together and briefly discuss the music. Ask that each students
share one word that they wrote down in order to set the mood for understanding the dismal
circumstances surrounding slavery. Bridge these feelings with read aloud, Dave the Potter, and
explain that we will read about a man who was a slave.
Students will then partner up and do an online activity through National Geographic that takes
them virtually through the life and journey of a slave escaping to freedom. Continue to play
music while students work together through the online exercise.
Underground Railroad: Day 5-7
Essential Questions:
What are the inner workings of the Underground Railroad?
Who assisted the slaves and how did they escape to freedom?
Content Objective:
Connect the story to previous learning of subject matter including read aloud materials and
online activity. Compare and contrast the situations of slaves and how they escaped to freedom.
Through group discussion and independent work they will read about, chart, dissect and examine
the risks and rewards of escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad.
Guided Instruction:
Buddy Work: Students will read about Harriet Tubman, the Quakers and other abolitionists
along with the inner workings regarding the Underground Railroad in the Social Studies
textbook. They will revisit vocabulary, identifying contextual clues to define these words.
Group Work:
1. Read The Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter.
After reading, teacher will guide discussion and chart answers as a class with questions such as:
When did slaves escape?

How did they find their way?

How did they know who would help them?
How do you think the slaves felt?
What were some of the clues and signals that helped slaves along the way?
2. Revisit spiritual music and prompt students to look for signals and clues within the music that
may have communicated messages to the slaves. Watch Wade in the Water video
( to show spiritual music connection to
Individual Work: Students will use the quilt patterns as a focus study for understanding signals
and clues that were used for communication on the Underground Railroad. Students will create a
quilt square with found materials, paper, or drawing that represents their own understanding of
the inner workings of the Underground Railroad.
Underground Railroad: Day 8-9
Essential Questions:
What were the risks and rewards of escaping slavery?
Content Objective:
Explore the following books:
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans
Unspoken by Henry Cole
These picture books have little or no words and rely heavily on striking images to communicate
the message and story of the Underground Railroad. The intention is that students will be able to
synthesize the story, create meaning and comprehension through their new knowledge of the
Underground Railroad.
Purpose and Modeling:
Students will brainstorm and shape their own ideas through the study of these profound
illustrations in an attempt to use drama to express the story of an escaped slave.
With in-depth examination of the illustrations, I will ask how the pictures portray mood and
feeling, setting and plot. By modeling what I notice in the illustrations, students can think of the
pictures as a more living and breathing representation of the Underground Railroad story.
A series may go like this, I notice the little girls eyes in this drawing. They are wide,
like this (I demonstrate with my own eyes). I think this means she is surprised or startled.
Or maybe she is disbelieving of what she thinks she sees. What do you think widened
eyes (demonstrate again) like this mean? What do you think is going through her mind at
this moment? Lets act it out together.
Guided Instruction:
Whole Group:

1. Guide students through Unspoken. Integrate elements of drama in order to

synthesize the meaning of each book. Use the following guide to chart (in a group
discussion) the components of the book as a dramatization.
Characters/Actors carrying out action
2. Now guide students through Underground. Use modeling strategies mentioned above
to dramatize the story together.
Small Group: Read aloud Henrys Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine. Students will listen as a whole group to the story in its entirety first, and then
be break into small groups for a dramatized reenactment of the story. Copies of different parts of
the book will be distributed so that students can organize their wordless performance of each
section of the book. Following each small group performance, the group will discuss what the
scene portrayed.
Underground Railroad: Day 10
Essential Questions
Can you imagine yourself as a slave trying to escape to freedom?
Content Objective:
Through this writing assignment, students will revisit the Masterwork painting for inspiration
and write through the eyes of a slave through a journal, memoir or narrative from the perspective
of a slave wanting to escape from freedom. They will begin with the current life of the slave,
moving sequentially through their journey to freedom. Students will create and complete this
piece of writing and share it orally to the class in order to deepen their understanding of the
Underground Railroad.
Guided Instruction:
Whole Group: Explanation of writing assignment as writing a journal or narrative as if
the student were a slave escaping to freedom. Inform students that the assignment will
be presented orally to the class.
Small Group: Small group discussion and individual charting of questions:
Who am I as a slave?
How old?
Do I have a family?
What kind of work did I do on the plantation?
How do I feel about escaping?
When I escape what dangers to I encounter?
Do I get caught? Or do I narrowly escape?

Do I encounter codes and signals along the way? What are they?
Who helps me escape?
Do I make it to freedom?
The small group discussion and recording will help students concretely define and
identify their own character. The writing and presentation will conclude the
instruction phase to this unit.