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TeachNet Grant: Slave Journals
Christopher Gill

Newcomers High School
28-01 41st Ave.
Long Island City NY 11101

Subject: United States History and Government
About the Grant:

This unit will teach students some of the everyday struggles of slaves in the United States before the Civil War and creation of the 13th amendment. Students will be using various online resources to find primary documents relating to slavery and the everyday lives of slaves. Using these documents and what they have learned from the unit, the students will create a collection of journal entries about what their everyday lives would be like if they were slaves. The students will be given specific topics to write about in each journal, but they will be given the freedom to develop their own characters and stories in this creative writting assignment. The students will also be creating a piece of artwork which depicts a scene from each of their journal entries. At the end of the project the students must create a list of primary documents they used to create each journal entry or the artwork wich accompanies the journals.

Teachers will need access to a wireless laptop cart or a computer lab in order to complete this project. Teachers will also need crayons, markers, colored pencils, scissors, construction paper or any other art related materials in order to help the students complete the artwork for this project.

How This Grant was Adapted:

When teaching slavery on the high school level, it is often taught and learned without much focus on the culture and lives of the slaves. The importance of the evils of slavery are often brought to the forefront or perhaps the horrors of the trans Atlantic slave trade or even the sectionalism that develops between the northern and southern states during the 19th Century. While all of these topics are relevant and vital I feel it is also significant to discuss the slaves themselves and the struggles they experienced to create communities and develop cultural bonds with one another. One aspect of slavery that is often depicted by the Nat Turner rebellion or the Underground Railroad is resistance. Slaves struggled to survive yet they also showed various forms of rebellion towards their forced enslavement, not just through violence or running away. Some slaves rebelled in small ways on a daily basis by breaking tools or working slowly. I think it is important for students to learn about various aspects of slave culture and how it developed in different ways in different plantations and states across the country.

Have fun and encourage your students to dig deep! It is very important that we never forget or neglect this topic because it is part of our history, whether we like it or not.

  • Students will understand how the meanings of the founding documents of the United States have changed to include minority populations over time.
  • Students will learn how to access and navigate websites relating to their topic of slavery
  • Student will read, listen to, view and analyze various types of primary documents through the internet.
  • Students will learn about the various daily struggles of slaves and slave populations in America
  • Students will understand how slave populations although under extremely harsh conditions, strove to create their own communities and cultures.
  • Students will learn and understand how humans will always develop a sense of culture and community no matter the circumstances.
  • Students will learn how African slaves from different tribes and cultural backgrounds came to the plantations of the United States and created their own cultures through cultural diffusion.
  • Students will create fictional accounts of slave life based on real life events and primary documents they find.
  • Students will create art work based on real life events and primary documents they find.

Websites Used

Slavery Image Gallery- Students and Teachers can explore this collection by category or by searching for specific images or pieces of artwork


Documenting the American South- Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. Currently DocSouth includes twelve thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs.


Valley of the Shadow - An amazing collection of letters, diaries, newspapers, speeches, census information and church records. This collection specifically focuses on the two communities of Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania before, during and after the Civil War.


Library of Congress -The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.


Africans in America- A PBS website that accompanies the PBS series. This website is easy to use and filled with primary documents for students and teachers. There are also links to lesson plans for teachers who are using the accompanying PBS series.


Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition- This collection is highly scholarly and slightly difficult for students to use. Teachers can find useful documents and links to more slavery related websites.


Born in Slavery- A collection from the Library of Congress. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves.


Standards Addressed:

All of the following standards are for Social Studies Secondary Education students in New York State.

STANDARD 1- History of the United States and New York

  • analyze the development of American culture, explaining how ideas, values, beliefs, and traditions have changed over time and how they unite all Americans
  • describe the evolution of American democratic values and beliefs as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the New York State Constitution, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other important historical documents
  • discuss several schemes for periodizing the history of New York State and the United States
  • develop and test hypotheses about important events, eras, or issues in New York State and United States history, setting clear and valid criteria for judging the importance and significance of these events, eras, or issues
  • compare and contrast the experiences of different groups in the United States
  • examine how the Constitution, United States law, and the rights of citizenship provide a major unifying factor in bringing together Americans from diverse roots and traditions
  • compare and contrast the experiences of different ethnic, national, and religious groups, including Native American Indians, in the United States, explaining their contributions to American society and culture
  • research and analyze the major themes and developments in New York State and United States history (e.g., colonization and settlement; Revolution and New National Period; immigration; expansion and reform era; Civil War and Reconstruction; The American labor movement; Great Depression; World Wars; contemporary United States)
  • prepare essays and oral reports about the important social, political, economic, scientific, technological, and cultural developments, issues, and events from New York State and United States history
  • analyze historical narratives about key events in New York State and United States history to identify the facts and evaluate the authors' perspectives
  • consider different historians' analyses of the same event or development in United States history to understand how different viewpoints and/or frames of reference influence historical interpretations

STANDARD 2- World History

  • define culture and civilization, explaining how they developed and changed over time. Investigate the various components of cultures and civilizations including social customs, norms, values, and traditions; political systems; economic systems; religions and spiritual beliefs; and socialization or educational practices
  • analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence perspective
  • explain the importance of analyzing narratives drawn from different times and places to understand historical events

All of the following standards are for English Language Arts Secondary Education students in New York State.

STANDARD 1 - Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.

As listeners and readers, students will collect data, facts, and ideas, discover relationships, concepts, and generalizations; and use knowledge generated from oral, written, and electronically produced texts. As speakers and writers, they will use oral and written language to acquire, interpret, apply, and transmit information.

STANDARD 2 - Students will read, write, listen, and speak for literary response and expression.

Students will read and listen to oral, written and electronically produced texts and performances, relate texts and performances to their own lives, and develop an understanding of the diverse social, historical, and cultural dimensions the texts and performances represent. As speakers and writers, students will use oral and written language for self-expression and artistic creation.

STANDARD 3 - Students will read, write, listen, and speak for critical analysis and evaluation.

As listeners and readers, students will analyze experiences, ideas, information, and issues presented by others using a variety of established criteria. As speakers and writers, they will present, in oral and written language and from a variety of perspectives, their opinions and judgments on experiences, ideas, information and issues.

STANDARD 4 - Students will read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction.

Students will use oral and written language for effective social communication with a wide variety of people. As readers and listeners, they will use the social communications of others to enrich their understanding of people and their views.

Lesson 1:

Lesson 1- Words to Live By


Students will analyze founding documents of the United States and find phrases and words relating to freedom and liberty.


Teacher and students will discuss documents and their relationship to freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis in America.


Students will use higher level thinking skills to develop ideas on how these phrases and thoughts have been selectively granted to different groups throughout American history.


Students will understand how American freedoms have been a long and slow process for minority groups since the creation of this country.


Students will understand how the changing ideas of American freedom have led to slavery and the abolition of slavery.



Display device, graphic organizer handouts, whiteboard/chalk board with different color markers or chalk, Library of Congress web site (www.loc.gov)


Teacher will write the AIM and Do Now on the board.

Aim- How do the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments only) guarantee rights to individuals in the United States of America?


Do Now- In groups (which should be pre-selected by the teacher and be no larger than 3 or 4 students each):

  • Each group member will read a primary document from the Aim-(the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the preamble of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights), which can be found at the Library of Congress web site.

  • Each group member should copy down/ take notes on major phrases or words relating to freedom and liberty.

Classroom Procedures

  • In cases of groups of four, teachers should assign Amendments 1-5 of the Bill of Rights to one student in a group and Amendments 6-10 to another student in the same group, in order to speed up the process.
  • The teacher should walk around the room answering questions and making sure that the students are reading and analyzing their documents appropriately.
  • Students should be given about 20 - 25 minutes to analyze their documents and write down key phrases from their documents.
  • After the allotted time is up the teacher should use the graphic organizer displayed via a projection device to help the students organize their ideas and notes during the class share out.
  • Teacher can also hand out copies of the graphic organizer.
  • Students will share out the phrases they found in each document that relate to individual freedom and rights.
  • Teacher will call students up to the board/display device to write one phrase or idea that they found in their document. Students will use different color markers/chalk to differentiate between the three different graphic organizers which represent the three documents.
  • Teacher will explain the importance of phrases such as "All men are created equal", "Certain unalienable rights", "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", "We the people", "Establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility", "No Person shall", etc.
  • Teacher will pose a question to the students- Can you think of a time in American history when these major ideals of liberty or freedom were not applied to everyone?
  • As students think and share their answers with the class the teacher will list any/all major limits of American freedom on the board/overhead.
  • Students will come up with various historic examples of limitations or the exemption of particular groups from these rights during American history. If not mentioned by the students, the teacher should cite the most relevant and substantial abuse of human rights in American history: slavery.


  • Understanding Our History Through Writing - Using your textbook, online resources, and any other outside sources answer the following questions
  • What was slavery? How did it develop in the United States?
  • Why did it develop in the United States?
  • Who was enslaved/who was enslaving people?
  • When did slavery exist in the United States and when was it abolished?
  • Where did slavery develop in the United States and what is the significance of geography in the slave trade and its existence in the United States?
  • Be sure to cite all major sources you used after your answers.



  • Student notes, classroom discussion, graphic organizers, group discussions and homework assignment

Lesson 2:

Lesson 2- Culture and Slavery


  • Students will understand several different aspects of slavery in America, including the who, what, where, why, when, what and how.

  • Students will list and understand the various aspects of culture.

  • Students will understand various aspects of the different cultures and cultural diffusion between slaves in the United States.


  • Laptop Cart with overhead projector, computer speakers, internet access, whiteboard/chalkboard



  • Teacher will write the AIM and Do Now on the board.


  • How did slaves develop cultural bonds during enslavement in the United States?
  • What are some of the aspects of this slave culture?

Do Now

  • Get into Groups and get out your homework.
  • Share your answers from your homework assignment with your group.

Classroom Procedure

  • Teacher will walk around the room listening in on group discussions about the homework. Teacher will facilitate higher level thinking among students by asking questions and playing the "devils advocate".
  • Students will meet in groups and discuss the various aspects of slavery in the United States for 10 - 15 minutes. Teacher will check to make sure all students in each group has completed the homework.
  • After 10 - 15 minutes the teacher will end the group work and begin the classroom discussion on slavery.
  • Teacher will post questions from last nights homework. As students give answers to the questions he/she will write them on the overhead/board/display device.
  • Teacher will ask the question
  • "Lets discuss something you learned about slavery from another group member. What is something that you learned from your group member(s) that you never knew about slavery?" teacher will then facilitate this share out.
  • After display device/board is filled with notes and teacher is satisfied with answers and the group/class discussions on slavery, the teacher will begin with the aspects of culture.

  • Teacher will ask students what the major aspects of culture are and begin a new web design template- graphic organizer about the characteristics of culture.
  • Students will share out their ideas about what culture entails.
  • Teacher will make sure that the major characteristics of culture are discussed by the class (Religion, art, family structure, music, government structure, economy, learning and technology, warfare, social norms, taboos, history etc.)
  • Teacher will have the students read the aim and inform the students that they will be exploring the many different cultural developments of African slavery here in the United States. Students should also be aware of cultural diffusion and how it has developed throughout world and United States history.

  • Teacher will then use internet access through the laptop to project the following image- Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, 186: http://bit.ly/4hEw6o

  • Students will discuss what they see in the painting and how this depicts the everyday lives of slaves and how it affects the culture of slavery.

  • Teacher will then use internet access through the laptop to project the following image- Dance, U. S. South, 186: http://bit.ly/45dU6F

  • Students will discuss what they see in the painting and how this depicts the everyday lives of slaves and how it affects the culture of slavery.

  • Teacher will hand out Slave Journals Project and have a class reading and discussion of the project.


  • Using web resources, find one primary document relating to the culture of slavery and write a one page paper on why this document describes or depicts a cultural characteristic of slavery.
  • The paper should be typed, double spaced and attached to a printed version of the primary document you analyzed.



  • Cooperative learning discussing of homework, class discussion of slavery, class discussion of culture and cultural diffusion, class discussion of primary documents, class discussion of project, homework

Lesson 3:

Lesson 3- Slave Resistance


  • Students will learn various forms of peaceful and violent slave resistance.

  • Students will understand the Nat Turner Rebellion.

  • Students will understand the significance of the Underground Railroad.

  • Students will use knowledge gained in lesson for their project.

  • Students will understand how groups of African slaves were bought and sold and separated from their families.


  • Laptop with overhead projector, overhead projector, internet access, whiteboard/chalkboard, T-Chart Template overhead


  • Teacher will write the AIM and Do Now on the board


  • How did slaves use both peaceful and violent resistance against their masters?

Do Now

  • If you were being held in bondage as a slave how would/could you rebel against your masters violently? How would/could your rebel peacefully?

Classroom Procedures

  • Teacher will give the students 10 - 15 minutes to answer the aim in their notebooks

  • Teacher will collect homework

  • After 10 - 15 minutes the students will pair up with a classmate and compare answers.

  • After 10 minutes of sharing answers with their friends, the teacher will ask the students how their partners said they would rebel against their masters.

  • Teacher will put a T-Chart Template an overhead projector/display device creating charts labeled: PEACEFUL RESISTANCE and VIOLENT RESISTANCE

  • Students will share their partners answers in the classroom discussion and will come up to the board and write their partners method of resistance on the overhead/chalk/whiteboard

  • Teacher will discuss with the students how possible/impossible some of the methods of resistance may or may not have been for slaves in the United States.

  • Students will copy the T-Chart into their notebooks during the class discussion.

  • Upon completion of the chart/class discussion teacher will access HIPPO CAMPUS through the internet, selecting the U.S. History online textbook with the heading of - Territorial Expansion and Sectional Issues, 1820 - 1860 subheading of Slave Resistance

  • Teacher will show the students the video clip discussing various forms of peaceful and violent protest by slaves in the United States.

  • Teacher and students will discuss any methods that they saw in the film clip that they may/or may not have on their T- Chart.

  • Teacher will ask the students to take out their SLAVE JOURNALS PROJECT and will point out that one of the journals and pieces of artwork they must create will be based on slave resistance.

  • With the remaining time left the teacher will quickly discuss the Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia in 1831.

  • After a class room discussion on the event the teacher will split the class in half. One side of the class will represent the white southerners who hear about the rebellion and the other half will represent the black southerners and slaves who hear about the rebellion.

  • Teacher will tell the students they have 10 minutes to develop some major ideas on how to 1. prevent these rebellions from happening (white southerners) or 2. encourage more rebellions (black southerner/slave)

  • Class will share out their ideas


  • Keeping in mind the group you belonged to when discussing the Nat Turner Rebellion, create a political cartoon reflecting your groups (white/black southerners or slaves) hopes, fears, ideas, thoughts, etc. based on this event.


  • Students pairing up comparing answers from the Do Now, Class discussion based on the Do Now, T-Chart on resistance, Class discussion on the different views of the Nat Turner Rebellion, homework

Lesson 4

Lesson 4- Researching Slavery


  • Students will use laptop carts or computer lab to research primary documents on slavery.

  • Students will analyze primary documents to further understand slave culture.

  • Students will access and navigate websites relating to the history and context of slavery in America.

  • Students will use primary documents to get ideas for their creative writing assignment.


  • Laptop cart or computer lab with access to printers.


  • Teacher will write the AIM and Do Now on the board.


  • How did slaves create their own cultural identity during their bondage here in the United States?

Do Now- 1. Hand in your homework

2. Using your project worksheet access websites and begin researching primary documents for your project.

3. By the end of class each student must print out 2 primary documents that they will use on their projects.


Classroom Procedures

  • Teacher will collect homework from students.

  • Teacher will walk around the computer lab/classroom asking students about their research and the primary documents they are finding.

  • Throughout the class period the teacher will make sure students are finding appropriate documents that the students can use to create their projects.

  • Teacher will ask students how the documents they are finding are teaching them about slave culture in America.

  • At the end of the period each student will have at least two primary documents with which to work on their project.


  • Using your two documents you printed in class, create a web design template- graphic organizer representing different symbols, ideas, imagery, feelings, etc. that you get from reading/analyzing/listening to each document. Be ready to hand in these graphic organizers at the beginning of the next period.


  • Collection of previous classes homework, discussing documents with the students, homework
Lesson 5:

Lesson 5- Gallery Walk/Book Reading


  • Students will bring their finished projects to class in order to show them to their classmates and teachers

  • Students will read each others projects and view each others artwork and evaluate their projects.

  • Students will have a greater appreciation for the struggles of slaves and the culture they developed despite the conditions they lived under.

  • Students will read their best journal entry in front of the class and show their favorite piece of artwork.


  • I suggest the teacher creates and atmosphere of a book reading or a gallery walk by putting all of the desks to one side and placing the chairs in a semicircle facing the presenter. Some of my colleagues like to use the library for occasions like this which is also a great idea to show off the projects and have the students read with work to their peers and perhaps special guests like teachers from other disciplines.


  • Teacher will set up projects around the room and give students post-it notes to write comments on.

  • Students will have 25 minutes to read each others journals and view each others artwork.

  • Students may place a post-it note with their ideas or feelings on their peers projects.

  • After about 25 - 30 minutes students will be asked to get their projects and select their favorite journal entry and their favorite piece of artwork.

  • Students will read their journal entry and show their artwork to their audience.


What did I learn?

  • Write a one page analysis about what you learned from this unit and completing your project. How did slaves create their own culture? Why did slaves feel a need to create a culture? How were slaves different or the same as we are today? Etc.


  • Gallery Walk/Book Reading, post-it notes with criticisms or encouragement of work, homework

Christopher has been a member of the Social Studies Department at Newcomers High School and has served as an adjunct lecturer at LaGuardia Community College for the past four years. He has taught United States History and Government, Participation in Government, Economics, AP United States Government and Politics, Critical Thinking: How We Elect Our Presidents and Global Studies. As a first-generation American, Christopher is familiar with the struggles of ESL and bilingual students and has had many experiences with both populations in both his professional and personal life. He strives to bring history alive to his students through various methods of assessment including role playing and acting as well as other student-centered activities.

Wed Design Template- Graphic Organizer(2).doc

Slave Journals Project(1).doc

T-Chart Template(4).doc


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