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New Teachers New York:
Lesson Plans by New Teachers, For New Teachers
Exploring the Narrative of an Enslaved African 

Aim: Students will examine the role of literacy in Frederick Douglass's fight to gain freedom.


  • Students will evaluate the role of slave narratives as primary source documents.
  • Students will analyze the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for revelations about the lives of enslaved Africans during chattel slavery.
  • Students will examine the role of literacy in Frederick Douglass's fight to gain freedom.

Vocabulary Concepts:

  • chattel slavery – the government arrangement that forced people stolen from Africa to be owned, mostly by European-Americans, to do manual labor
  • plantation – a large farm where crops are grown for cash – also has a house on it
  • literate – have the ability to read and write
  • illiterate – being unable to read and write
  • freedom - ???- personal definitions

Created by:
Anayah R. Barney 
Location: Acorn H.S. for Social Justice
Grade: high school
Subject: English, Special Education

Anayah R. Barney is a special education teacher with students of all high school grades at a school with a population of mostly African-American and Latino students from under-resourced backgrounds. Her primary content area is English, with her most challenging class being “Literacy” for mixed-ability general education students who span the range of how frequently they attend school and have varying interests in school and education.

If you have any questions regarding this activity, please contact abarney@schools.nyc.gov


Students will read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass analyzing for both its literary value as a slave narrative and its historical value. Students will then analyze the role of education as a tool for freedom for Douglass


Students will complete the following assignments:

1. Students will freewrite for 10-20 minutes on the following questions - How would you feel if you were forcefully taken from your family? What would you do to be free?

2. Students develop a K-W-L (Know, Want to Know, Learned) chart on “the lives of enslaved Africans in the United States” to be evaluated throughout.

3. Reading guides will be created for each chapter of the narrative for students to examine

a. the 5Ws and H (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How),
b. unfamiliar words and vocabulary,
c. the revelations of slave narratives.

4. Students will create “I-Say” inference charts.

5. Students will respond to read-alouds from From Slave Ship to Freedom Road


  1. Thematic student poetry about family, freedom, power, control, hunger, abuse.
  2. Illustrations depicting Douglass' journey to freedom
  3. A 5 paragraph essay on the role of literacy in Frederick Douglass's struggle for freedom



  1. Creating Reading Guides
  2. “I-Say” inference charts
  3. Response (Processing) Questions
  4. Essay (drafting, revising, editing)

Evaluation: Students will be evaluated on:

  1. Their ability to identify the 5Ws and H
  2. Douglass' writing purpose, and revelations about society for each chapter
  3. Reflections on and reactions to the daily reality of enslaved Africans in the United States

Standards Addressed:
Reading and writing for information and understanding.
Reading and writing for critical analysis and evaluation.

Students: Students involved in this project are 9th-12th graders, most labeled with learning disabilities or functioning below grade level. This could be adapted for higher functioning and/or general education  students by using more sophisticated texts and incorporating supplemental texts including, the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “”Arn't I A Woman?” speech by Sojourner Truth, and/or David Walker's Appeal.

Overall Value: One great feature of this lesson plan is that it allows students to examine the institution of chattel slavery in the U.S., its lingering affects, and to think more concretely about what it means to ponder 'the human condition.' Students really appreciate this unit because they get to be philosophers writing expositions on freedom and finding practical uses for literacy in their lives.

Teacher Tips: When planning this unit, be sure to pay attention to what students know and want to know about slavery as it can really help lead to supplemental information that will keep them engaged and thinking critically.


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