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Elementary Lesson Plan 1
Criminal or Hero, Runaway or Freeman Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
by Christopher W. Czajka

In this lesson, students will explore the role played by perspective and point-of-view in an examination of American slavery. Students will look at the early history of widespread slavery in colonial America, and the ways in which some Northern slaves chose to deal with their situation amidst the chaos of the American Revolution. Utilizing the PBS series SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, students will examine the life of Titus, a runaway slave from New Jersey who led a band of guerilla soldiers for the British, and explore why and how African-Americans fought during the Revolution. Following their examination of Titus, students will utilize a variety of online interactive resources to examine the experiences of runaway slaves throughout the history of American slavery. As a culminating activity, students will creatively write journal entries from a variety of historical perspectives, including slave, runaway slave, slave owner, and British soldier.

This lesson can be used as a pre- or post- viewing activity for the PBS series SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, or as an independent lesson for the social studies/history classroom. A basic knowledge of the slavery in the United States, as well as a familiarity with the American Revolution, is required.

Grade Level: 5-6

Time Allotment: Three 45-minute class periods (excluding homework time for Culminating Activity)

Subject Matter: History, Social Studies

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:
  • Detail the geographic history of slavery in the United States, and recognize that slavery was present in the North as well as the South for much of American history prior to the Civil War;

  • Explain what drove some Northern slaves to run away from their owners, as well as why slave owners were reluctant to let their slaves run away, and how they prevented it;

  • Describe how and why black soldiers fought in the American Revolution, including the role of Colonel Tye;

  • Describe how "choosing sides" in the American Revolution is difficult when considering multiple perspectives and points of view;

  • Describe the conditions and situations faced by runaway slaves throughout the history of American slavery;

  • Write creatively from different historical perspectives, including slave, runaway slave, slave owner, and British soldier.

    From the National Standards for History for grades 5-12, available online at

    Standard 2 - The student thinks chronologically. Therefore, the student is able to appreciate historical perspectives describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like.

    Standard 3 - The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation. Therefore, the student is able to consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, hopes, and fears.

    Standard 4 - The student conducts historical research. Therefore, the student is able to obtain historical data from a variety of sources, including: library and museum collections, historic sites, historical photos, journals, diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, and the like; documentary films, oral testimony from living witnesses, censuses, tax records, city directories, statistical compilations, and economic indicators.

    About the Author:
    Christopher W. Czajka is a lesson plan writer for SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. He has been the Educational Consultant for several previous PBS primetime series, including BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL and COLONIAL HOUSE. He also served as both an Educational Consultant and a Historical Consultant for FRONTIER HOUSE. He is the Associate Director of the National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI), an initiative that teaches educators across the country strategies for integrating public television programming into curriculum. To learn more about using media in your classroom, visit NTTI Online.
  • Prep for Teachers:

    Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as Preview all of the Web sites listed below and video clips used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. CUE the tape of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 2, "Liberty in the Air," at approximately 17 minutes, to where you see the back of a woman with poles protruding from her neck running through the woods, and you hear drum beats.

    Download the Blank U.S. Map and make a copy of the map for each student in your class. Download and print the Thirteen Colonies Map and make a copy of the map for each student in your class. Log on to The Underground Railroad site and complete the activity to familiarize yourself with the locations, hardships, and individuals described. Download and print the "It Depends on Your Point of View" CHARACTER PROFILES STUDENT ORGANIZER, and cut up the page so that it is a series of slips with one character profile on each. Be certain that you have enough slips so that each student in your classroom can select one. Put all of the slips in a box or hat.

    Media Components:

    • SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 2, "Liberty in the Air"

    For the class:
    • TV/VCR

    For each student:

    Online Resources

    Blank U.S. States Map
    This site features a downloadable and reproducible blank map of the United States.

    Free States and Slave States Before the Civil War
    This site features a color-coded map detailing slave states and free states in the United States in 1860.

    The Thirteen Colonies Map handson_help_gfx/activityimages/colmap.gif
    This site features a blank map of the thirteen original colonies.

    Status of Slavery in the Thirteen Original States america/interactive/map18.html
    This interactive site features a map of the thirteen original states. When the user rolls the mouse over each state, information about that state's history of slavery is revealed. This site requires the Shockwave plug-in, available for free download at

    Timeline of Slavery railroad/tl.html
    This site, from National Geographic, features a grade-level appropriate timeline of slavery's history in the United States.

    Runaway Ad for Titus
    This site, which accompanies PBS' AFRICANS IN AMERICA series, features an online primary source document from 1775.

    "Titus at the Market"
    This site, part of the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Web site, features a fictional dramatic scene, based on historical information, about the slave Titus, who lived in New Jersey in the mid-1700s.

    The Underground Railroad
    This site, from National Geographic, allows students to take an online interactive journey on the Underground Railroad.

    Flight to Freedom
    This site, from the history department at Bowdoin College, allows students to assume the character of a variety of famous fugitive slaves.

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