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Elementary Lesson Plan 1
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
by Christopher W. Czajka

In this lesson, students will examine Thomas Jefferson's complex and contradictory relationship with slavery. Students will view segments of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Episode 2, "Liberty in the Air," and examine a variety of online primary source documents to determine Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery, as well as how he chose to address them in his most famous document, the Declaration of Independence. As a culminating activity, students will have an opportunity to rewrite portions of the Declaration to a) more accurately reflect Jefferson's views, and b) more accurately reflect contemporary American society.

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 United States' struggle for independence and slavery in the late 18th century is required.

Grade Level: 5-7

Time Allotment: Three to four 45-minute class periods

Subject Matter: History, Social Studies

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:
  • Utilize visual clues and video images to gather information on historical figures;

  • Describe the conditions faced by slaves in mid-18th century America;

  • Detail Thomas Jefferson's accomplishments as statesman and President;

  • Analyze primary source document from the 18th century and identify key components and facts described in the documents;

  • Compare and contrast Jefferson's best-known written work-the Declaration of Independence-to his personal life experiences and philosophy.

  • Articulate Thomas Jefferson's attitudes and views of slavery;

  • Rewrite portions of the Declaration of Independence to more accurately reflect Jefferson's, as well as students' own, viewpoints.

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" to where you see the image of two boys running through a field rolling a hoop, and you hear guitar music, at approximately 9 minutes.

Copy the WOLF BY THE EAR handout for each student in your classroom. Review the "Mr. Jefferson's Servants" Web site at
, and determine if you want your students to read this article online, or if you would like to print it out and make hard copies for your students because of its length.

Media Components:

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

For the class:
  • TV/VCR

  • Chalkboard or whiteboard

For each student:

Online Resources
Thomas Jefferson

This article, from Grolier's "The American Presidency" site, provides a brief biographical sketch of Thomas Jefferson.

Timeline of Jefferson's Life
This site, affiliated with Jefferson's home Monticello, provides a timeline of public and private events in Thomas Jefferson's life.

Declaration of Independence
This Web site provides an online text version of the Declaration of Independence.

Sale of Monticello Notice

This site, which accompanies the PBS film THOMAS JEFFERSON, provides an online text version of an 1827 advertisement for the sale of Thomas Jefferson's home and possessions.

Mr. Jefferson's Servants

This site, which accompanies the PBS series FRONTLINE, features the recollections of Captain Edmund Bacon, who served as an overseer at Monticello.

"Notes on the State of Virginia, Query IV"

This site, which accompanies the PBS film THOMAS JEFFERSON, provides an excerpt of Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia."

"Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII"

This site, which accompanies the PBS film THOMAS JEFFERSON, provides an excerpt of Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia."

Digital History: Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Lydia Sigourney

This site features an annotated text of Jefferson's "wolf by the ear" letter.
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