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Middle School Lesson Plan 1
What We Leave Behind Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
by Christopher W. Czajka

In this lesson, students will examine how individuals can leave behind records, memoirs, or artifacts that reflect or capture the time period in which they lived. Students will view excerpts from SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Episode 3, "Seeds of Destruction," and examine an excerpt from Harriet Jacobs' autobiography, INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. After exploring the legacy Harriet Jacobs left behind, students will examine other artifacts relevant to slavery in the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Virtual Museum. As a culminating activity, students will be asked to develop a plan for a time capsule of objects and artifacts that accurately reflects contemporary life for middle school students at the beginning of the 21st century or an exhibit displaying slavery's legacy within the local community.

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 American slavery in the nineteenth century is required.

While this lesson is primarily aimed at middle school students, feel free to adapt the lesson to meet your students' grade level and your own curricular needs. High school students may be interested in completing more in-depth research and reading of Harriet Jacobs' INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL, widely available as an online text (see Online Resources at the end of the lesson.) Upper elementary teachers may wish to skip the first two video segments in the Learning Activity and the reading portions of the lesson to make the content more appropriate for their students.

Grade Level: 7-8

Time Allotment: Four 45-minute class periods (additional homework time for Culminating Activity)

Subject Matter: History, Social Studies

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:
  • Analyze a primary source document from the 1830s and identify key individuals and events described in the document;
  • Describe the conditions Harriet Jacobs faced both during her enslavement and concealment;
  • Explain why Harriet Jacobs endured a seven-year confinement, and why her story is known today;
  • Discuss the role of records, memoirs, and artifacts in preserving history;
  • Make critical decisions on items to leave behind for future generations of students in a time capsule.
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 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.

Era 4, Standard 2D - The student understands the rapid growth of "the peculiar institution" after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery. Therefore, the student is able to identify the various ways in which African Americans resisted the conditions of their enslavement and analyze the consequences of violent uprisings and describe the plantation system and the roles of their owners, their families, hired white workers, and enslaved African Americans.

Era 4, Standard 4A - The student understands the abolitionist movement. Therefore, the student is able to analyze changing ideas about race and assess the reception of proslavery and antislavery ideologies in the North and South.

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 3, "Seeds of Destruction" to approximately 2 minutes, where you see the camera moving over a forest of autumnal trees shrouded in fog, and you hear the narrator, Morgan Freeman, say, "Her story begins in the coastal town of Edenton, North Carolina."

Make enough copies of the INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL Reader Response HANDOUT for each student in your class. Clear a space on the floor of your classroom, and outline a rectangle with masking tape. Make the rectangle seven feet wide and nine feet long. Inside the rectangle, place an object that is roughly three feet high (a chair, a pile of books, etc.).

Media Components:

  • SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 3, "Seeds of Destruction"
For the class:
For each student:
Online Resources
Runaway Notice for Harriet Jacobs
This site, from PBS' AFRICANS IN AMERICA series, provides an image of the July 4, 1835 runaway notice for Harriet Jacobs from the "American Beacon" newspaper.

"Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 23, Still in Prison"
This site provides an online version of Chapter 23 of Harriet Jacobs' autobiography, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl."

The Remarkable Life of Former Slave Harriet Jacobs
This Web site provides an audio file of an eight minute May 4, 2004 interview with Harriet Jacobs biographer Jean Fagan Yellin on NPR's "The Travis Smiley Show." Requires the Realplayer plug-in, available for free download at

This site, a companion to the PBS series SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, contains online galleries of artifacts and primary source documents-curated by students from across the country--related to slavery in the United States.

A Brief History of Time Capsules

This article, from the Queens (NY) TRIBUNE details the history of time capsules, and the problems associated with the creation of an effective time capsule.

Eight Tips on How to Organize a Time Capsule
This Web site, from the International Time Capsule Society at Atlanta's Oglethorpe University, provides tips and pointers for the creation of time capsules.
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