Slavery in America: Building Background Knowledge
Lesson Objective: Consider historical context when learning about Harriet Tubman
Grades 4-6 / History / Harriet Tubman

Thought starters

  1. What makes the word sort an effective warm-up?
  2. How does Ms. Wicketts plan her lesson around the needs of her students?
  3. How does Ms. Wicketts prepare her students for reading and writing about Harriet Tubman?

I love the way you start the lesson with an open sort. I am going to implement your strategies with my second graders! You are awesome!

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Could I get a copy of the word sort?

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I'd love a copy of the word sort! I enjoyed watching your lesson. . . so purposeful and interactive!
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I would love to have a copy of the words, too! Thanks.
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Loredana thank you for the wonderful lesson. I was wondering where are the word sorts?
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  • Transcript for Tough to Teach – Slavery in America

    01:00:00 Classroom [MUSIC]
    01:00:01 Kids reading LOREDANA:
    History is a hard thing to teach forth graders.

    Transcript for Tough to Teach – Slavery in America

    01:00:00 Classroom [MUSIC]
    01:00:01 Kids reading LOREDANA:
    History is a hard thing to teach forth graders. Mainly the amount of information in the paragraphs. If the kids...
    01:00:07 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    …are not able to grasp it it’;s like they’re just reading but they’re not understanding anything.
    01:00:12 Books on shelves LOREDANA:
    But the structured informational reading is a lot different. The vocabulary is different, this is the time; I've had big years ago is really difficult for them,
    01:00:20 Students reading LOREDANA:
    Those are big ideas. The theme; the idea of slavery in America is a difficult concept to be able to explain to children providing them the opportunity to talk about things like slavery and not making it such a taboo thing.
    01:00:34 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    Why not I mean lets hear what they have to say. I think they have a lot more than, than some Loredanas maybe the leads that they have.
    01:00:39 TOUGH TO TEACH [MUSIC]
    I was a struggling student.
    01:00:45 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    I was a LEP student; limited English proficient. I have a lot of language issues.
    01:00:49 Pan around walls of room LOREDANA:
    Honestly I had such a negative experience in school.
    01:00:53 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    School was not done for me. I didn't like it.
    I didn't like anything about it. And so...
    01:00:59 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    ... and so knowing how long my days were as a student I really try hard...
    01:01:02 Post it on the screen LOREDANA:
    ... to not have that environment for my kids..
    01:01:04 Students in line JEAN:
    She doesn't want any...
    01:01:06 School building on screen JEAN:
    ... to feel like she did
    01:01:08 School exterior JEAN:
    ... or anyone to feel like they can't be successful.
    01:01:11 JEAN TREVINO
    And she’s passionate about what she does. She's passionate about her students.
    01:01:15 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    Well today boys and girls what we're starting is the new unit. You're going to determine the big theme for the big idea of our unit today with an opening activity.
    01:01:23 Posters on the wall LOREDANA:
    The lesson today is about Black history month.
    01:01:26 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    It's kind of the big idea.
    01:01:27 Books on screen LOREDANA:
    Trying to hit background knowledge on a difficult subject.
    01:01:30 Loredana LOREDANA:
    I like students to see if they can come up with the big idea. So I we had a word to work.
    01:01:34 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    On your desk you have a small envelope. You don't need to open the envelope just yet because I want to explain it to you.
    01:01:40 Loredana LOREDANA:
    There were approximately 20 words in an envelope. They have to take the words out of the envelope.
    01:01:45 Students on screen LOREDANA:
    And sort them categorize them any which way they wanted to.
    01:01:48 Loredana LOREDANA:
    To see if they could determine the meaning of those words and then the big idea of the lesson.
    01:01:52 Students on screen LOREDANA:
    You're just taking these words to see what you know, see if you can categorize them and then your goal is to learn from one another.
    01:02:00 Loredana LOREDANA:
    It provides an opportunity for them to get; not only to learn from one another but there's really no wrong answer. They take risks because they know they're not going to get shot down.
    01:02:07 Students on screen LOREDANA:
    You're working with your group there are no wrong answers. That level of comfort allows them to just be free with their. So once we create that...
    01:02:14 Loredana and students LOREDANA:
    ... then I'm able to look at the student and say okay lets go from here, let's see what you can do now. It's kind of a warm-up activity. Let's see what you know.
    01:02:22 Students sorting cards and working in groups LOREDANA:
    Let's talk about pronunciation of words. Let's see if you can learn something new. Are you guys doing okay? What did you guys choose; give me one of your ideas
    STUDENT 1:
    Journey route and north.
    01:02:31 Loredana with her students
    We get…
    Because, journey’s, you could go north. LOREDANA:
    Journey route and north.
    STUDENT 1:
    That’s because like journeys you could go like north.
    You usually have a route on a journey, right?
    01:02:38 Students sorting cards and working in groups LOREDANA:
    The words sort is extremely powerful because they're not only able to cooperatively learn.
    01:02:42 Loredana with a group of students LOREDANA:
    But they're also able to make connections to other things. A whip with slave catcher why did you put those together?
    01:02:48 Because... in old times... white people whipped them to get the slaves STUDENT 2:
    Because in old times white people with them to get the slaves.
    Whipped people.
    01:02:59 Students working in group LOREDANA:
    Determining the main idea or the big idea where the theme.
    01:03:01 Loredana in class with student LOREDANA:
    I use that a lot in my classroom
    01:03:03 Students working in group LOREDANA:
    Because most of the things that we do...
    01:03:05 Loredana LOREDANA:
    ... on a daily basis your determining the big idea. You're looking at the, the big picture. Understanding...
    01:03:11 Student working in group LOREDANA:
    ... how these are details that support it. Okay boys and girls let's read like freeze for a second.
    01:03:17 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    I'm seeing some amazing things out there. I love the way that you're conversing with one another. I love the way that I hear lots of positive comments. In talking to some of you I got to see how much you know about this topic. Also how much we need to learn about this topic. Who wants to share one category that you guys feel really strongly about you’re like oh yeah this is for sure something I think goes together? This is for sure.
    01:03:38 Students with hands up LOREDANA:
    Um 1821, Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Harriet Tubman, plantation and route.
    LOREDANA: And what why did you choose those words?
    01:03:48 Loredana with students in study session FRAUSTO:
    Uh because people had to find routes um to escape.
    01:03:52 Loredana on screen LOREDANA:
    And then it gives me a lot of information. It directed my, my teaching points throughout the rest of the, of the time because I was able to refer back to a lot of the comments they made during the word sort.
    01:04:02 Loredana with students LOREDANA:
    Is there one word that stands out to you that you’re like oh man I don't know what this is. I don’t know. And he; I can’t even say it but I’m going to try. Casey what word stood out to you?
    01:04:11 Casey on screen CASEY:
    Deo onus [PH]?
    Yeah something like that. Does anyone he also wants to take another shot at the word.

    01:04:14 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    But you're right that was close That sounds a lot like it. Sam?
    Um segregation.
    Segregation. Aubrey?
    01:04:22 Students on screen STUDENT 3:
    Okay so the purpose of this activity...
    01:04:24 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    ... and it is to say okay these are some of the terms I need to know. Here's what I already know; maybe I can learn from others.
    01:04:30 Students on screen LOREDANA:
    What you're going to do now is as we...
    01:04:32 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    ... go through the lessons we're going to talk about some of the words that you didn't know and some of the words that you actually felt strongly about. At this time I want you guys to put those words back inside the little envelope and we're going to hopefully answer all your questions.
    01:04:46 Students on screen LOREDANA:
    And then those will come and they'll make sense afterwards.
    01:04:48 Loredana LOREDANA:
    Had I done the word sort and they were like the new all the vocabulary might lessen would have looked completely different.
    01:04:53 Loredana and classroom LOREDANA:
    So it really helps guide what I need to do and yeah it's kind of teaching on the fly but that's the art of teaching.
    01:05:00 Loredana addressing classroom LOREDANA:
    Okay I want to focus your attention up here to the PowerPoint. Now I know earlier I said what do you think the big idea is of our themes that were launching today. What do you think Marley?
    Black History Month.
    Black History month. I love the way she didn’t just say well Harriet Tubman. Because remember we have we usually look at the big idea, a big theme.
    01:05:20 HARRIET TUBMAN
    Why do you think we have a whole month dedicated to Black history?
    01:05:23 Loredana and students LOREDANA:
    A whole month dedicated; Stephen?
    They were slaves.
    They were slaves at one point.. Andrew?

    01:05:31 Students on screen ANDREW:
    For all the cool things the blacks did.
    01:05:34 Loredana addressing students LOREDANA:
    Our lesson today is on the Harriet Tubman and I know that many of you have a lot of information about her already. While our goal and our purpose for this PowerPoint is that we are going to see how many words we can clarify from the word sort and how many words that we need to continue to clarify when we do the read aloud later.
    01:05:50 Papers on the desk LOREDANA:
    Mainly the amount of information in the paragraphs if the kids aren’t...
    01:05:54 Students reading book LOREDANA:
    ... or if they're not able to grasp but it's just like they’re...
    01:05:57 Loredana LOREDANA:
    ... just reading that they're not understanding anything.
    01:05:59 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    What do you think of the word kind doctor?
    01:06:02 Students LOREDANA:
    What do you think about the word conductor before we start? Madison.
    It's like a train person like the person who liked conducts the train.
    01:06:09 Loredana addressing students LOREDANA:
    Right it’s the person who controls the train very good. So Conductor of the Underground Railroad what does that mean?
    01:06:16 Loredana LOREDANA:
    Initially when I asked the students you know what is the Underground Railroad? It was like well she's the conductor she's actually driving the train.
    01:06:23 Loredana addressing students LOREDANA:
    Does anyone have a different perspective for a different idea based on information that you know? Sam.
    She um uh has a train that she drives a subway.
    A subway and I thought that was interesting because we take for granted...
    01:06:38 Loredana LOREDANA:
    ... that we understand the figurative language. But not often times the kids understand that.
    01:06:42 Students LOREDANA:
    And to so they really had little knowledge about the Underground Railroad.
    01:06:47 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    Okay sorry objectives is to understand the...
    01:06:49 OBJECTIVES
    After completing this lesson will, we
    will be able to...
    Understand the existence of
    slavery in America
    Understand the life and escape of
    Harriet Tubman
    Understand Herriot Tubman's role
    in the Underground Railroad LOREDANA:
    ... existence of slavery in America and understand the life and escape of Harriet Tubman. .
    01:06:54 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    And understand Harriet Tubman's role in the Underground Railroad
    01:06:57 Students LOREDANA:
    We talked about everything from figurative language to context clues to social studies. It wasn't just one lesson with one specific objective.
    01:07:06 Loredana addressing students LOREDANA:
    Slavery of African-Americans in the United States began as early as the fifteen hundreds when the first African slaves were brought to the New World by the Spanish. This is a picture of a slave ship right here.
    Slavery of African
    Americans in the United States began as early as 1500 when the first African slaves were brought to the New World by the Spanish. LOREDANA:
    When we did we studied maps in our last June and you realized what the...
    01:07:21 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    ... America's looked like prior to um European exploration. Okay.

    01:07:26 Students LOREDANA:
    This was a word that you guys had in your, in your word sort and Casey said oh it’s abolol [PH] or something like that. Everyone say abolitionists.
    Take ten seconds and I want you to read these two points and then I want you to pair./share with someone what you know about abolitionists after you read that to yourself. Okay pair/share with someone next to you what did you learn about abolitionists?
    01:07:56 “ABOLITIONIST”
    was against slavery
    abolitionists included many kinds of people white and blacks; men and women; rich and poor; and religious and nonreligious LOREDANA:
    And the PowerPoint basically provided visuals for the same vocabulary words. Okay time...
    01:08:02 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    ... and turn. Now we can ask the same question what is an abolitionist were what was considered back then and abolitionists? Beth?
    Anybody who is against slavery.
    Anybody who was against...
    01:08:15 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    ...slavery. So now we have that background knowledge. Someone who was against slavery at that time. And ever since slaves were captured they've always tried to escape and the rise of the abolitionist movement made escape easier. How many of you; I want you to pair/share your feelings about if you lived back then; if you if you were part of this movement, you lived in the fifteen, sixteen hundreds, seventeen hundreds how would you feel about slavery. I want you to pair/share with someone. Providing them the opportunity to talk...
    01:08:40 Loredana LOREDANA:
    ... and trying to relate it to something that's going outside happening in the world today always keeps it kind of real.
    01:08:46 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    So this topic elicits a lot of emotion because you see pictures like this.
    01:08:50 Pictures on screen LOREDANA:
    Does anyone know what these are right here?
    01:08:53 Students LOREDANA:
    Handcuffs or even shackles...
    01:08:56 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    ... they called them on their ankles. So we can all concur or agree that slaves were not treated well. I'm a very visual learner. That's why a lot of the lessons I do in my classroom is a giant PowerPoint, large pictures because vision trumps all.
    01:09:08 HARRIET TUBMAN...
    Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1821 in Dorchester County, Maryland.
    Harriet was one of 11 children. All of Harriet's brothers and sisters, as well is their parents were slaves on the Maryland Plantation. LOREDANA:
    Harriet Tubman was a very special person.
    01:09:12 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    And actually that's our goal for today is to learn a lot about her. She was born into slavery in 1821. How many of you saw that date on your word sort? She was one of 11 children and all of Harriet's brothers and sisters as well as their parents were all slaves on a Maryland Plantation. So she lived on the Maryland plantation and she was a slave. In her early years she began to work at age 6; how many of you were in first grade at age 6? Almost all of you. She was working. Making things personal to students he gives them so much meaning and purpose.
    01:09:44 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    We need to understand...
    01:09:49 By 1851 the issue of slavery divided the entire nation. The Civil War had begun LOREDANA:
    ... geography a little bit when we discussed this topic and in fact...
    01:09:50 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA: 1851 slavery divided our whole nation. They were against slavery up here. But down here in the south they were still for slavery. So the nation was divided. They had two completely different what?
    Perspectives. We discussed perspectives because I want them to understand multiple perspectives...
    01:10:09 Loredana LOREDANA:
    ... on issues.
    01:10:09 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    So that began the Civil War. How many of you have never heard that before the words the Civil War; you're going to learn a lot about that in fifth grade. But that's how that began is because we had two different completely different sets of perspectives. So when we got to the read aloud they were able to understand the text; interact with the text a lot more on me, on the carpet. Okay make sure you have your pencil with you because you're going to need it. How many of you now feel like I kind of get what we're talking about here? I understand the theme, I understand the big idea. Good okay because that's the purpose of all that warm-up activity.
    01:10:39 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    If I just read this book to you without having done all that you wouldn't have as much background knowledge that you need to be able to understand the book. Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 or 1821 on a large plantation in Dorchester County Maryland.
    01:10:53 Students taking notes LOREDANA:
    Do you understand what plantation means now?
    01:10:55 Students LOREDANA:
    Give me a thumbs up if you have plantation.
    The lesson was about Harriet Tubman.
    01:11:00 FRAUSTO FRAUSTO:
    She was an inspirational person who bought all the slaves to Philadelphia which is a state that has a law that slaves cannot be owned.
    01:11:12 Loredana addressing students LOREDANA:
    And it’s really important that when we discussed people; boys and girls in the history that you try to put yourself in the shoes because you'll really try to understand that moment in time if you can try to feel the feelings that those individuals uh felt. Harriet said during the day and she traveled at night until she reached Pennsylvania. There was a line that state against owning slaves. So did she make it all the way up north?
    Harriet Tubman was brave and...
    01:11:36 Madison on screen MADISON:
    ... strong as a woman. Because I know a lot of people wouldn't; a lot of women wouldn't get to do what Harriet Tubman did.
    01:11:44 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    During the years between 1850 and 1860; how many years between 1850, 1860?
    Ten, ten years. Harriet worked as a cook, a dishwasher, a cleaning woman. She used much of the money she earned to make nineteen trips south to lead about three hundred slaves to freedom. So did she return?
    STUDENTS: Yes.
    01:12:04 Students taking notes LOREDANA:
    I think it really went well because they were able to take the higher level of vocabulary that they wouldn't have access to; be able to learn it, use it in a comfortable setting. Years later Harriet said proudly I never ran my train off the track and they never lost a passenger. What do you think she meant; is that figurative language? Or is that literal language?
    Why is that figurative language; Bobbie?
    Because um she wasn't in a train...
    01:12:30 Bobbie on screen BOBBIE:
    ... she was just leading them.
    She was leading them. She was a conductor, she was a leader excellent.
    01:12:35 Loredana addressing class LOREDANA:
    So closing this book how many of you give me a thumbs up feel really comfortable with the topics we've discussed? Now it's your turn know to do some independent reading. You have a biography; is this narrative or expository?
    It's expository it’s a biography on her life. It's all about engagement. Our students, our children are dealing with PSP’s, with the YouTube, with the… this video game.
    01:13:00 Loredana LOREDANA:
    I mean its constant visual interaction.
    01:13:02 Students working LOREDANA:
    It’s a constant technology. It’s and information flying at them eighty miles an hour. And then they're going to come to class and they're going to sit in front of a teacher...
    01:13:09 Loredana LOREDANA:
    ... who's just going to talk like this.
    01:13:12 Students [MUSIC]
    And we’re going to wrap up our lesson right now.
    01:13:16 Loredana addressing students LOREDANA:
    You’re going to go back to your words sort now that you know all of this stuff and see if we can create some categories and that's going to wrap up what we're doing today with this.
    01:13:25 Students working on words sort LOREDANA:
    So we try to present things in a manner that keeps them engaged. If you're not engaged you are not really learning and then your day is really long.
    01:13:33 Loredana LOREDANA:
    Having multiple objectives and trying to teach a lot of things at one time and being able to review; I think that's probably the art of teaching that that uh I enjoy most.
    01:13:41 With thanks to Larry we get and the staff and students of Eisenhower elementary school.
    01:13:55 Fade to black.

School Details

Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School
3355 Mountain Gate Drive
Corona CA 92882
Population: 886

Data Provided By:



Loredana Wicketts
English Language Arts Math Science Social Studies / 4 / Teacher


Teaching Practice

All Grades/ All Subjects/ Culture

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Culture

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement