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Underground Railroad Lesson for Kids

Updated on August 15, 2018
iijuan12 profile image

I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 8.

Underground Railroad Lesson for Kids
Underground Railroad Lesson for Kids

This is the 23rd lesson in a series of 27 hands-on lessons covering U.S. American History through 1865. This lesson focuses on the Underground Railroad & Harriet Tubman. I used this plan while teaching a 45 minute history class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes a biography report, history notebook page, history song, our favorite children's books, YouTube video, a history joke, & a variety of hands-on activities to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

Student biography presentation on Harriet Tubman
Student biography presentation on Harriet Tubman

Student Biography Presentation: Harriet Tubman

1. Student biography presentation on Harriet Tubman

Review & Presidents Song

2. Review: What land did Lewis & Clark and Sacajawea explore by whom?(Louisiana Territory) Who did President Madison declare war on during the War of 1812? (England) What was the Trail of Tears? (President Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokees to leave their homes & move West.) What trail did many pioneers take to travel out West? (Oregon Trail) Which battle inspired Texans to fight harder for their independence from Mexico? (Battle of the Alamo) What was discover in California in 1848? (gold) Who invented the cotton gin? (Eli Whitney) Who helped improve the steamboat? (Robert Fulton) What canal was built in New York to connect the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean? (Erie Canal) Two companies worked together to build which well-known railroad track? (Transcontinental Railroad)

3. Now let's go through all the Presidents. Sing through the entire song 2 times while either showing the video or flipping through pictures of the Presidents. (Be sure to add in "Donald Trump" at the end.)

You will need:

  • Screen to show the below video or a book showing Presidents or point to their pictures on a President place mat

Harriet Tubman Introduction

4. Read Harriet Tubman: Escape North by Monica Kulling.

You will need:

  • Harriet Tubman: Escape North by Monica Kulling or other book on Harriet Tubman

Underground Railroad Songs

5. Ask who likes to sing. Does anyone like to sing or listen to music while working?

  • Many of the slaves would sing to keep their minds off of their work. Sometimes they sung songs about God and Jesus, and those songs gave them hope and cheered them up a bit during the difficult times.
  • Another reason some slaves sung songs was to pass along secret messages. Harriet Tubman would sing songs to communicate with slaves that she was ready to leave. One of her favorite songs was Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. You an join in whenever you'd like.
  • Pass out a paper with the words to the song. [The paper can go in their history notebooks.]

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home,
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

You will need:

  • a paper with the words to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Wade in the Water on it, punched with a 3 hole punch

Dressing up to escape using the Underground Railroad
Dressing up to escape using the Underground Railroad

Disguises before sneaking away

6. Sometimes the slaves would change their clothing & try to disguise themselves before trying to escape. Allow the children to each take 2-3 pieces to put on as disguises.

You will need:

  • costume pieces (hats, scarves, big shirts, etc.)

Sneaking through the "forest" while trying to escape - Even though you can't see if because of my camera's flash, the lights were turned off & the room was dark
Sneaking through the "forest" while trying to escape - Even though you can't see if because of my camera's flash, the lights were turned off & the room was dark

Trying to escape on the Underground Railroad

7. Dramatize Harriet Tubman helping them escape.

  • I played the role of Harriet Tubman & sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." That means it's time to leave.
  • The children to quietly escaped to a "station" [an empty room] on the Underground Railroad. While there I told them they'd need to learn another song. If slave hunters were coming after us with dogs to smell our trail, we'd need to get into the water to throw off the dogs. If we needed to do that, I'd start sing, Wade in the Water. The colors mentioned in the song might have meant which direction they were supposed to go.
  • Sing Wade in the Water. The children can join in during the chorus.
  • Wade in the Water
    Chorus: Wade in the Water, wade in the water children.
    Wade in the Water. God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Who are those children all dressed in Red?
    God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Must be the ones that Moses led.
    God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Chorus
    Who are those children all dressed in White?
    God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Must be the ones of the Israelites.
    God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Chorus
    Who are those children all dressed in Blue?
    God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Must be the ones that made it through.
    God’s gonna trouble the water.
    Chorus
  • Since we needed to escape through forests at night, I led them through the rows of chairs in the choir room with the lights turned out.
  • When I started singing Wade in the Water, the kids got to jump down a step & pretend to be in water.
  • Sneak to one last "station" (a large closet) before arriving in Canada, where we'll be free.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
North Star Dot to Dot page from http://www.northern-stars .com/Follow the Drinking Gourd coloring page from http://www.northern-stars .com/
North Star Dot to Dot page from http://www.northern-stars .com/
North Star Dot to Dot page from http://www.northern-stars .com/
Follow the Drinking Gourd coloring page from http://www.northern-stars .com/
Follow the Drinking Gourd coloring page from http://www.northern-stars .com/

North Star Notebook Pages

8. Have children complete the North Star Dot-to-Dot page. Ask them what they see on the Follow the Drinking Gourd coloring page. If you're not limited by time, they can color the pages. Have them put the pages in their history notebooks. Tell them to try to locate these stars tonight in the sky.

You will need:

North Star Cupcakes - They should have been white cupcakes with chocolate frosting, but I didn't have those on hand & didn't want to stop by the store. They still got the message across using these ingredients.
North Star Cupcakes - They should have been white cupcakes with chocolate frosting, but I didn't have those on hand & didn't want to stop by the store. They still got the message across using these ingredients.

North Star Cupcakes & Review

9. Show a picture of the Big & Little Dipper constellations.

  • [Point to the North Star.] The North Star, Polaris, was used to guide escaping slaves so they knew which direction was North.
  • The two stars at the end of the bowl of the Big Dipper point over to the North Star, which is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.
  • Let children make North Star Cupcakes. I gave them each a cupcake on a napkin. They used a plastic kitchen knife to slice off the top of the cupcake where the liner ended.
  • They used their plastic knives to & spread frosting on the to of the cut cupcake while I helped each child take a turn using a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out a star from the cupcake top.
  • They placed their cupcake Polaris "North Star" on top of the frosting.
  • They can eat their North Star Cupcakes.

You will need:

  • a picture of the Big & Little Dipper constellations
  • an unfrosted cupcake in a cupcake liner per child (white or yellow cake mix preferred) - Make sure to be generous in your batter portions so they will have nice crowns/tops.
  • a napkin per child
  • a plastic knife per child
  • frosting (chocolate is preferred if you use white or yellow cake mix)
  • star-shaped cookie cutters (The kind used for play-dough would also work if you wash it in water before using it.)

10. Review: Who was Harriet Tubman? (Former slave who helped many other slaves escape) What was the Underground Railroad? (Route slaves would take while escaping) What is one way they would communicate along the Underground Railroad? (singing) What star would they follow? (North Star/Polaris)

11. Assign next week's student biography presentation on Susan B. Anthony.

A Book to Read Each Day

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen LevineI am Harriet Tubman (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad MeltzerFriend on Freedom River (Tales of Young Americans) by Gloria WhelanHarriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (Graphic History) by Michael J MartinFreedom River (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Books) by Doreen RappaportFollow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette WinterMoses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) by Carole Boston Weatherford
Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
I am Harriet Tubman (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer
I am Harriet Tubman (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer
Friend on Freedom River (Tales of Young Americans) by Gloria Whelan
Friend on Freedom River (Tales of Young Americans) by Gloria Whelan
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (Graphic History) by Michael J Martin
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (Graphic History) by Michael J Martin
Freedom River (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Books) by Doreen Rappaport
Freedom River (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Books) by Doreen Rappaport
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) by Carole Boston Weatherford
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) by Carole Boston Weatherford

In addition to the book used in this lesson, these were our top 7 favorites:

  • Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
  • I am Harriet Tubman (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer
  • Friend on Freedom River (Tales of Young Americans) by Gloria Whelan
  • Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (Graphic History) by Michael J Martin
  • Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
  • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book) by Carole Boston Weatherford

Animated Hero Classics: Harriet Tubman

Image credit: https://quotesgram .com/harriet-tubman-quotes-about-dreams/
Image credit: https://quotesgram .com/harriet-tubman-quotes-about-dreams/

Looking for all of my American History Lessons?

(Links to my middle school level

American History lessons can be found at https://hubpages.com/education/ColonialismWeeks3-8 .)

© 2018 Shannon

Comments

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    • iijuan12 profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon 

      3 months ago from Florida

      Thank you very much!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      This is another great history lesson. I hope you have another series after this one.

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