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Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Subjects

  • Language Arts
  • Ed Technology

Grade

  • 3-5
  • 6-8
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Brief Description

This lesson includes an Internet scavenger hunt, a brief read-aloud story, and a handful of additional activities.

Objectives

Students will (depending on their grade level)
  • develop computer skills by researching on the Internet facts about Harriet Tubman.
  • learn about ways in which Harriet's childhood influenced her future.
  • use primary documents, including artifacts from the Underground Railroad Museum, to learn about the passengers on the Underground Railroad and the people who helped them.

Keywords

Underground Railroad, Black History, abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, slavery

Materials Needed

  • computer
  • scavenger hunt work sheet (content provided)
  • writing paper and construction paper

The Lesson

The following resources are among those I have used to teach students about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

The short reading below is one I created for students; it emphasizes things Harriet learned as a young girl that served her well in later life. Share this brief story with students; use it as a listening exercise or discussion starter.

You might follow-up the reading by having each student write a brief essay about something he or she has learned from an adult that will serve them well when they become adults.

What Harriet Learned from Her Pa

     Harriet Tubman, who was born Araminta Ross, had a very strong spirit. Her pa, Ben, felt that Harriet's spirit would eventually lead his daughter to freedom and away from life as a slave. Little did he know that the lessons he taught little Araminta would one day lead her to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

     As a young girl, Harriet's mother and father told her many stories. They told her stories of Moses and how he led his people to the Promised Land. They also whispered stories about a special train without tracks, an "underground railroad" that could help her get to freedom.

     Pa felt that if his young daughter did eventually escape, she would need to know things that would help her escape successfully. Together, Harriet and her father practiced how to move about in the brush without making any noise. Her pa also taught her which plants and berries in the woods could be eaten safely. He showed Harriet how the water lily, the leaf of a crane's bill plant, and the back of hemlock could be used as medicine if she got sick or injured along the way. Her dad also taught Harriet to learn from nature such things as what sounds birds make when disturbed, which side of a tree that mold grows on, and how to tell the direction of the wind by licking her finger and sticking it up into the air.

     Probably the most important lesson Pa taught Harriet, however, was how to identify the only star that remains constant in the night sky -- the North Star. Pa told Harriet that the North Star would guide her to the North and to safety.

     Harriet was a good student. She used her dad's teachings to successfully make 19 trips to the South, bringing approximately 300 slaves -- including her mother and father, her sister, and her sister's family -- to freedom.

Harriet Tubman Cyberhunt
Have students complete the following cyberhunt, either in a computer lab setting or as a learning activity in your classroom computer center. Students will use each Web resource listed below to answer the question(s) that appears immediately below it.

  1. America's Story: Harriet Tubman at http://www.americaslibrary.gov
    /cgi-bin/page.cgi/aa/activists/tubman/youth_1

    What was Harriet Tubman's given name?
    How many brothers and sisters did she have?
    What happened to cause Harriet to suffer seizures for the rest of her life?
    What different things did Harriet Tubman do during the Civil War?
    Answers: Harriet was born Araminta Ross. She was one of 11 children. (She had 10 brothers and sisters.) Her overseer threw a heavy iron weight at another slave; he hit Harriet instead. Harriet worked as a Union cook, spy, scout, and nurse.
  2. Spectrum Biographies: Harriet Tubman at http://www.incwell.com/Biographies/Tubman.html
    What made Harriet decide to leave the Brodas plantation and seek her freedom?
    Who is the only person she told about her plans?
    Answers: Harriet learned many slaves were to be sold and that she was one of them. She told her sister.
  3. Africans in America: Harriet Tubman at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.html
    To whom did Harriet proudly say that in all her journeys she "never lost a single passenger"?
    When Harriet gained her freedom, which city did she settle in?
    Who were Harriet's first passengers on the "underground railroad"?
    At one time, what was the reward for the capture of Harriet Tubman?
    Answers: Frederick Douglass. She settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On her first trip, she returned with her sister and her family. There was a $40,000 reward for her capture.
  4. History Channel and Biography.com: Harriet Tubman at http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9511430
    What were two important things that kept Harriet Tubman going?
    Answer: Harriet always carried a pistol and had faith in God.
  5. National Women's History Project: Harriet Tubman at http://web.archive.org/web/20061002124301/http://www.nwhp.org/
    tlp/biographies/tubman/tubman_bio.html

    Study the timeline to learn the answers to the following questions:
    In 1858, who did Harriet Tubman help to plan the attack on Harpers Ferry, Virginia?
    In which year did Harriet make the first of 19 trips to the South to help bring slaves to freedom?
    Answers: Although she was unable to participate that day, she worked with abolitionist John Brown. Harriet make her first trip in 1850.
  6. Harriet Tubman Profile at http://womenshistory.about.com/od/harriettubman/p/harriet_tubman.htm
    How many people did Harriet Tubman bring to freedom?
    Harriet brought 300 people to freedom.

More Activities

  • Imagine that you are a runaway slave escaping to freedom with Harriet Tubman. What are you thinking? What happened along the way? Describe a day in your journey to freedom.
  • Think about words and phrases that describe the character of Harriet Tubman. Then use each of the letters in Harriet Tubman's name to describe her. Write a characteristic that begins with H, one that begins with A, one that begins with the letter R...
  • Go to the National Underground Railroad Museum site. Learn three facts you might include on a poster about the Underground Railroad.
  • Use what you know about Harriet Tubman to write an imaginary interview with her. Write good questions and factual answers that reveal what you have learned about her. For example, one good question might be: During your many trips to bring slaves to freedom, you had to worry about slave catchers and their dogs hunting you. Sometimes, you had to use some cunning ideas to avoid capture. Would you share one of your most memorable escapes?

Following are some of the possible stories that might be included in response to that last question:
  • Harriet once stole a slave owner's buggy. She and her passengers rode right past some slave catchers who never suspected that runaway slaves would think to escape with their owner's buggy!
  • Once slave catchers were close to catching Harriet. She was at a railroad station where a wanted poster of her was displayed. Not being able to read, she overheard men talking about the poster and wondering if Harriet was the woman they could capture for a reward. She quickly opened a book she had been carrying -- hoping she was not holding it upside down since she couldn't read the words -- and the slave catchers walked by. One of the men said she couldn't be Tubman because the poster said she couldn't read or write.
  • Once dressed as an old woman with two hens tied to her waist, Tubman was walking right toward a plantation owner who had owned her. Trapped, and realizing she couldn't run away without drawing attention to herself, she quickly released the hens from her waist and began hollering at them as they ran off... and as she did, too!
  • Traveling north by train, Harriet heard people speaking her name. A wanted poster was also posted on the train. Harriet got off the train at the next station and took the next train south because no one would suspect her of being a runaway if she was traveling south!

Great Reading Resources About Harriet Tubman

  • Escape North: Story of Harriet Tubman by Monica Kulling
  • Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Poetry
  • Harriet Tubman by Sam and Beryl Epstein

More Web Sites of Note

The Internet African American History Challenge
Famous black Americans of the 19th century.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The Underground Railroad
A great Web site/interactive activity from National Geographic.

Assessment

Students will successfully complete the cyberhunt and one of the additional activities.

Submitted By

Gail Hennessey, GailHennessey.com and Harpursville Middle School in Harpursville, New York

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Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 01/30/2004
Last updated 12/31/2009