Lesson plan

Frederick Douglass's Words

Use this lesson to teach your students about Frederick Douglass and the impact that words had on his life. First, they will read a picture book that shares facts and beautiful illustrations to teach about his life. Then, they'll complete a graphic organizer with peers to record important details and events in his life. Students will then demonstrate understanding by creating a poster with images and key words that stand out when they think about Frederick Douglass.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
  • Students will be able to identify the main idea and key details of a text.
  • Students will be able to choose adjectives and nouns that represent Frederick Douglass's life.
(3 minutes)
  • Write the phrase "Words set me free" on the board and ask students to read it aloud in unison.
  • Facilitate a think-pair-share, giving students time to think about the phrase's meaning on their own. Then, have them pair up with another student to talk about their thoughts. Ask partnerships to share their ideas with the class.
  • Display the picture book for today's lesson, Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Explain that today's lesson will focus on learning about Frederick Douglass and the meaning of the story's title.
(20 minutes)
  • Explain that today's lesson will include a read aloud of the picture book, and that students will be looking for big ideas in the story. Define big ideas as the most important information that can be found about a topic.
  • Tell the class that they will also choose adjectives and nouns that accompany the big ideas about Frederick Douglass that could help others learn more about this important historical figure.
  • Model choosing adjectives and nouns that teach about a particular person with which students are familiar. (e.g., Choose another teacher that students are familiar with, or a historical figure that students have recently learned about.)
  • Read the picture book aloud to introduce Frederick Douglass. Optional: Give students 2-3 sticky notes each to record any key ideas, words, or thoughts they'd like to take with them for later in the lesson.
(20 minutes)
  • Divide the class into small groups of 3-4 students. Distribute a copy of the Concept Web graphic organizer to each person in the group.
  • Instruct students to write Frederick Douglass in the center of the web, and explain that the six boxes around the web are for the big ideas they learned about Frederick Douglass. Tell them that they can combine images and words to complete the graphic organizer.
  • Give groups time to work, and circulate to offer support and praise. Engage students in conversation about the information they have chosen to include on their webs.
  • Gather the class back together and call on students to share information from their Concept Web graphic organizers. Use the document camera and a blank copy of the worksheet to record student answers. Leave this up for the remainder of the lesson for student reference.
(15 minutes)
  • Ask students to choose important moments or details about Frederick Douglass's life that they learned about in the picture book.
  • Hand out a piece of blank computer paper or construction paper to each individual, and explain that they will create a poster to teach the big ideas about Frederick Douglass. Tell them that they can use illustrations, and they should fill the page with adjectives and nouns that will help others learn about this famous historical figure.


  • Provide students with a word bank of key phrases and words to support them in their independent work.
  • Give students a partially completed Concept Web graphic organizer.
  • Read aloud the picture book again for students that need refreshers throughout the lesson.
  • Deliver a pre-lesson about nouns and adjectives.


  • Ask students to use at leat three proper nouns, three common nouns, and three adjectives on their poster.
  • Challenge them to write 2-3 sentences explaining their poster about Frederick Douglass.
  • Collect students' posters about Frederick Douglass to assess whether they included nouns and adjectives that depict the big ideas of Frederick Douglass's life.
(3 minutes)
  • Return to the phrase from the Introduction of the lesson, "Words set me free." Lead the class through another think-pair-share exercise to see if their thoughts and understanding of the phrase have changed since reading the picture book.
  • Give students time to think, and then turn and talk to a partner about their thoughts. Call on individuals to share with the class.
  • Remind students that Frederick Douglass learned to read and write, and his education was an important part in helping escape from slavery. Make the connection to the importance of their education in school and how it will help give them opportunities when they graduate.

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