Lesson plan

Get on Board with Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman’s accomplishments were kept secret for a very long time before she became a well-known hero in society. Use this lesson to teach your students about Harriet Tubman’s impact on history.
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Students will be able to describe the relationship between a series of historical events.

(10 minutes)
  • Ask students what they know about life in the 1800s or slavery during those times.
  • Tell students that slavery was the practice of owning other people. These people were forced to work for their owners.
  • Instruct students to imagine how they would act and what they would believe if they lived back then.
  • Ask students if they have ever heard about a woman named Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
  • Listen to student answers.
  • Explain to students that the Underground Railroad was a connected group of people and safe houses that helped slaves escape, or get away, from slavery.
  • Tell students that today they are going to learn about a very important historical figure who was an abolitionist, a person who was against slavery, named Harriet Tubman and her impact on the lives of many people.
  • Tell students that while they learn about this hero, they will be focusing on a sequence of important events in her life.
(15 minutes)
  • Invite students to the carpet with a clipboard or a hard surface on which to write.
  • Explain to students that you will be reading aloud a book about Harriet Tubman, and the students will have a specific job during the read aloud.
  • Inform students that they will be listening for the most important events in Harriet Tubman’s life and writing those down as their notes.
  • Give each student five sticky notes or index cards on which to take notes.
  • Read aloud Who Was Harriet Tubman? by Yona Zeldis McDonough.
  • Think aloud about the interesting events and accomplishments of Harriet Tubman as you read to prompt students in the right direction.
(15 minutes)
  • Divide students into small groups and have them gather together with their five sticky notes or index cards.
  • Instruct students to pick out the four most important events in Harriet Tubman’s life by looking at everyone’s notes.
  • Observe student conversations as they discuss.
  • Direct students to put the four most important events in the correct sequential order.
  • Pass out the Timeline Organizer worksheet to each student.
  • Explain to students that they will now take the four most important events from Harriet Tubman’s life and place them on the graphic organizer.
  • Review the most important events in Harriet Tubman’s life by having the students share their graphic organizers.
  • Use the student answers to fill out a Timeline Organizer on the document camera.
(10 minutes)
  • Pass out the Harriet Tubman worksheet to each student.
  • Explain to students that they will independently read another text about Harriet Tubman, again focusing on the most important events.
  • Tell students that they will use the information from the two texts read today to complete the activity on the worksheet.
  • Remind students of the expectations for independent work time.
  • Monitor students as they work.


  • Allow students to work with a buddy to take turns reading the text aloud to each other.
  • Reduce the amount of Journal Pages on the worksheet from four to two.
  • Allow students to draw illustrations along with the written words.


  • Have students create a journal entry from the point of view of a slave whom Harriet Tubman is helping to escape. Use historical facts and details from the two texts in the lesson.
(5 minutes)
  • Collect both the Timeline Organizer and the Harriet Tubman worksheet from students as a check for understanding.
  • Write the question, “I Care Why?” on the board.
  • Instruct students to think about the relevancy of this topic to their lives and keep their thoughts to themselves. Shortly, they will record their responses in a written format.
  • Ask students to think about how they might use the information from today’s lesson.
  • Give students a sticky note or an index card.
  • Instruct students to write their names on the sticky note or index card.
  • Give students time to write their response.
  • Collect responses as a check for understanding.
(5 minutes)
  • Divide students into partnerships.
  • Assign one student as Student A. The other student is Student B.
  • Explain to students that this quick activity is called Speak Up. For one minute, Student A will talk about the topic of today’s lesson while Student B listens and does not interrupt. After the minute is over, Student B will talk about the topic of today’s lesson, trying not to repeat the same things Student A already said.
  • Tell students that they may share facts, questions, and opinions during their speaking time.
  • Set a timer for one minute while Student A speaks and Student B listens.
  • Then set a timer for one minute while Student B speaks and Student A listens.
  • Circulate and observe students speaking to their partners.
  • Gather students’ attention and share some of the key points you heard students making as you circulated and observed conversations.

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