Lesson plan

Journey on the Underground Railroad

This lesson combines historical facts and creative writing to engage students in exercises that enhance both vocabulary and social studies knowledge.
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Vocabulary in Context pre-lesson.
EL Adjustments
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Need extra help for EL students? Try the Vocabulary in Context pre-lesson.
  • Students will be able to use terminology related to the Underground Railroad correctly in context.
The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments
(5 minutes)
  • Ask students if they have any knowledge of the Underground Railroad.
  • Explain that the Underground Railroad was actually neither underground nor a railroad. It was a term used to describe the secret way that slaves escaped from slavery with the help of many people.
  • Ask students, "Have you ever used or made up a secret code before?" Have some students share their experiences.
  • Tell students that the Underground Railroad also had something like a secret code. To keep the Underground Railroad hidden from slave owners, special terms were used so slaves could talk about escaping on the Underground Railroad without slave owners knowing what they were talking about.
  • Tell students that today, they will be learning some of the special language used to describe different aspects of the Underground Railroad.
(5 minutes)
  • Tell students that they will be reading a passage about the Underground Railroad.
  • There are five bolded words in the passage. They will need to determine the meaning of each word by looking for context clues around the word.
  • Model for students by reading the following sentence: "The goal was to get to a free state, a state where slavery was not legal." Highlight "a state where slavery was not legal" to show the definition of a free state.
(5 minutes)
  • Have students work in pairs to continue reading the passage and determining the meaning of the bolded words.
  • Give each pair a highlighter. Students should highlight the meaning of each word in the text.
  • Review answers as a class. Take clarifying questions from students if needed.
(30 minutes)
  • Explain that now students will be writing as if they were slaves on the Underground Railroad.
  • Students will need to write a diary entry about some aspect of their journey. In their diary entry, they must include all five terms from the passage.
  • Ask students questions to get them thinking about what they will write. For example:
    • What time of day did people travel on the Underground Railroad, and how would that make things challenging?
    • What other challenges would passengers have faced?
    • What emotions would they have felt as they traveled on the Underground Railroad?
  • Remind students of the components of a diary entry (the date, as well as a salutation such as "Dear Diary").
  • Give students ample time to write their diary entries, walking around the room to ensure that students are on the right track.


  • Challenge advanced students to write an additional diary entry using several of the words from a different point of view: a conductor, stockholder, or even a slave owner.


  • It may be helpful for struggling students to have a list of the terms and definitions to use while writing their diary entries. Additionally, students who have trouble with writing could integrate three or fewer terms in their diary entry rather than all five.
(10 minutes)
  • Check students' journal entries to determine whether they used the terms correctly in context.
(15 minutes)
  • Have each student share his diary entry with a partner.
  • Ask students the following:
    • Would you rather be a passenger, conductor, or stockholder? Why? What challenges would each of those people face?
  • Take several student responses.

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