Researching and Writing about Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was an influential black man in U.S. history. In this lesson, the historical context is set for students so that they can conduct their own research on Frederick Douglass, using a graphic organizer and multiple sources, before writing an informational essay on him. Ideal for fourth and fifth grade students, this lesson plan not only gives students practice in research and essay-writing skills, it also has them exploring a fascinating part of our country's history.
Students will be able to research Frederick Douglass, and write an informational essay about him and why he is a crucial figure in history.
- Ask students to turn to a partner and share what they know about Frederick Douglass. Ask questions such as "Have you ever heard of Frederick Douglass? What is important about him? Why might we study him?". Call on students to share pertinent points from their discussions.
- Document their input on a piece of chart paper. Add on to students' background knowledge on the chart (e.g. Frederick Douglass was enslaved during the 1800s, learned how to read and write, escaped slavery, and helped other enslaved people to freedom) and clarify any misconceptions. The idea is that the students are able to see that collectively they have some background knowledge of who he was, when he lived, and why he is an important figure.
- Tell students that today they are going to conduct research on Frederick Douglass so that they can write an informational essay about his life and why he is an influential figure in United States history.
Explicit Instruction/Teacher modeling(10 minutes)
- Write the three vocabulary terms on another piece of chart paper and invite students to help you define them. Explain that slavery is when a person is owned by another person and forced to work for them without getting paid. Elaborate that slavery was legal in the United States for many years before abolitionists, or people who fought to free enslaved people and make slavery illegal, fought for change. Emancipation is the act of freeing a person who is enslaved.
- Tell students that to introduce their exploration of Frederick Douglass, you will read them a book (or parts of a book) about Frederick Douglass, and then watch a video and create a timeline of his life.
- Choose any picture book from those listed in the materials section to read aloud to students. Allow them time throughout the reading to ask clarifying questions.
Guided Practice(15 minutes)
- Play the "Biography of Frederick Douglass for Kids: American Civil Rights History for Children" video (see materials section) and pause throughout as you write down important dates on chart paper, as they are mentioned in the video.
- Check in with students if they have any comments or questions after watching the video. Model identifying important events to place on the timeline, and then invite students to offer suggestions and reasoning.
- As a class, create a simple timeline on chart paper or on the document camera based on his major life events:
- 1818, born in Maryland
- 1824, started working on the plantation
- 1826, sent to Baltimore to work with the Hugh Auld and family, began to learn to read
- 1838, took a train north to New York, and escaped
- 1845, published his first autobiography
- 1863-4, served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln and helped bring about amendments to the constitution to give black people more rights
- 1895, died from a heart attack
- Leave the timeline displayed throughout the remainder of the lesson.
Independent working time(30 minutes)
- Hand out the Graphic Organizer: Research an Influential Person to each student. Ensure each student or pair of students has access to resources such as tablets, computers, and books to be able to do their research.
- Preview the graphic organizer on the document camera and explain each section. Make sure students understand how to use search engines to successfully gather information on Frederick Douglass based on the graphic organizer.
- Give students ample time to research and complete the organizer. Circulate to offer help to students as needed.
- Put students into mixed-ability partnerships for the independent practice. Allow students to complete the graphic organizer together.
- Give students a copy of the Reading Comprehension: Frederick Douglass worksheet (see materials section) to help them with their research.
- Ask students to prepare a presentation on Frederick Douglass to share with the class. The presentation could be in any format (e.g. slideshow, skit, poster board, etc.) that works for the students.
- Have students research another lesser known black leader from the same time period and ask them to compare and contrast this person with Frederick Douglass. Use criteria such as early life, important actions, and setbacks/challenges, to compare the two influential people.
- Students may write their essay on a computer or tablet to be edited and revised during a follow-up lesson.
- Distribute lined paper and a copy of the Informational Writing Graphic Organizer to each student. Have them write an informational essay about Frederick Douglass. Students may use the graphic organizer if it helps them organize their writing. Some students may not need it and can write their essay directly.
- Encourage students to use the timeline created from earlier in the lesson and the research graphic organizer they completed to help them write an informational essay about Frederick Douglass.
- Pose the following questions as a guide:
- Who was Frederick Douglass?
- What was surprising or unusual about his life?
- How did he influence history?
- Why is it important that we learn about him?
- Use their pieces of writing as a formative assessment and to guide future instruction.
Review and closing(5 minutes)
- Ask students to volunteer to share their informational writing aloud with the class.
- Encourage students to listen closely and provide positive feedback to their classmates as they share their essays.
- Tell students that you hope that today's exploration and research of an important figure in U.S. history has sparked wonder and curiosity in them, and that they continue to discover influential and brave people, such as Frederick Douglass, who helped change our country's history and make it a better place for all.