K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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  • Exploring the church in the southern black community: Students explore the Documenting the American South Collection titled, the “Church in the Southern Black Community.” Beginning with a historian's interpretation of the primary sources that make up the collection, students search the collection for evidence to describe the experiences of African Americans living in the south during the Antebellum through the Reconstruction Period centering on their community churches. The activity culminates in student presentations of a digital scrap book.
  • Spirituals and the power of music in slave narratives: In this lesson, students will learn about the importance of music in the lives of slaves by reading slave narratives and listening to recordings.
  • Slavery across North Carolina: In this lesson, students read excerpts from slave narratives to gain an understanding of how slavery developed in each region of North Carolina and how regional differences created a variety of slave experiences.

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Learning outcomes

Students use a primary source to investigate plantation life from the slave perspective. In addition, this first-hand account of the slave experience should foster discussions about the slave trade within the United States in the 1800s, as well as spur discussion about the abolitionist movement.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

One hour



Students should have an understanding of slavery in the United States, as well as knowledge of the abolitionist movement.


  1. Provide an introduction to Solomon Northrup, explaining that he was a free black that was kidnapped and sold into slavery. His portrait is provided here.
  2. Explain that after gaining his freedom twelve years later, he wrote his incredible story. They’re going to read parts of it for this lesson. They’ll learn from him what plantation life was really like.
  3. Provide students with the URL to the Solomon Northrup Narrative. Give students a copy of the attached guided reading worksheet.
  4. Students may work on the guided reading independently or in groups, subject to teacher’s discretion. (This may be a homework assignment if desired.)
  5. Teacher should discuss the selected text with students, using the guided reading questions. Challenge students to engage in stimulating discussions, encouraging them to think about the implications of day after day leading this life as a slave. Include discussions about the abolitionist movement and ask students how such a story may have helped the movement.
  6. (optional) Ask students to pretend to be Solomon Northrup writing a letter to his wife in the mid 1840s trying to explain what has happened to him. What might he have felt like? What are the emotions he must have experienced and wanted to share with his family?


Teachers may grade the guided reading and/or the creative writing assignment.

Supplemental information

If computer access is not available for the entire class, the teacher can provide a hard-copy of the narrative by printing out the story on the website.

This lesson plan was created at the 2004 Documenting the South Summer Writing Institute and made possible through funding provided by NC ECHO, Learn NC, the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, and the UNC-Chapel Hill library system.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LH.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • United States History I

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
        • USH.H.3 Understand the factors that led to exploration, settlement, movement, and expansion and their impact on United States development over time. USH.H.3.1 Analyze how economic, political, social, military and religious factors influenced European exploration...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 11–12 — African American History

  • Goal 2: The learner will develop an understanding of the justifications and ramifications of slavery between 1619 and 1860.
    • Objective 2.03: Analyze the role of African Americans in the development of the United States as a new nation.
  • Goal 3: The learner will demonstrate an understanding of African American life and cultural contributions through 1860.
    • Objective 3.01: Compare and contrast African American urban and rural communities in the North and the South.
    • Objective 3.02: Discuss and analyze the black family in antebellum America.
    • Objective 3.04: Identify the contributions of African Americans in science and the arts.

Grade 11–12 — United States History

  • Goal 1: The New Nation (1789-1820) - The learner will identify, investigate, and assess the effectiveness of the institutions of the emerging republic.
    • Objective 1.02: Analyze the political freedoms available to the following groups prior to 1820: women, wage earners, landless farmers, American Indians, African Americans,and other ethnic groups.
  • Goal 3: Crisis, Civil War, and Reconstruction (1848-1877) - The learner will analyze the issues that led to the Civil War, the effects of the war, and the impact of Reconstruction on the nation.
    • Objective 3.01: Trace the economic, social, and political events from the Mexican War to the outbreak of the Civil War.
    • Objective 3.02: Analyze and assess the causes of the Civil War.