Lesson Plan: Overview

"Am I Really Free?"

Grade Level: 4th

This is graphic organizer, an example of the student work produced for this lesson.

Academic Standards

Standard 4-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the conflict between the American Colonies and England.

Indicator 4-3.6: Compare the daily life and roles of diverse groups of Americans during and after the Revolutionary War, including roles taken by women and African Americans.

Indicator 4-3.7: Explain the effects of the American Revolution on African Americans and Native Americans, including how the war affected attitudes about slavery contributed to the inclusion of abolition in early state constitutions and how the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that were developed by Congress influenced the Future of Native Americans.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts

O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories

P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps

S. Interpret and synthesize information obtained from a variety of sources--graphs, charts, tables, diagrams, texts, photographs, documents, and interviews

Historical Background Notes

How free were the free blacks? Life for free blacks was not all peaches and cream. Although some were able to prosper they were not counted as citizens.  A few questions to consider are: Where did free Blacks live? What, if any, restrictions did they have?

The status varied a great deal from time to time, from place to place. There were laws that prohibited them from holding office and voting. The American Revolution raised a number of questions concerning the free Negro, one of the most urgent being his possible use as a soldier. Some free Blacks fought in the early battles before an organized arm existed.

When the first national census was taken in 1790, free Negroes were reported to number 59,466, about 1.5 percent of the young republic’s total population. Seventy years later on the eve of the Civil War, the free Negroes totaled 488,070, and they still constituted approximately 1.5 percent of the population although their number had little increment from immigration. In 1860 just over half of the 488,000 free Negroes lived in slave states. The freedmen tended to live in cities where economic opportunities were better than in the countryside and where a more varied social life was available. (“Not Quite Free: The Free Negro Before the Civil War” American History Illustrated magazine, Published by The National History Society. June 1974 edition)

There were a number of ways for an African American to become free. They could be born free, freed by manumission, purchase their freedom, freed because of some deed they did, or given freedom in a will.

Restrictions and economic opportunities were sometimes less severely enforced in the cities than in the countryside. For this reason the freedmen tended to live in cities. In the country free blacks were carefully watched because of fear their presence would make slaves discontent. To keep the free blacks under control, Slave Codes or more commonly referred to as Jim Crow Laws were created.  These laws placed limitations on what a free person of color could do.

Despite the injustices they faced and hardships to overcome, many free blacks became affluent. They owned businesses and even had slaves themselves. They prospered in a wide variety of fields. Although the free African American had it better in the North than in the South, he was not truly free anywhere.


  Primary Sources
  • 1740 South Carolina Slave Code.  Acts of the South Carolina General Assembly, 1740 # 670. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
  • Spartanburg County, Magistrates and Freeholders Trial Papers.  Box 1, Folder 16. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
  • Spartanburg County, Magistrates and Freeholders Trial Papers.  Box 1, Folder 48. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.
  • Transcription from McCord, David J., ed.  The Statutes at Large of South Carolina.  Vol. 7, Containing the Acts Relating to Charleston, Courts, Slaves, and Rivers.  Columbia, SC: A.S. Johnston, 1840, p. 397.
  • Secondary Sources
    • American History Illustrated. June 1974. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The National Historical Society, 1974.
    • Hansen, Joyce.  I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 1997.
    • Hurmence, Belinda, ed. Before Freedom: When I Just Can Remember. Winston-Salem, NC:  John F. Blair Publishes, 1989.
    • Koger, Larry.  Black Slave Owners. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
    • Lester, Julius.  To Be A Slave. New York:  Scholastic Inc., 1968.
    • Rhyne, Nancy, ed. Voices of Carolina Slave Children. Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Publishing Company, 1999.

    Other Materials

    • Graphic organizers
    • Resource/Trade books
    • Various objects to write about (black iron, quilt, etc.)
    • Historical Poems

    Lesson Plans

    1. Explain to the students that they will be studying about the life of free blacks during slavery including their struggles and successes.  This is a two-day lesson.  I incorporated the writing with English Language Arts.  It can be done in less or even more time. 
    2. Share the historical background information with the students.  Set up a special Center with books and objects related to the lesson for students to explore.
    3. Tell the students they will write stories, essays, and/or poems related to what they have learned about slavery and freedom.
    4. Have students answer the essential questions as a pre- and posttest.
    5. Before the writing begins read several excerpts from books containing slave narratives and share your own writings with the students. 
    6. The students will examine reproduced documents of the South Carolina Slave Codes and trial papers. Place students in small groups and give each group a primary document to examine.  Rotate the documents among the groups.  Help each group to understand what they are looking at and its importance. 
    7. Tell students to use their senses when they write and give them examples.  Let them listen to music and think about how it makes them feel.  Then allow the students to free write or draw for about 10 -15 minutes with or without music.  Explain to the students that they can write or draw anything that comes to mind during that period.  Stress the importance of complete silence at that time.
    8. After silent writing students may share what they have written or drawn.  Students may edit, illustrate, and publish their work.
    9. Allow students about 10-15 minutes to handle objects (black iron, gourd, quilt, etc.) brought in to enhance the writing.
    10. Students will write for at least 30 minutes using the steps of the Writing Process.
    11. Display student work.

    Teacher Reflections

         Reflecting back on how I taught Social Studies before taking the TAH course, it was very tedious. I really didn’t like it.  I liked history, I just didn’t like teaching it because the textbook is very difficult for the students.  I did things like oral reports, research, basic timeline, etc.  I used primary sources, but not as creatively as I will use them in the future.  Now, instead of just telling my students about the sources I allow them to use the documents.  I find the documents so fascinating and I want my students to feel the same way.   Using primary sources is a way to help students know that what they are learning is real and not just something written in a textbook. 

         I found the content lectures very interesting as they provided an enormous amount of background information.  Being a mostly auditory learner, listening to Marty meant more to me than having to read a book.  His lectures authenticate the material in the textbook and gives extra details for what is not in the text.  I’m more comfortable with adding information during a lesson.

         The cultural institutions were well selected and can be used by both the students and myself.  I will use the State Archives and the South Caroliniana Library often for obtaining documents to use in class.  When I take my students on field trips it is helpful having first hand background information about the institution.  The Mann-Simons Cottage and the Kensington Plantation are the two sites that really appealed mostly to me.  They are easy for me to write about and use to teach my students writing.  The poem I used with my lesson was inspired by the Kensington Plantation.  I also wrote poems about the Mann-Simons Cottage to use with future lessons. 

         I know that this course was effective by the quality of the work my students turned in.  The excitement in their eyes as they listened to me read and the total engrossment with the music, as well as the sincerity in completing the writing said it all.  Hearing the “oooh look,” or “is this for real?” is way better than “aww man, Social Studies is boring.”  I’ve brought items in now and then to show how something looks, but allowing them to hold and touch the black iron, to shake and rub a real gourd, and to take a close-up look at an old quilt made the lesson come to life for them.  The students in my class are mostly below level.  For them it help to make a connection to something that was so long ago it’s hard to comprehend.  Students who were reluctant to do anything were eager to write and draw.  That is a teacher’s dream to have children like what they are doing so much they don’t want to stop until finished.  Even the student that was unable to write was able to express learning through drawings.

         I have lots of ideas for future growth.  Next school year I will be more able to start at the beginning of school.  This year was rather difficult for me to do all that I wanted and needed to do.  The reason being, I was at a new school which also had new administration, as well as being in the fourth grade for the first time.  There were a lot of adjustments to be made.  I definitely plan to use more primary sources with my students.

    I have been given ways to make field trips more meaningful.  The students will be writing before and after visits.  I plan to develop full units with primary resources to implement next year. 

       When I take my students on a field trip, I am going to have them write while at the location.  I have a writer coming into my class to work with my students on writing poetry to learn history (Sunray Creations).    

    Student Assessments

    Examples of Students Work

  • Student work 1: Graphic Organizer
  • Student work 2: Graphic Organizer
  • Student work 3: Graphic Organizer
  • Student work 4: Poem
  • Student work 5: Paragraph of Thoughts
  • Student work 6: Drawing
  • Student work 7: Poem
  • Student work 8: Pretest
  • Student work 9: Pretest
  • Credit

    Gracie White
    Hyatt Park School