Lesson Plan: Overview

The Role of African Slaves on South Carolina Rice Plantations

Grade Level: 4th

South Carolina Gold

Academic Standards

Standard 4-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of North America by Native Americans, Europeans, and African Americans and the interactions among these peoples.

4-2.6 Explain the impact of African Americans on life in the New World/contributions of African slaves to the development of American colonies.

Social Studies Literacy Elements
No literacy elements available for this lesson plan.
Essential Questions

1. What was the role of African slaves in the production of rice on South Carolina plantations?

2. What was the life of slaves on Southern rice plantations like?

Historical Background Notes

A significant crop produced in colonial South Carolina was rice. The production of this crop required its workers to possess knowledge of the land and rice cultivation, as well a sufficient labor force able to maintain it. Due to the omission of this crop in their European culture, English colonists who settled the rich North American land lacked the expertise required for the production of rice. Thus, the huge task of cultivating, processing, and packaging rice on South Carolina Plantations was commonly assigned to slaves. This task, though foreign to European colonists, proved to be quite common to the slaves who had been purposely imported from the rice growing region of West Africa.  Where many English planters had failed in their previous attempts at growing and processing rice, the knowledge and rice-growing skills possessed by West Africans gave them a newfound success at cultivating the crop.

In addition to being knowledgeable about the process of cultivating rice, West African peoples also had the advantage of being able to easily adapt to the moist Carolina climate and landscape. This was primarily the case because the southeastern land very much resembled that of their African homeland (Wood 1974, 117).  The combination of all these things made West African slaves one of the most valuable assets on South Carolina rice plantations, giving them a major role in the successful production and preparation of rice.   

Although the benefits of rice production were many for the planters of South Carolina plantation owners, these benefits were rarely experienced by the slaves who were responsible for this success. For slaves, the process of cultivating rice was a demanding and potentially life- threatening job that forced them to work tirelessly each day to complete the necessary tasks.  According to information provided by African American Heritage and Ethnography, the process of growing rice was a tedious process that began with the clearing of swamp infested lands, a job that was usually done by the male slaves. The process continued with the sowing of the rice was which conducted by the women. Rice seedlings were poured into water-soaked soil and submersed in the muddy soil using nothing but the slaves’ bare feet (African American Heritage and Ethnography 2006). The rice was then harvested, or collected from the fields and threshed. Threshing, which involved removing the rice from the hulls, involved the strenuous process of repeatedly pounding the rice using a tool uniquely created by the slaves known as a mortar and pestle. The hulls were then separated from the rice through the shifting of the hulls in a winnowing basket handmade from leaves.  Once the entire process was complete, it began again with the preparation of the land for the next season’s crop.

The process of planting, harvesting, threshing and winnowing rice alone was not the only threat posed on slaves residing on South Carolina Rice plantations. As a result of the view taken by most Southern planters, slaves were often treated cruelly by their owners. As a result of working in the moist, disease-carrying waters of the rice fields, slaves often ran the risk of becoming sick, injured or even killed by animals lurking in the muddy lowlands.). Yet, even in times of sickness or injury, they were expected to report to the fields to perform the tasks that they had been assigned rarely receiving very little time to recover or recuperate. If a slave failed to complete the tasks assigned to him in the filed, they could be severely beaten or punished. These conditions made life as an African slave on a Southern rice plantation extremely difficult and, in some cases, unbearable.


Primary Sources

Slave Narratives. Michigan: Scholarly Press, Inc., 1976.

Negro Cabins on a Rice Plantation. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from New York Public Library, Digital Gallery.

Rice Fields. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from International Cheesehead.

Slave advertisement. Retrieved September 16, 2009, from the National Park Service.

Secondary Sources

Wood, Peter. Black Majority. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1974.

Brown, Audrey and Erica Hill (2006). African American Heritage and Ethnography: A Self-Paced Training resource. Retrieved September 16, 2009, from the National Park Service.


• Social Studies textbooks

• Student journals (see Examples of Students Work section below)

• Rice samples for small groups

Anticipation guide

Venn Diagram

• Illustration of Negro cabins on a rice field (copy for each group)

• Photo of modern day rice fields/cabins (copy for each group)

• Narrative of field slave taken from primary source entitled, Slave Narratives

• Teacher copy of Black Majority

• LCD Projector

• Laptop

• Web access

Lesson Plans

1. Activate students’ prior knowledge by conducting a lecture/discussion that provides a thorough review of the importance of agriculture and trade to the success of the thirteen British colonies, pointing out how goods were exported to and imported from England.

2. Have students collectively brainstorm some products produced in the thirteen colonies that were beneficial to their economic growth, and make a list of students’ responses on the board. Discuss responses provided, and add additional products if necessary.

3. Distribute copies of the Anticipatory Set to students and allow them time to complete them independently. Once completed, instruct students to sit the guides to the side, and we will revisit them later.

4. Pass around samples of rice and ask students to make a prediction about its possible connection to the success of the colony of South Carolina.

5. Write essential questions on the board and have students record them in their Social Studies notebooks. Explain that by the end of the lesson, they should have been provided with the information needed to respond to both questions.

6. Discuss/Explain the impact of rice on South Carolina’s Economy (Rice was the colonial export that was largely responsible for the economic success of South Carolina in the 1700’s).

7. Pose the following discussions questions:

  • How was rice grown?
  • Who was responsible for the growing rice on South Carolina rice plantations?
  • What tools were used in the process of cultivating and processing rice?

8. Use a Venn Diagram to demonstrate similarities between South Carolina and African culture & climate (Information on pages 116-123 of  Black Majority written by Peter Woods).

9. Conduct Group Activity #1 Using primary source (Photo of modern day rice fields/cabins.

10. Have students get into groups of 3-4 students and observe photos. Then have the students use their observations to compose a conjecture of the process employed to cultivate and process rice on a South Carolina rice plantation.

11. Allow each group of students to share their conjectures with the class.

12. Distribute primary source (photo of mortar and pestle) to each group of students and have students discuss how this tool could have been used during the rice production process.

13. Conduct a whole group discussion that focuses on:

14. Read excerpt that explains the challenges of producing rice from  Woods' book, Black Majority.

15. Conduct Group Activity #2 using primary sources (Illustration - Negros on a Slave Plantation and Newspaper announcing arrival of West African slaves). Distribute copies of the photos to each group and have the students use their observations to form a conjecture of slave life on a rice plantation, and discuss the implications of slave life on a rice plantation.

16. Have students work collaboratively to compose a 2-3 paragraph composition on what daily life may have been like based on illustrations.

17. Read aloud narrative of field slave taken from primary source (Slave Narratives).

18. Conduct a Think-Pair-Share to review and informally assess.

19. Revisit Anticipation guide, and discuss possible changes that have to be made.

Teacher Reflections

For five years, I have been a teacher of United States history. As a history teacher, I have prided myself on providing the students in my fourth grade Social Studies class with a vivid account of America’s origin and growth as a nation.  It was not until my attendance at the American History in South Carolina Summer Institute during the previous summer, that I realized that as great of a job as I had believed to be doing, my instructional approach could still use some improvement.  Through the expertise of Master Teacher, Wardie Sanders, and Dr. Witherspoon, I was introduced to the innovative use of Primary sources in the teaching of History. The events and training that I encountered during this ten day course proved beneficial in the improvement of my instructional approach and also allowed me to positively impact my students in a new way.  The following is a succinct summary of how the information and practices introduced at this institute were utilized to enhance my Social Studies instruction throughout the year.

After being introduced to the existence of and the distinctions between Primary and Secondary Sources at the TACSH Institute, I was anxious to share that knowledge with my students. I felt that the acquisition of such knowledge would prove advantageous to them during the school year as we explored key historical concepts. While the age of the students that my instruction is geared towards prevents the assigning of a large number of projects, I was certain that being familiar with the two types of sources would prepare them for their inclusion in upcoming research requirements and lessons. I began the school year with a formal introduction of primary and secondary sources as well as a  thorough explanation of the characteristics of each. This introduction was then followed by the implementation of several activities that allowed the students to explore primary sources in a personal manner.  On one occasion, the students were asked to inquire about the existences of primary sources in their homes. Students were asked to bring in primary sources that they had located to share with the class. The primary sources brought in by the students ranged from a black and white photo of one child’s great grandparents to an engraved handkerchief that belonged to one student’s great-great grandmother, to an actual poem that had been written by one student’s great uncle while he was away in Iraq. Students were then asked to share any information that they had gathered about the artifacts with the class and the items were displayed on students’ desks for viewing by their classmates.  This activity enabled the students to become acquainted with the existence of primary sources relative to their families’ history. It also afforded them the opportunity to experience what I had experienced at the institute this summer, that of seeing first hand how valuable and informative primary sources can be.

The use of primary sources did not conclude with this experience, but was further extended with the inclusion of primary resources in select lessons. Prior to teaching several units, I conducted a search of various internet sites available to assist in the retrieval of sources that were relevant to the content being covered. Two websites that provided reliable primary sources on Colonial America were Archiving Early America and the National Geographic website. From these websites I was able to retrieve sources such as a poem written by Phyllis Wheatley, an account of the Boston Massacre that had been printed in The Boston Gazette and Country Journal, and an Interactive Tour of the Underground Railroad which was used during a unit on slavery. Having spent many hours searching for such websites, I felt it beneficial to begin composing a list of the sites so that they could be quickly referenced during the planning of future lessons. To assist fellow educators in the convenient location of primary sources, a copy of the list was distributed to the teachers who attended the professional development workshop that I conducted in January.

In addition to being able to familiarize my students with a wealth of information about the existence of Primary sources, the knowledge gleaned during my experiences at the TAHSC also enabled me to provide some of my fellow colleagues with information about how to use these sources. As a leader of the Social Studies Committee formed at my school, I was able to share the knowledge that I had acquired with them.  At two of our yearly meetings, I was able to talk with the members about the use of Primary sources as a means of engaging students. I shared some of the activities that Mrs. Sanders had provided to us during the Methods sessions. At one of those meetings, the teachers were invited to participate in the implementation of one of the activities that required them to analyze a copy of the Declaration of Independence (primary source) and a textbook account that discussed the Declaration of Independence(secondary sources) and compare the differences of both viewpoints.  This allowed them to see the benefits of using both sources to teach history to their students, rather than only using secondary sources. Hopefully, the knowledge that I have shared with them has impacted their instructional approach as much as it has impacted mine.

In summation, my attendance at The American History in South Carolina Institute has proved to be an extremely rewarding experience. Not only has it provided me with a wealth of historical information, but it has also permanently impacted the way that I teach history. With the knowledge that I have gleaned, I have been able to create Social Studies lessons that help students learn, explore, and become participants in American History. I am sure that if given the opportunity to do so, many of my former students would return to say how much more they would have appreciated history if they, too, had been taught this in manner. This is evident by the increase that I have witnessed from my present students. Once lethargic, disinterested, and confused about the relevance of historical events, many of my students now have become engaged and eager to learn. Several of them have even brought in primary sources to share about some of the topics we have discussed. As a result, I have also witnessed an increase in the test scores of several students who initially struggled to take an interest in the study of history.  In the future, I plan to continue utilizing primary sources to impact my instruction and will continue to explore new ways of incorporating them in my classroom. Having witnessed the tremendous difference that using these sources can have on student motivation and achievement, I am thoroughly convinced that there is no better way to engage students in the study of  history.

Student Assessment

Students will use the information learned about the role of African slaves on South Carolina Rice Plantations to create a journal that contains at least 3 entries depicting the life of a slave living there. Journal entries will be written from the first person point of view and should include information about their involvement in the rice cultivation process.

Examples of Students Work

Student Journal

Student Journal 2


Gwen McElveen
Delmae Heights Elementary
Florence, South Carolina