Lesson Plan: Overview

“The Voices of Slavery”

Grade Level: 4th

Example of student learning using a T-Chart

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.

4-2.3 Identify the English, Spanish, and French colonies in North America and summarize the motivations for the settlement of these colonies, including freedom of worship, and economic opportunity.

4-2.5 Summarize the introduction and establishment of slavery in the American colonies, including the role of the slave trade; the nature of the Middle Passage; and the types of goods—rice, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and rum, for example—that were exchanged among the West Indies, Europe, and the Americas.

4-2.6 Explain the impact of indentured servitude and slavery on life in the New World and the contributions of African slaves to the development of the American colonies, including farming techniques, cooking styles, and languages.

Historical Background Notes

Many textbook historical accounts of early Africa refer to the continent as the “dark continent.”  After researching information on early Africa, from 300 A.D. until the beginning of the 17th century, there were highly developed civilizations that compared significantly with the cultures of Europe during the same period.  The Ghanian Empire reigned for almost 900 years.  Its culture was the first in West Africa to make weapons of iron and amass a powerful army.  They traded ivory, gold, and slaves for pots, cloth, and food with the people to their north.  The Ghanian Empire was overrun in 1076 by a group of black Muslims, who established the Mali Empire.  The Mali Empire controlled West Africa until the end of the 15th century.  The Mali People built libraries, temples, and other cultural centers in the great city of Timbucktu.

Eventually their civilization was slowly absorbed by the people of Songhai, whose empire became the largest in West Africa, about the size of the continental United States.  The last of the empires was conquered by invaders from Morocco toward the end of the 16th century (Hazen 1998, 5).

Africa before the slave trade and Europe’s colonization of the continent looked very different from the Africa that we know today.  Before European powers entered Africa searching for gold, ivory, grain, and later for slaves, the land belonged to the black man.  Up until the 15th century, the people were known by their indigenous names: the Bambara, the Mende, the Ewe, the Akan, the Kimbundi, the Zulu, the Hausa, and the Teso.  Before the invasion of the Europeans, Africans spoke Twi, Fula, Hausa, Shona, and a thousand other African languages.  The languages now spoken are English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, the languages of the European conquerors.  The lands were called the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Grain Coast, and later the Slave Coast, laved according to the riches exploited.  In 1884, European powers met in Berlin, Germany to decide who would control the land.  They divided Africa into pieces, claiming their wealth and invading their military and political powers. 

The relations between Africans and those who conquered them would always be complicated. Forced to come to a strange country, slaves had vastly different experiences than their white masters in the 18th and 19th centuries. This lesson attempts to shed light on how different people might interpret different documents.


Primary Sources

Burwell, Spotswood.  Runaway Slave Advertisement for slaves, Haley and Tom. Avery  Research Center for African American History and Culture, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, Call #142.

Tax Collection Notice, Norfolk, Va. 24 June 1858. Avery  Research Center for African American History and Culture, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, Call #196

The Africans of the Slave Bark “Wildfire.” Harper’s Weekly, 2 June 1860


Secondary Sources

Velma, Maia. Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery and Emancipation. New York: Crown, 1997.

Windley, Lathan. Runaway Slave Advertisements: A Documentary History from the 1730s to 1790. Westport: Greenwood Press, 198


  • Velma Maia Thomas, Lest We Forget.
  • Sheets of Manila Paper for T-Charts
  • Notebook Paper
  • Pencils
  • Candles and Candleholders
  • Matches
  • Student Journals
  • Art Supplies (Colored Pencils, Crayons, Markers, Plain White Paper)

Lesson Plans

1. Brainstorm and discuss with students the topic of slavery and its origin.

2. Students will create a KWL chart listing what they KNOW about the subject, what they WANT to know about the subject, and after the lesson, what they have LEARNED about slavery. 

3. The teacher will read aloud each section of Lest We Forget, by Velma Maia Thomas.  The first four sections will be read on day 1, sections 5 and 6 on day two, sections 7, 8, and 9 on day three, sections 10 and 11 on day four, sections 12, 13, and 14 on day five.  Fourth graders still like sitting on a rug for stories; pictures and movable photographs and documents can be shared easily.

4. Students will respond in writing in their journals to each section by “quickwriting” a paragraph immediately after each section is read. 

5. Students will be pared to compare and contrast the slaves versus the slave owners point of view for each primary source as they are introduced.  Each pair of students from each group either represent the slaves or the slave owners.  Each pair will list important issues that concerned the points of view with reference to their primary source.  (On day five, each group students is given time to work on their presentation for the class.)

6. Each group of students will draft a T-Chart (on manila art paper) for their presentation.  The students will work by candlelight using feather pens to write.  The top of the T will be the title of their primary source and each side of the T will be represented by the slaves and the other side by the slave owners.  Each pair of students should include at least five issues of importance. 

7. Students will be given class time to work on presenting their T-Charts and the sources they are presenting.  They may act out or read “dramatically” their assigned primary source, explaining its place or importance in history. 

Teacher Reflections

"Teaching fourth grade subjects again and knowing that history was my weakest area was going to be a difficult undertaking. I hoped I would gain a lot of insight into not only the methods of teaching by also acquire materials that would make my teaching of American History "real" for my students. As we worked through the first half of our school year, my students loved sharing the stories of early plantation life, and this prompted many discussions of historical accounts and their influence on today's low country culture. I have seen several of my fourth graders go from strictly readers of non-fiction to reading historical novels and biographical stories relating to the period of history we are studying. My children have become "connoisseurs of historical documents." They are enjoying looking at history from a different perspective and I believe they will appreciate and develop a better understanding of how the United States has evolved.

Student Assessment

Student Journal Entries: Students will enter a “quickwrite” response in their journals each day after the “read aloud” sections for that day.  Reading their journal entries will allow me to assess their understanding of facts and events of that section of information. 

Rubrics will be followed for creating a T-Chart . Rubrics will also be followed for presentation of T-Charts on Primary Sources.

Informal assessments will also include (1) participation (2) following group activity guidelines and (3) completing daily assignments. 

Grading will include: check minus (directions not followed), check (directions followed, participation), and check plus (directions followed, good cooperation, good participation and working diligently).

Examples of Students Work


Barbara Massalon
Whitesville Elementary School