Lesson Plan: Overview

Gullah Contributions to South Carolina History

Grade Level: 3rd/Special Education

Academic Standards

Standard 3-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the exploration and settlement of South Carolina and the United States.

3-2.7 Explain the transfer of the institution of slavery into South Carolina from the West Indies, including the slave trade and the role of African Americans in the developing plantation economy; the daily lives of African American slaves and their contributions to South Carolina, such as the Gullah culture and the introduction of new foods; and African American acts of resistance against white authority.  (H)

Social Studies Literacy Elements
No literacy elements available for this lesson plan.
Essential Question
1. How have the Gullah contributed to South Carolina history?

Historical Background Notes

The Gullah are the descendents of Africans and African Americans who worked the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. They continue to live in the coastal regions and on the Sea Islands from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. In Georgia and Florida they are usually referred to as Geechee. (Goodwine 2007).

Unlike other populations of slaves working on plantations, they lived in geographical and social isolation. The Gullah had limited contact with white people. White plantation owners were not accustomed to the diseases that the Africans brought with them from Africa, they often returned to the mainland leaving others in charge on the plantation. Because of the limited amount of time with the white people, the Gullah were able to preserve a great many of the African cultural traditions. They were able to bring together a distinctive language, rituals, music, crafts, and diet. (“Gullah” 2007).

The Africans introduced us to many new foods and new ways of preparing them. Some of the foods brought from Africa were peanuts, okra, rice, yams, peas, hot peppers, sesame seeds, sorghum, and watermelon. The southern way of frying our foods came from the Gullah. (Robinson 2003).

To this day, the Gullah are known for their basket and net making. They used the resources available on the islands to help make the baskets. Baskets were usually made of sweet grass or pine straw. The baskets were made to help with the workload. Nets were made to help catch fish and other food from the sea. The men often knitted the nets and the women made the baskets. The children learned at a young age how to make these essential tools. The Gullah also made strip quilts. The quilts were made for the plantation owners. Later the quilts were made to tell stories. They helped the slaves to follow the path to freedom offered by the Underground Railroad.  (Robinson 2003).

The spirituals sung in the fields come to mind when I think of the musical contributions. The shout is also attributed to the Gullah.  The shout is traditional in the way of hand clapping and footwork rather than in song. The shout consists of call and response singing and rhythmic dance movements in a counter clockwise circle. (“Gullah” 2007).

The Gullah are famous for stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Bre Fox.  The characters in the Gullah stories are tricksters.  Joel Chandler Harris helping to preserve the oral traditions documented these stories. You can read the stories in the Gullah language and/or in English. Some of the low country ghost stories are also attributed to the Gullah. (“Gullah” 2007).


Primary Sources

“History of the Gullah Geechee Nation.”  Marquetta L. Goodwine, Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah Geechee Nation, Lake View Elementary, January 31, 2007.

Robinson, Sallie Ann. Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Secondary Sources

The Gullah Language and Sea Island Culture.” Retrieved February 3, 2007, from Beaufort County Public Library.

The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection.” Retrieved January 29, 2007, from Gilder Lehrman Center.

Gullah Net: Explore Gullah Culture in South Carolina with Aunt Pearlie Sue! Accessed 10 November 2009. Knowitall.org, SCETV.

“Gullah Tales.” Dir. Gary Moss. Videocassette. Prod. G. de Golian & G. Moss. Direct Cinema Limited, 1987.

Tibbetts, John H. “African roots, Carolina gold,” Coastal Heritage (Summer 2006): 3-13.

Tibbetts, John H. “Gullah’s Radiant Light,”Coastal Heritage (Winter 2004-05): 3-13.


Outline of Africa with countries outlined within

• Markers, pencil, crayons

• Computer with internet hook up

• Gullah video, Gullah Tales

• Sweet grass baskets

• Fishing net

• Copies of Gullah and African folktales

• Recipe for “Peanut Butter Benne Cookies

• Ingredients for cookies

• Materials for preparation of recipe/ measuring and mixing utensils (see cookies)

Lesson Plans

1. Distribute an outline of the continent of Africa. Ask the students what they know about the Gullah people and their language. Discuss the regions of Africa where slave trading took place. Point out the section on the map showing where their Gullah ancestors were located. Color that area on the map and label the countries on the western coast of Africa.  (10 pts.)

2. Listen to Gullah music on the internet. You can listen in both Gullah and English. Listen to the Gullah first and predict what they are saying. Then play the song in English.  (5 pts.)

3. Listen as you watch the Gullah stories on video. The students will select and practice a Gullah story to perform.  (10 pts.)

4. Bring in sweet grass baskets for the students to examine. Research how the baskets are made. Write the directions on how to make a basket. (5 pts.)  

5. Bring a fishing net in for the class to see the work put into making a net. Tell why the Gullah need the fishnets. Explain how it is used. (5 pts.)

6. Write your own folktale in groups of 2 or 3. (10 pts.)

7. Participate in making “Peanut Butter Benne Cookies”. (5 pts.)

Teacher Reflections

At the end of the 2005 – 2006 school year I applied to take a course in American history. I hadn’t taken a history class since high school. Since I would be teaching social studies in the fall to a group of special education students, I thought it was time for a course in history. Of course history hasn’t changed; there is just more of it. What has really changed are the methods used to teach history! However, plans changed and I am not teaching social studies this year. Because of the fact that I like history, I decided not to drop out of the course. I am thankful now that I am more prepared to teach history if it becomes part of my job in the future.

In the past, the adopted textbook was what I used to teach social studies. Time did not allow me to expand or add extra materials to instruction. If anything was cut from the curriculum, social studies time was the first to go. This course has shown me that the textbooks barely touch the surface of South Carolina’s history. Many more sources are available to help teach about our past. Primary sources (artifacts, pictures, etc.) are powerful when used in the classroom.

I attended Francis Marion University earning an undergraduate and a master’s degree. I never knew about the hewn-timber cabins. Seeing the cabins and furnishings made me realize how much I had learned from my exposure to this type of living. What I had was a hands-on experience. Being able to put your hands on an object and to experience what it would be like to use that object has more meaning than just reading about it in a book. A field trip to Francis Marion University for third graders to experience living in the time period will be helpful to them in understanding some of the third grade standards.

At the cotton museum I learned how cotton became a part of South Carolina’s history. Being able to see the different processes beginning with the plant and ending with a finished product was interesting. If the students can experience the work put into growing cotton, they will have a better idea of how hard life was for these farmers in South Carolina’s early history. This would be a good field trip to take in the fall and include a visit to a nearby farm to let the students have an experience of picking cotton. Again, first hand experiences are worth more than reading about growing cotton. Experiences create pictures in the mind.

The tobacco museum was a learning experience for me. I had no prior knowledge of tobacco farming until moving here from the upstate. The only tobacco I had ever seen growing was on family trips to North Carolina. No one had ever explained the process of tobacco farming to me in the thirty something years that I have lived in Marion. Learning about the tobacco farms through the tobacco museum helps me to better understand the student’s way of life. I can understand our likes and differences.

The Marlboro County Museum was exciting. Many historical names were tossed about during our tour. The museum had significant places and artifacts that were tied to the Civil War. By visiting the area, not just the museum, it was easy to imagine being a part of the Civil War. The area would be helpful in experiencing life during the Civil War.

All the places included in the course were very well matched to the part of history being taught and discussed. I enjoyed the sites connected to the Civil War time period the most. The periods from 1900 until the present were not as interesting to me. I just happen to like the earlier time periods. However, everything was great!

The speakers were excellent. They presented another way for me to help present the information to the students. If the students are able to role play the historical figures of South Carolina and American history, the information will be easier to recall. If the students participate, the information has more meaning. The information learned will become a part of them.

The master teachers were very helpful with practical information that we could all use in the classroom. Being actual classroom teachers, they were aware of typical classroom situations and problems that might arise. They had tips and ideas that would help us in the classroom on a daily basis. The master teachers were friendly and very willing to share materials, ideas, and their knowledge of various topics. If any area needed to be addressed more, it would be the area of assessment. What are the best ways to assess what they have really learned? Not all students are capable of writing essay answers or even capable of reading a test. More suggestions for assessment methods for differences in abilities would be helpful.

Paul kept the group alive. His information was presented in a manner that kept your attention. He made the class fun and stress free. He allowed time for group interaction. Paul’s knowledge of the material was exceptional. I enjoyed his presentations very much. You can tell that he loves his profession.

In the future, when teaching any subject, I will strive to use more primary sources of information. The students were very successful in the assessments of the lessons presented. They were able to continue conversations on the topic for extended periods of time. Questions were asked freely without fear of asking or saying something wrong. The students seemed to enjoy the lesson more when artifacts and pictures were part of the learning process. I do not have any negative comments at all about the course. I really enjoyed all the different experiences. I will be recommending the course to other teachers in my district. Thanks for all your hard work!

Student Assessment

The students will be assessed by a multiple choice test. They will also receive points for participation in the class activities and the homework assignments (see Lesson Plans section above).

Multiple Choice Test = 50 pts.

Activities Total = 50 pts. (see Lesson Plans section above)

Examples of Students Work

Student Gullah Assessment


Kathy Farrow
2006 Pee Dee Institute