Distance Learning Week Three: Slavery, Abolition, and the Civil War

Hello fifth graders, and welcome to week three of at home learning! I am super proud of all the great work you’ve been doing the last couple weeks, and I am excited to get started on this week’s learning. This week’s topic is difficult to talk about, and it’s something that I wish we could be learning together in person, but it’s just too important to skip over. So even though we’re apart, we’re going to tackle this difficult history together. This week, we are talking about our dark history with slavery, and the incredible coalition of abolitionists who fought to end it.


Monday: On Overview of Slavery in the United States

As you read about last week while we studied the era of westward expansion, the issue of slavery was a huge problem in the United States. Slavery was a huge problem for the most obvious reason: owning people is wrong. Period. It has always been wrong to own another human being. Always. Despite the knowledge that it was wrong, however, there were a lot of people and systems who justified slavery in the United States for over two hundred years. Slavery began in the United States in the year 1619, and didn’t end until 1865. Our country was built by enslaved people, and twelve of our presidents enslaved people, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

There’s some specific language that I’m going to be using this week, and I want you to pay attention to it. Notice that I am saying enslaved people, and not slaves. This is really important, because when you call someone a slave, that becomes their identity; you’re saying that the first thing that person is, is a slave. This isn’t right. When we say enslaved people, instead we are communicating that they are people first, and being enslaved is something that happened to them. Slavery is not a person’s identity.

Stop and jot: in your own words, write down why it’s important to say “enslaved people” instead of “slaves.”

Both the northern and the southern United States were built on slavery, but as the country expanded, slavery became increasingly more important in the south, and the northern states began to rely more on factories (industrialization!). During this time period of westward expansion was when the debate of slavery really started to heat up.

There had always been people who were against slavery (namely, the enslaved people themselves), but this time period was when it became a huge debate politically. In fact, this debate heated up so much that it led to the bloodiest war in United States history: the Civil War. We’re going to learn about the Civil War on Friday, but before that, I want us to spend some time learning about the incredible people who engaged in the fight to end slavery for decades before there was a whisper of a civil war. These people were called abolitionists.

Before we can learn about abolitionists, though, today we need to spend a little bit of time learning about slavery. This is important because if we want to learn about the people who fought to end slavery, we need to understand what they were fighting against.

Read this Newsela article to read about slavery in the United States. Respond to the annotations and submit the quiz. Tomorrow through Thursday, we will be learning about abolitionists.

Tuesday-Thursday: The Abolitionists

Tuesday: Harriet Tubman

Let’s get started on our learning about these amazing abolitionists! A little word work for you: abolition means to end something permanently, and within this context, it is specifically used to talk about the fight to end slavery. An abolitionist is someone who fought to end slavery.

Stop and jot: What is one rule, policy, or system that still exists today that you would like to abolish? Write your answer in a complete sentence, and underline the word abolish. In another complete sentence, explain why you want this abolished.

Okay, back to our specific context: here, when I say abolitionist, I’m talking about someone who fought to end slavery. The dominant narrative (the story that’s in charge and the story that we normally hear) says that Abraham Lincoln was the most important abolitionist. Well, guess what? This isn’t really true. President Lincoln played a large role in ending slavery towards the end, but for the two hundred years prior to this, the fight for abolition was led by people who had experienced slavery themselves. So, today, tomorrow, and Thursday, those are the abolitionists we’re going to be focusing on: people who had escaped from their own enslavement and fought for the freedom of others.

Today we’re going to start out with someone whose name you are probably already familiar with: Harriet Tubman. To learn about Harriet Tubman, watch this Ted Ed Talk about Harriet Tubman, and answer the questions that follow.

Video Questions:

  1. Who was Harriet Tubman?
  2. How did Harriet Tubman fight to end slavery?
  3. What is something you learned about Harriet Tubman in this video that you didn’t know before?
  4. Harriet Tubman said, “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.” What do you think she meant by this quote?
  5. Why do you think that it’s important to learn about Harriet Tubman?

If you want to learn more about Harriet Tubman, you can also watch
this Flocabulary video and complete any of the activities (all optional!).


Wednesday: Sojourner Truth

The second abolitionist we’re going to learn about is another amazing and powerful Black woman: Sojourner Truth. Just like Tubman, Truth played an incredibly important role in not only the abolition movement, but also in the movement for women’s suffrage. To learn more about Sojourner Truth, read this Newsela article. Read the article, respond to the annotations, and submit the quiz.

You have one more thing to do today before you’re finished! Create a Venn diagram comparing Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth (rewatch the Harriet Tubman video from yesterday if you need to). In your notebook, draw two overlapping circles. In the left circle, write at least three things that are specific and unique to Harriet. On the right triangle, right at least three things that are specific and unique to Sojourner. In the middle, write at least three things they have in common. If you have a printer at home and you want to print a Venn diagram, you can use this one.


Thursday: Frederick Douglass

The fight to end slavery took a coalition (a group working together) of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Unfortunately, we just have a few days to learn about these incredible people! I wish we could spend another year learning about the abolitionists, but we’re limited to just one more person to learn about this week. For our last abolitionist of the week, we are going to learn about Frederick Douglass. To get started, watch this episode of “A Kid Explains History.”

After watching the video, write a 3-5 sentence summary about Frederick Douglas. Then, complete the next activity.

One of the things that he talks about in the video is how Frederick Douglass was a gifted public speaker. This document has 5 different quotes by Frederick Douglass. Read the quotes several times, look up any words that you don’t know, and then write down what you think the quotes mean. Everyone should try the first three quotes, and the last two are optional for those of you who are up for a challenge. There are three ways to do this assignment: you can print this page out and do your work on paper, you can write the whole thing in your notebook, or you can make a copy of the document and do your writing on the computer.

That’s it for today! Great work everyone!


Friday: Ending Slavery and Restoring the Union: The Civil War

The three abolitionists we learned about this week, along with many others, did the important groundwork of the fight for abolition. These were the people who were continually making noise and speaking out against slavery. Working alongside these abolitionists were millions of enslaved people who resisted their enslavement every day.  The federal government, which was run entirely by white men at the time, did not make any moves to end slavery until it was absolutely necessary. Like we talked about Monday and last week, this fight became necessary to those in power when the United States continued to expand west and tensions grew between states that allowed slavery (mostly in the South) and states that did not allow slavery (mostly in the North). At this point, the argument became too big to be solved with words, and the Southern United States decided to secede (leave) from the United States. They said that they were going to form their own country, the Confederacy, where their right to enslave people would never be challenged.

Read today’s Newsela article on the Civil War. Read the article, annotate to show that you’re thinking as you’re reading, and then submit the quiz.


That’s it for this week! Great work everyone! Remember to turn in any written assignments by 3:00pm on Friday. See you next week!


Extension Option: Keep Learning!

Want to learn more about abolitionists? The Zinn Education Project has compiled a list of Black abolitionists. Read more about these amazing freedom fighters, and create Google Slides or a video to teach your classmates about one or more of the abolitionists that we didn’t have time to learn about as a class.


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