Creating an Abolitionist Newspaper


Mary Groesch


July 24, 2001


Greeley School


Winnetka, Illinois 60093


(Overall theme)

The students will learn about the Underground Railroad, famous people of that time, and the Abolitionist Movement in an effort to understand what life was like during this period of time in our history.

Classroom sessions or estimated time

7-10 sessions

Grade Level(s)



Students will develop a greater understanding of the lives of slaves and their quest for freedom.  Students will develop an understanding of the people who fought against slavery and the efforts that were made by them to create a better life for all people in the US.  Students will enhance their research skills using both the internet and text sources.  Students will create a newspaper with information about life during this time.

*Geography Standards Addressed

1. Use of maps to acquire, process, and report information.

4. Physical and human characteristics of places.

6. How culture and experience influence people's perceptions.

9. Characteristics and migration of human populations.

12. Human settlement: processes, patterns, and functions.

13. How cooperation and conflict among people influence control and division of land.

17. How to apply geography to interpret the past.

*Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards addressed

4.1.12 Roles of individuals, groups and movements in the social conflicts leading to the Civil War.

4.1.25 Identify the causes of problems and challenges that have confronted people during various periods of Indiana history.

4.1.26 Generate questions and answers about people, places, and events using primary and secondary information.

4.5.1 Identify ways that social groups influence individual behavior and responsibilities.

4.5.8 Identify the contributions and challenges experienced by different groups through reading biographies, historical accounts and stories.



Students will learn how to use the Internet and will visit several sites.  They will learn to take notes from online and off-line sources.  Also, they will learn how to write different parts of a newspaper (feature story, news story, editorials etc.) and will share what they have learned through their writing.

*Teacher Background Materials

* Resources critical for the project

Appleworks newspaper program.*

Barefoot, Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards.*

Brady by Jean Fritz.

Bright Freedom's Song, A Story of the Underground Railroad by Gloria Houston.

Escape From Slavery by Doreen Rappaport.*

Exploring a Common Past (Researchng and Interpreting the Underground Railroad) by National Park Service, Department of the Interior (www.cr.nps.gov/history).

Freedom's Children (The passage from Emancipation to the Great Migration) by Velma Maia Thomas.*

Freedom River by Doreen Rappaport.*

Groliers Multimedia Online Encyclopedia.*

Inspiration computer program.


Lest We Forget (The Passage from Africa to Slavery to Emancipation) by Velma Maia Thomas.*

Luke's Summer Secret by Randall Wisehart.

Many Thousand Gone by Virginia Hamilton.*

Music of the Underground Railroad, Ascension Productions, 1988. Available from World Music Press.

National Geographic site –

www.nationalgeographic.com/features/99/railroad/jl.html  This site has a tour called "You are a Slave" and has suggestions for teaching a unit and other activities.)*

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at


Nightjohn by Gary Paulson.

Only Passing Through, The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell.*

Picture Books by Jacob Lawrence.*

Remembering Slavery, African Americans Talk About Their Personal Exeriences of Slavery and Emancipation edited by Ira Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau and Steven F. Miller (published by the library of Congress.

Runaway to Freedom, The Story of the Underground Railroad by Barbara Smucker.

Stories for Jason (Tales of the Underground Railroad) by Mary Leonhard Cromer.

The New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia Online


The Ring of Genealogy complied and edited by Barbara K. Hughes Smith and Robert Hughes Wright (The Charles H. Wright Museum of American American History).

The Underground Railroad by R. Conrad Stein.

The Writing Corner by Arnold B. Cheyney.*

Soul on Rice, African Influences on American Cooking by Patricia B. Mitchell.

*Purpose of Materials

The materials will give the students background knowledge of the Underground Railroad and will help them to create an Abolitionist newspaper.


This project is one of the culminating activities for a study of the Underground Railroad.  During the course of the unit they will be involved in a number of activities.  Before beginning the newspaper, students will have learned about how the slaves came from West Africa.  They will read many picture books and see videos as they learn about life on a plantation.  As they learn about the geography of the regions and the secret code of symbols used for escape, students will create quilts in small groups depicting the physical and cultural geography.  As they learn about different points-of-view, students will do journal entries, participate in a reader's theater production, and do role playing.  They will also experience a simulation of being slaves trying to escape to Canada.  Finally, students will learn about the contributions African Americans have made to our culture.

The Abolitionist Newspaper:

1. Introduce the idea of creating a newspaper.

Provide students will copies of newspapers and brainstorm the different parts.

2. Discuss the overall purposes of a newspaper: to inform, to entertain, to interpret, and to serve.

3. The class will learn how to write news stories, feature stories, and other articles that fit into the information category. Models and organizers can be made using the chapter "Creating a Classroom Newspaper" from Arnold B. Cheyney's The Writing Corner.

4.  Children should go to the National Geographic          site http://www.nationalgeographic.com and follow the "You are a Slave" tour.  This can be done as a whole class activity.  Once completed, discuss what was learned and what might be learned through further research.

5.  Suggest a number of topics to the children for research such as The Underground Railroad; The Abolitionist Movement; and famous people like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Levi Coffin; the routes of the Underground Railroad; and the Drinking Gourd.  Children can work in groups of two or three to research their chosen topic.

6. Children use the Internet and various text sources including encyclopedias and books to research their topic.  Worksheets with guidelines for research will be provided by the teacher to focus the children's note taking.

7. Divide the children into small groups so that they can read a short story about a specific account a slave trying to get to freedom.  Escape to Freedom by Doreen Rappaport is an excellent resource.

8. After they have read their story, they will plan and present a drama of their story with a class discussion to follow.

9. These small groups will then write a news story based upon their short story. 

10. Once the children have completed their research and have written their group news story, they should decide on another type of article that they are going to write: feature story, opinions, interviews, or people in the news.

11.  They children will then write their piece on the computer and save it so that it can be entered into the newspaper.

12. The students will then decide if they would like to add a picture to their articles.  They may either draw the picture using a drawing program such as Appleworks drawing or Kidpix or they may capture a picture from the Internet and transfer it to their articles.

13. Students may decide to dress as people and then their pictures can be taken by a digital camera and then scanned in to the computer. Hand drawn maps can also be included in their way.

14. Students may also want to draw cartoons once their required work is complete.

15. The children will then share their articles with their class once the newspaper has been published.

*Teaching Strategies

1. Group discussion

2. Brainstorming

3. Reading in small groups

4. Drama

5. Internet research

6. Research using printed resources

7. Writing using different formats

8. Cooperative grouping

*Assessments (key questions to simulate critical thinking)


1. Evaluate whether the students have accurate research through discussion and checking their organizers.

2. Evaluate whether student articles followed the correct format for each the different types of articles.

3. As students dramatize their stories, check to see if they have included the key elements of the plot and convey the feelings and experiences of the main characters in the story.

4. Teacher will make observations of how engaged and on task the students are during the project.

5. Students fill out a self evaluation and use a teacher rubric for criteria.


Adaptations and/or Extensions

1. Write poetry based upon their unit experience.  The poetry may even be included in the newspaper. Also, illustrations for the poetry could be done in art.

2. Create a power point presentation based upon an aspect of the study.

3. Have students participate in a mock trial of an abolitionist (Levi Coffin could be an example).  Several students could act as reporters who write from different points-of-view (pro and con) about the trial. 

4. Have a class debate about the issue of slavery.

5. Pose a problem and have the students use the future problem solving strategy to generate a solution.  Compare the different solutions.

6. Have students create individual or group games about a slave trying the get to freedom. 

7. Students can write songs or raps about the Underground Railroad.