Heroes and Heroines of the Underground Railroad System (UGRR)
Sally Simpson


Tri-State University/ Department of Education
Angola, IN 46703

(Overall theme)

Classroom sessions or estimated time
One to two 45 minute sessions
Grade Level(s)
Fourth Grade (Indiana history) supplemental lesson to the adopted textbook.
The purpose of this lesson is to identify character traits representative of heroes and heroines in relation to the operation of the Underground Railroad.Two known UGRR leaders, Harriet Tubman and Levi Coffin, will be presented as examples of heroes and heroines during the time period of the operation of the UGRR.







Create a list of heroes/heroines from American history

Create a semantic web that identifies the character traits of heroes/heroines

Identify and locate the major trails to freedom followed by slaves in their migratory movements

Listen to and participate in a choral reading of the poem, “Harriet Tubman” by Eloise Greenfield.

Develop background knowledge of the work of Levi Coffin as a major leader in the UGRR from Indiana

Choose one leader, either Tubman or Coffin, and write a persuasive summary paragraph that explains why the leader displays the character traits of a hero/heroine in the UGRR

*Teacher Background Materials
Materials required for lesson delivery:

1)Map (overhead) of major “trails” to freedom followed by slaves

2)Semantic web overhead

3)Handouts of poem, “Harriet Tubman” (see attached)

4)Background materials related to Levi Coffin

5)Blank overhead

Teacher Resources:

Aboard the Underground Railroad: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary introduces travelers, researchers, historians, preservationists, and anyone interested in African American history to the fascinating people and places associated with the Underground Railroad.The itinerary currently provides descriptions and photographs on 50 historic places that are listed in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, America’s official list of most common directions of escape taken on the Underground Railroad and maps of individual states that mark the location of the historic properties.


as accessed on 7/26/01 at 4:54

Bial, Jonathan. The Underground Railroad. Boston:

Houghton-Mifflin. 1995

An engaging exploration of the Underground Railroad and the effect of slavery on American life, - full of photographs, newspaper clippings, and excerpts from documents.(Ages 8-12)

Colman, Penny. Spies: Women in the Civil War. Cincinnati: Betterway Books. 1992.

A series of sketches on spies.The chapter on Harriet Tubman is titled, “General Tubman” and tells of her heroic deeds as a spy for the north during the Civil War.

Crawford, Mary. “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.” ERIC Document ED251379.

Ferris, Jeff. Go Free or Die. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc. 1988.

A fictional chapter book based upon the life of Harriet Tubman.The book is written for fourth grade and above. 

Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. Seventh Edition. New York. Knopf. 1994.

This documented work details 19th century history involving African Americans.

Gorrell, Gena K. The Story of the Underground Railroad. Delacorte Press. 1997.

This book has been written for ages 10 and up by a woman of Quaker descent.The book describes the history of the UGRR from the origins of slavery through the Civil War and beyond.

Hamilton, Virginia. Many Thousand Gone: African Americans From Slavery to Freedom. Knopf. 1993.

This book traces the history of slavery in America.It tells the history through the voices and stories of those who lived it, - Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and others.The book is designed to be read as juvenile literature.

Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad – Pocantico Hills School, Sleepy Hollow NY.the second-grade students of Pocantico Hills School created this site.It is an excellent example of learning and technology, with great activities, information, and projects involved.


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Hickman, Wayne. “Freedom Train: Building an Underground Railroad.” Social Education v63 1999


Kallen, Stuart A. Life on theUnderground Railroad. San Diego. Lucent Books. 2000.

Describes what it was like to be involved in the Underground Railroad, discussing life on the run, the lives of the trackers, conductors, and stationmasters, and the building of new lives in Canada. The book is designed as juvenile literature.

Levi Coffin House State Historic Site: An Underground Railroad Site. Lesson Plan for Grades K-12: Text and Activities.

Address: 113 US 27 North, Fountain City, IN 47341. (765) 847-2432.

McLoone, Margo. Harriet Tubman: A Photo- Illustrated Biography. Mankato, MN. 1997.

A brief biography of the woman who escaped life as a slave and then rescued hundreds of other slaves as a conductor in the underground railroad.

Mosher, Kiki. Learning About Bravery from the Life of Harriet Tubman. New York. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. (Power Kids Press) 1996.

This book demonstrates how bravery enabled Harriet Tubman, a slave, to escape to freedom, and subsequently bring more than 300 other people out of bondage.(juvenile literature)

The National Geographic Underground Railroad Site, a 1999 feature, is a wonderful interactive site.The participant is required to make choices and decisions regarding the journey out of slavery.Full of audio and video features.The site contains a map of the “trails to freedom” and a timeline.


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In 1990 Congress directed the National Park Service to study how to best interpret and commemorate the Underground Railroad, emphasizing the approximate routes taken by slaves escaping to freedom before the Civil War.This study was completed in cooperation with an advisory committee representing experts in historic preservation, African American history, United States history, and members of the general public with special interest and experience in the Underground Railroad.


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The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center educates the public about the historic struggle to abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people. The Freedom Center teaches lessons of courage and cooperation from Underground Railroad history to promote collaborative learning, dialogue, and action in order to inspire today’s freedom movements.
http://www.undergroundrailroad.org/index.asp (as accessed on 7/26/01 at 4:42 PM)

Shelton, Lois. “Indiana Underground Railroad Folklore: Western Route and Daviess County.” ERIC Document ED 332899.

Materials for teaching a unit about the UGRR including a glossary, maps, games and other activities.Suitable for fourth or fifth grade.

Tobin, Jacqueline L. and Raymond G. Dobard. Hidden In Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad.

New York. Doubleday. 1999.

This book is written for the adult reader and contains the story of Ozella McDaniel Williams and the involvement of her family in providing a link between slave-made quilts and the Underground Railroad. 

Underground Railroad, Official National Park Handbook, No. 156, Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1998.

Underground Railroad, Official Map and Guide, Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1996. 

*Purpose of Materials
The background information, maps, websites, examples of children’s literature, poem, additional readings will provide the teacher with the necessary materials to carry out the lesson.
1)Using whole group instruction, ask the question, “Think for a minute and write down the name of one hero or heroine that helped to make our country what it is today.”

2)Elicit names from students and write them on board or a blank overhead.

3)“Now, take a few minutes to write down why you think your individual was a hero or heroine. Use adjectives to describe the character traits.

4)Share responses as a total group.As each student responds place the key traits on a graphic organizer (semantic web).

5)Write “underground railroad” on the board.Initiate a discussion regarding what students already know.Utilize “overhead of migratory movements.” website:http://www.nps.gov/boaf/urmap~1.htm(as accessed 7/26/01 at 2:58)

Background Information:

The UGRR was an informal system that existed before the Civil War to help slaves escape to the northern states, Canada, Caribbean and Mexico.People who helped the slaves provided food, clothing, and shelter for the escaping slaves.Many different routes were used.

6)Share poem “Harriet Tubman” by Eloise Greenfield with total group. (see attached) 

Divide the class into two groups and choral read by alternating stanzas. Identify by group discussion the traits that Harriet Tubman displayed. (i.e., - determination, courage, bravery, belief in self, willingness to help others, perseverance).Write list on board or overhead.

7)“Let’s turn to another person who participated in the UGRR movement.”

Background Information: website: http://www.waynet.org/nonprofit/coffin.htm(as accessed on 7/26/01 at 2:57 PM)

By accessing this site you can project the picture of Levi Coffin’s home with an LCD projector.

Another site:


At this site you can take a virtual tour of the Coffin home in Fountain City, IN.

Built in 1827 and now a National Historic Landmark, the Levi Coffin house is located in Fountain City, IN.Levi Coffin (1789-1877) was a Quaker abolitionist who operated a “station” and became known as the “president” of the UGRR.It is believed that Coffin and his wife Catherine helped more than 2,000 fugitive slaves escape to freedom, using this house as a principal depot.Slaves would cross the Ohio River, and make their way to the Coffin house and then just disappear.Coffin was a well-to-do merchant who had moved from North Carolina due to his view that slaves should be given their freedom.It is said that Levi Coffin’s first recollection of slaves was seeing them driven together chained to each other.He was only seven years old at the time.He became determined to help them go free someday.Coffin’s accounts of his activities were published in an 1880 posthumous book entitled Reminiscences of Levi Coffin.

Coffin, Levi. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reported President of the Underground Railroad: Being a Brief History of the Labors of a Lifetime in Behalf of the Slave with Stories of Numberous Fugitives, Who Gained Their Freedom through His Instrumentality, and Many Other Incidents . Cincinnati: Western Tract Society, 1876.

This book has recently (1991) been edited by Ben Richmond and published by Friends United Press of Richmond, IN.

See also:

Shelton, Lois G. “Indiana Underground Railroad Folklore: Western Route and Daviess County.” ERIC Document ED332899.

8)Elicit in discussion from group the traits Levi Coffin might have displayed as a leader in the UGRR as both conductor and “president.”Write on board.

9)Explain to students that they are either to choose Harriet Tubman or Levi Coffin and write a summary paragraph that will persuade the reader that the leader displays the character traits of a hero/heroine in the UGRR.

10)To provide lesson closure, share paragraphs as a class and/or list the common character traits that these two prominent individuals displayed who were involved in the UGRR.

*Teaching Strategies
large and small group discussion


semantic web 

individual student writing

*Assessments (key questions to stimulate critical thinking)
“kid watching”

observation of group discussion

writing rubric http://web.ccsd.k12.wy.us/RBA/LA/Writing6.html

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This site has been created for sixth grade.It can be adapted to fourth grade.Include all aspects of the writing process and goals for persuasive writing.

Adaptations and/or Extensions

1)Another poem that can be used is the text of the children’s picture book titled, Harriet and the Promised Land.

Lawrence, Jacob. Harriet and the Promised Land. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

2)An activity that utilizes the rhythm of the poem so that the participants have the feeling that they are running through the woods involves asking thestudents to alternate foot tapping and clapping as they read the lines of the poem.As the poem is read aloud the momentum increases.Try this idea.It may take a few runs, but the results will be worthwhile.

3)Set up a display of trade books related to the Underground Railroad.There are many books identified in the resources list that have been written for age ten and older.Use these books as a springboard for discussion on a variety of topics related to the UGRR.



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