History Through Picture Books and Photographs



Mary Pietsch Alexander


July 25, 2001


Clear Creek School


Bloomington, IN 47403


(Overall theme)

The purpose of this lesson is to gain knowledge and insight through picture books and photographs about African American Heroes during the Underground Railroad era.

Classroom sessions or estimated time

This is part of a three week unit of study for social studies and the genre of picture books.

5- classroom periods reading picture books

2- classroom periods for art

1- classroom celebration of sharing

45 minutes each

Grade Level(s)



The purpose of this lesson is to help children understand the historical themes told by various perspectives represented in picture books about Underground Railroad and for students to learn about significant events and people.

*Geography Standards Addressed

2.The Word in Spatial Terms

4. Places and Regions

6.Places and regions

17. The Uses of Geography

*Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards addressed

Grade 1: Home, School, and Nearby Environments

Students learn about the rights and responsibilities of citizens as they interact in home,

school, and local environments, and explore the way people live and work together

around the world.

Standard 1:1.1.2., 1.1.3

Standard 2: 1.2.5, 1.2.6, 1.2.7

Standard 3: 1.3.2,

Standard 4: 1.4.2, 1.4.5, 1.4.5

Standard 5: 1.5.3, 1.5.4



The students will become familiar with historical figures central to the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery.

The students will learn about African American heroes.

Students will learn to observe and analyze illustrations and photographs that depict history and part of visual communication.

Students will write short responses, poems, or songs to accompany their illustrations.

*Teacher Background Materials


Bial, Raymond. The Underground Railroad. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995.


Erbsen, Wayne. Log Cabin Pioneers: Stories, Songs, and Sayings. North Carolina: Native Ground Music, 2001. (Good illustrations or illustrations.)


Erdosh, George. Food and Recipes of the Civil War,

The Rosen Publishing Group, New York, PowerKids Press, 1997.( Good illustrations or illustrations.)


Ferris, Jeri. Walking the Road to Freedom: The Story about Sojourner Truth. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda, Inc.1988.


Gorrell, Gena. North Star to Freedom. Delacorte Press, New York, 1996. (Good illustrations or illustrations.)


Lawrence, Jacob. Harriet and the Promised Land. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Children, 1968.


Levine, Ellen. If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad. New York: Scholastic, 1988.


Miller, Howard. Abraham Lincoln’s Flag. New York: Thomas Publications, 1990.


Monjo, F.N, The Drinking Gourd, New York: Trumpet Club, 1970.

(I Can Read story that is good for literature circle.)


National Park Handbook, Underground Railroad,       Division of Publications, 1998.

(Teacher resource)


National Park Service, “Keys Ranch Where Time Stood Still.”  SocialEducation, vol.65, No. 3, April 2001, pgs.177-192.

(Teacher resource with lesson plans, reproducible materials, and techniques of using visual communication (photographs) in the classroom.


Pinkney, Jacob. Historical Themes, Tales and Legends: The Art of Jerry Pinkey. California African American Museum , 1998.

(Teacher resource that explains themes and techniques used by Pinkey in children's picture books.)


Rappaport, Doreen. Freedom River. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2000.

(Excellet Illustrations)



Ringold, Faith.  Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad.

Crown Publications, 1990.


Sanders, Scott. A Place Called Freedom. Aladdin Paperbacks, New York, 2001.

(Excellent Illustrations)


Thomas, Velma M. Freedoms' Children: The Passage from Emancipation to the Great Migration.Random House, New York, 2000.


Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. When Abraham Talked To The Trees. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2000.

(Excellent illustrations)


Winter, Jeanette. Follow The Drinking Gourd. New York: Knopf, 1990.









*Purpose of Materials

For teachers these resources are for developing background and finding common themes within research materials. Also, lesson plans suggestions and ideas are available to support classroom teachers and students.

An example of the kinds of historical fiction  picture books are in the bibliography to use with the students.


1. Lesson 1:During a week long immersion process, the teacher will read aloud and discuss selected historical fiction about the Underground Railroad and historical events and heroes of this era.

2. Each day a different text will be discussed. The teacher will use large chart paper to make a graphic organizer (story web) to record students responses. Overhead copy of a favorite illustration can be used to demonstrate and develop story web. These words can be used as key points and vocabulary to put on

Word Wall (a visual dictionary posted on wall for reference.)

3. Students will use post-it notes to mark pages that the illustration evoked questions or interest.

4. The students will do a written response each day in their journal and develop inquiry questions about what they are seeing the pictures or photographs.

5. Second lesson: Students will be encouraged to pick one of the stories and will create an illustration that matches their interest.  Continue reading stories.

6. Students should be allowed to either draw, paint, or make collages from magazines or newspaper to make their poster.

7. Third lesson: Give students time to share, edit, and reread their favorite author and illustrator during unit of study. Have students give three pluses and a wish feedback to each other as they develop topic ideas and bring to publishing center.


*Teaching Strategies

1. Large group story reading and sharing.

2. Small group cooperative learning groups.

3. Buddy research

4. Individual conferences on topic chosen for seed ideas for journal writing and for illustrations.

*Assessments (key questions to simulate critical thinking)


1.As a culminating activity students will display their illustrations or collages. Students will select from their journal a piece of writing to publish and post with their artwork.

2. A rubric should be developed before activity begins.

Students should determine what determines high quality, medium quality, and low quality. Teacher will use the criteria developed in given feedback and rating within the rubric parameters.

3. Teacher will be conferencing with student individually to give feedback throughout the process.

4. Students must publish one piece of writing and one illustration or collage.


Adaptations and/or Extensions

1.      Using a simple enlarged map of the Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Canada, students could make an illustrated or photo trail of significant events or people as points of interest on the Underground Railroad. Use books in above bibliography. Use the Big Dipper to locate North, South, East, and West. Locate points or stars of interest as class explores different stories in historical fiction or non-fiction.



2.      Underground Railroad Obstacle Course-set up either gym or outside area. Using mats, have teams work together to "Cross the River"  without losing any of the members.  Tell children that they can crawl or move across without using their feet. Perhaps students could hold onto a rope and instructed not to drop it as they move through Underground Railroad stations.



3. Internet resources: Follow the Drinking Gourd


July 26,2001


July 26, 2001


July 26,2001


July 26, 2001


4. Map of Indiana and locations of Underground Railroad.


July 26, 2001


In Indiana, the Underground Railroad came through Southern Indiana to Canada. The children will study the geography of Indiana and how the stars called the Drinking Gourd were used to navigate the trail.


5. Use Internet to have students explore other classrooms ideas about the Underground Railroad




6. Create songs about Underground Railroad.



 By coming and going a bird weaves its nest."


From Eisen,Armand. A Tiny Treasury of African Proverbs. Missouri:Ariel Book,1998.


Sample Song lyrics by Mary Pietsch Alexander and Mary Radut, July 26, 2001

"In the past a movement grew,

Its name was the Underground Railroad.

From the South to the North,

From the East and the West,

Following the Drinking Gourd is the best.

A few brave souls with a freedom quest,

By coming and going a bird weaves it's nest."


7. Pen pal with students from  different areas of Indiana or Canada.  Encourage the sharing of information about local history and geography.


8. Bring in photos of family and ancestors including homes, lifestyles, and events in personal lives. Photocopy pictures and have students use in simple bookmaking using the format used in the books that combine photos and illustrations to support text.


9. Rabbit Ears - Follow the Drinking Gourd (1992)

10. Critical Literature Extension: Teacher should review these and use these books according to the developmental level of their students. Here are some suggestions.

by Ntozake Shange, Michael Sporn (Illustrator) (Library Binding - December 1997) July 26, 2001.
Two Tickets to Freedom : The True Story of Ellen and William Craft, Fugitive Slaves
by Florence B. Freedman, Ezra Jack Keats (Illustrator) (Paperback - November 1989) July 26, 2001.

Sister Anne's Hands (Picture Puffins)
by Marybeth Lorbiecki, et al (Paperback - October 2000)July 26,2001.

More Than Anything Else -- by Marie Bradby, Chris K. Soentpiet (Illustrator); July 26, 2001.
Bound for the North Star : True Stories of Fugitive Slaves
by Dennis Brindell Fradin (Illustrator)July 26,2001.

Where I'm Bound
by Allen B. Ballard (Hardcover - October 2000)