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Arts of Citizenship at the University of Michigan

Third Grade Lesson:
The Underground Railroad

State Student Outcome(s)
Evaluate key decisions made at critical turning points in history by assessing their implications and long-term consequences; describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of places, cultures, and settlements; describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of economic activities, trade, political activities, migration, information flow, and the interrelationships among them; describe the political and legal processes created to make decisions, seek consensus, and resolve conflicts in a free society.
Curriculum Link
Part 3, Lessons 4 and 6, A History of Ann Arbor
Key Terms
slavery, abolitionists, fugitive, “conductor,” “station”
Key Tools/Documents
Timeline; national map, Large Map #1, Signal of Liberty article “Condition of Slaves” (1843)
Guiding Questions
What was slavery? What was the Underground Railroad and why was it created? Why did slaves try to escape? Why did many escaping slaves travel through Michigan?
  • Add Civil War-1861-5 and Underground Railroad (1840s-60) to timeline as preview of lesson. Encourage students to share their previous knowledge of these two major historical events. Key points to cover include: Union (north) versus the Confederacy (South); slavery, plantations, types of crops, etc. Use large national map to show students region (the South) with highest numbers of slaves.
  • Encourage students to share their knowledge of the Underground Railroad. Key points to cover include: why it was called a “railroad;” who used the railroad, what “conductors” and “stations” were; why escaping slaves traveled through Michigan. Use large national map or small map handout to visually show path of escaping slaves from the South to Canada. Refer to Large Map #1 to show Guy Beckley’s house and other UGRR-related locations.
  • In small groups students read Signal of Liberty article “Condition of Slaves” (1843). Students should think about and write responses to two questions:
    1. Why did Robert Coxe escape from slavery? Describe several reasons.
    2. How did Robert Coxe escape?
  • In large group, students share responses to describe slave conditions and the process of escape. Points to include: how and how many white Northerners assisted escaping slaves; the definition of “fugitive” and the illegality of assisting fugitives slaves; the settlement of former slaves in Canada and their return to the U.S. after the Civil War; who “abolitionists” were and ways they fought slavery.
Supplemental Activities
  • Students create drawing of the Underground Railroad, including fugitive slaves and means of escape.
  • Students design a recruitment poster to persuade African-Americans to enlist in the First Michigan Colored Regiment. The ad should include potential reasons for fighting for the Northern side.
  • Students write a short letter to a distant relative describing their work on the Underground Railroad OR students write a short letter as a fugitive slave who has just resettled in Canada.
Invite students to use the SOS website to find at least one other document relating to African-American history in Ann Arbor.

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