Slave Spirituals

By: Amy Samuels



Students will listen to slave spirituals and analyze the lyrics in order to identify common themes presented in these songs. Students will construct a venn diagram in order to compare and contrast information identified.

Keywords: slavery slave spirituals


Students will compare and contrast slave spirituals in order to identify common themes presented in these songs.


Standard 4: Demonstrate an understanding of the domestic and international causes, course, and consequences of westward expansion. (SS.8.A.4)
11. Examine the aspects of slave culture including plantation life, resistance efforts, and the role of the slaves' spiritual system. (SS.8.A.4.11)


Academic Preparation

This lesson should be completed during a unit on slavery.
Students will need computer access in order to retrieve the songs and lyrics from


Display the word SLAVERY. Ask students to brainstorm a list of words and ideas that come to mind when they read or hear the word.
Ask students to share their list with a shoulder partner.
Discuss responses in large group.
Refer students to the objective and explain that today's lesson focuses on slave spirituals.
Ask students if they know anything about spirituals. Discuss their responses in large group.
Explain that spirituals were songs sung by slaves to explain the difficult conditions of slavery. Spirituals were often sung while slaves were at work in the fields or in other areas. Some of the songs carried secret messages helping to identify means of escape or important information regarding escape strategies. It is important to recognize the messages in spirituals were very covert (hidden, concealed) so as not to expose the message or meaning to those outside the slave community. Today spirituals have come to be celebrated as American heritage.
Explain to students that they are going to hear a very famous spiritual called "Swing Low Sweet Chariot". Ask students to listen carefully to the song and try to identify what message the song might be trying to send.
Play "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" for students.
Facilitate a large group discussion regarding the song. Questions such as 1) What did you hear, 2) What message do you think the spiritual was trying to send, 3) When do you think this spiritual might be sung, 4) Were there any secret words and/or messages sent by the song.
Explain to students that they are going to work with a partner for the following activity.
Assign each partner pairing one of the following spirituals:
"Nobody Knows the Trouble I See, Lord"
"Children, We All Shall Be Free"
"Children, You'll Be Called Upon"
"Give Me Jesus"
"Go Down Moses"
"In the River of Jordan"
"This Old Time Religion"
"Come Let Us All Go Down"
Instruct students to access the spritual and lyrics from the following website:
After listening to their assigned spiritual and carefully examining the lyrics, students will prepare a venn diagram to compare and contrast their assigned spiritual to "Swing Low Sweet Chariot". Students should identify at least three similarities between the songs and three differences.


Students will be assessed through the accuracy of their responses in the venn diagram.

Extensions and Adaptations

If an extension activity is desired, working in pairs, students could create their own spiritual. Students could either submit a written version of the lyrics for their assignment or perform their spiritual in song form in front of the class.

Estimated Lesson Duration

1hr 00min