History Through Words: Frederick Douglass

By: Amy Samuels



Students will perform a picture analysis. Afterwards, a passage will be read from a narrative in Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom and then complete the Pick-a-Pair worksheet.

Keywords: Frederick Douglass slavery treatment abolition Middle Passage


Students will view a photograph of a model of a Middle Passage ship and respond to spiral-questions elicited by the teacher in order to imagine what slaves had to endure in the early stages of slavery.
Students will read a passage and identify terms and adjectives that are impactful in order to describe conditions and treatment of slaves.
Students will be able to compare and contrast terms found in the passage in order to assess their understanding of terms and adjectives used by a slave to describe his life.
Students will be able to respond to a writing prompt using terms found in the passage in order to exemplify comprehension of a narrative during a slave era and possibly express their own views and ideas through writing.


American History
Standard 1: Use research and inquiry skills to analyze American history using primary and secondary sources. (SS.912.A.1)
Civics and Government
Demonstrate an understanding of the origins and purposes of government, law, and the American political system. (SS.912.C.1)
Language Arts
The student uses multiple strategies to develop grade appropriate vocabulary. (LA.1112.1.6)
The student uses a variety of strategies to comprehend grade level text. (LA.1112.1.7)
The student identifies, analyzes, and applies knowledge of the elements of a variety of non-fiction, informational, and expository texts to demonstrate an understanding of the information presented. (LA.1112.2.2)


Academic Preparation

This lesson should be completed after some discussion of slavery has taken place.
The teacher should:
-prepare the photo ahead of time in order familarize themself and to avoid any delay of class time
-briefly research a few of the conditions and occurrences on a slave ship during the Middle Passage
-prepare spiral-questions to elicit during the picture analysis
-read the passage from the Frederick Douglass narrative ahead of time in order to address any student questions that may arise throughout the activity


1. After the teacher projects the photograph (see weblink in resources) in the front of the room, allow appropriate wait-time so students may begin to view objects and shapes.
2. Notify students that “raising your hand” is important as “blurting out” will ruin the activity. Next, begin with the spiral-questioning with appropriate wait-time included.
Possible Spiral-Questions:
-What do you “see” in the photograph?
-How are they dressed? Why?
-Why are there different “levels” on the ship?
-How would it “feel” to be on the different levels? Why?
-Explain what is “happening” in the photograph?
-Do you think the people below ever come to the top? When? Why?
3. When the teacher has exhausted all of the details and reasoning concerning the photographs (conditions and occurrences) on a slave ship during the Middle Passage was discussed, take away the image.
4. Hand out the reading passage (see PDF attachment) and prepare students for what they are about to read by introducing them to the main character and what situation is occurring in his life.
5. Play the recording from the Lit2Go collection (see link), read the passage aloud, or allow students to take-turns reading.
6. Encourage students to highlight, underline, or circle terms that have an impact on them as a reader of a slave narrative. They may denote as many terms as possible, but will need at least 10 for the post-reading activity.
7. When the reading is finished, pair the students and allow them to discuss the reading and terms they chose to denote along with reasons why.
8. Next, hand out the Pick-a-Pair worksheet (see PDF attachment) and explain the directions to students while reviewing a sample in front of the room. Leave the model in front of the room so all students may refer to this during the activity.
9. Allow the students to work on the activity for as much time as needed in order to create a quality product.
10. When the students finish, the teacher may randomly pick students to read one pair of their terms and how they compare and contrast.


The first assessment used in the classroom for students will be informally implemented by the instructor through hearing the unique responses during the picture analysis. Every student should offer responses related to what is in the photograph.
The second assessment will be observing students highlight, underline, or circle terms during the reading of the passage. The teacher should monitor discussion of content of the passage afterwards and make sure the Pick-a-Pair worksheet is correctly competed and displays accurate understanding of vocabulary and terms.

Extensions and Adaptations

Optional Writing Prompt(s) to be completed after the Pick-a-Pair worksheet:
1. In 3 paragraphs or more, describe a step-by-step process of how you would escape Mr. Covey's farm during the events that took place or what you imagine will take place in the near future. In your response, please be sure to remain relevant to the time period, resources available, and geographic region of the nation.
2. After reading the difficult challenge of "breaking the oxen", write about a time period in your life that you were given such a daunting challenge or issue. In 3 paraphraphs or more, explain various characters involved in your challenge, describe the challenge or issue, and provide a detailed explanation of how you overcame the challenge or issue.

Estimated Lesson Duration

3hr 50min


  • Florida Center for Instructional Technology, Lit2Go, Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (London: Partridge and Oakey, 1868)


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