Frederick Douglass Unit Plan

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

10 reasons to teach Frederick Douglass plus a link to my unit plan PDF

As I promised last week in my post about Frederick Douglass graphic essays, I’m providing a link at the bottom of this post to a PDF of my unit of instruction for The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Although this unit was designed for regular, in-person teaching, its activities and resources could be incorporated as part of a distance learning plan.

One more note: this plan isn’t perfect. Rarely does any topic or book I teach go exactly the way I want it to. However, this is my starting point, my game plan, if you will, for approaching this wonderful book that many of my former students have told me is one of their favorites from my classes.

But first, why teach Frederick Douglass’ narrative?

Here are ten reasons, in no particular order, of why we all should be teaching Frederick Douglass to our middle and high school students.

  1. So kids read an eyewitness account of the institution of American slavery.
  2. So kids understand the dehumanizing effects of slavery and that dehumanizing language and actions are used by oppressors around the world still today .
  3. So kids can recognize directly the connection between the horrors of American slavery and its legacy… racial strife in America today.
  4. So kids understand the power of reading and, more generally, education.
  5. So students know the risks Douglass took in telling the world about the horrors of slavery.
  6. So kids understand the roots of racism in the United States as expressed in the inhumane and abusive treatment of Africa-Americans, and how those roots continue to reveal themselves today.
  7. So students can understand connections between the America of 1845, when Douglass’ narrative was first published, and the America of 2020.
  8. To learn the strength of powerful arguments told through both prose and poetry.
  9. To be inspired and to work for a better world.
  10. To learn that no matter how tough life gets, others have gone before them and survived their own equally harrowing ordeals.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting links to the resources and handouts listed in the body of the unit plan. Check back tomorrow to download those links.

Whenever I teach Frederick Douglass, I truly desire that students read the entire text and understand and appreciate its tough lessons, grim realities and inspiring anecdotes. To that end, each chapter includes…

  • traditional reading comprehension questions
  • discussion starters
  • a drawing/sketch activity
  • collaborative textual analysis
  • brief, low-stakes presentations
  • low-stakes written responses
  • cloze activities
  • vocabulary instruction
  • a culminating argument essay

And of course, based on the particular mix of students in my classes, each year is different when I teach Douglass. As a result, some years I design on-the-fly, ancillary activities that tend to be more creative. During Chapter 10, the longest chapter (by far!) of the book, you may feel — as I do — that students would enjoy some creative artistic projects.

In the past I’ve had students work on these activities as they listen to Chapter 10 from an audio CD or a streamed service. It’s been a beneficial way to help students persevere through the longest chapter in the book while letting their creative juices flow.

One year, students located passages in the chapter that revealed one of Douglass’ personality traits and incorporated that passage into a drawn portrait. Another project asked students to create an illustration of the ships in Chesapeake Bay that included a passage from text in the background of the illustration.

Without further ado…

Click the link below for the PDF of my Frederick Douglass unit. Please contact me with any questions and check in tomorrow for links to the handouts and other resources.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your ideas and comments about this unit plan. What could I do better? What have I left out? Don’t forget to stop by tomorrow when I’ll be sharing the links and handouts (shown in boldface) specified in the unit plan.

In closing, read this post about another project that uses Frederick Douglass’ narrative.

Published by marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

3 thoughts on “Frederick Douglass Unit Plan

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