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The Underground Railroad curriculum for secondary schools

Welcome to the University of Dallas' UD Reads.  This curriculum has been written by Erin Begle, an English IV teacher at MacArthur High School in Irving, TX and a UD graduate.  Erin and  Education professor Dr. Carmen Newstreet have collaborated to offer a variety of resources that are sure to enhance your students' experience and reading of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad

Essential Questions: 

  1. Why is Colson Whitehead’s choice to write this story using magical realism as a literary device, an appropriate one for this subject matter?
  2. How is Cora’s startlingly fragmented story an embodiment of our nation’s history?
  3. How does the story of The Underground Railroad manifest itself in our modern society?

Standards associated with the following Resources TEKS (World History, US Government, US History, English I-V)

To Get You Started!: 

Variety of Higher Level Thinking Lesson Plans (grades 7-12) about the Concept of the actual Underground Railroad - Scholastic

Goodheart, Adam. (2015). The Secret History of the  Underground Railroad: Eric Froner explores how it really worked. The Atlantic 

Warm-up Activities:

Children’s Literature

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
Moses: When Harriet Tubmen Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton


Song Lyrics Used for Communication:

Wade in the Water:  YouTube
Steal Away:  YouTube
Sweet Chariot:  YouTube
Follow the Drinking Gourd:  YouTube
Go Down Moses:  YouTube

Literature Circle Lessons - possible titles to complement
The Underground Railroad: 

March Trilogy (graphic novel) - by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell (suggestion by Marla Gibson, Houston Middle School, Irving ISD)
Their Eyes Were Watching God- by Zora Neale Hurston
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Americanah- by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Kindred- by Octavia Butler
Born a Crime- by Trevor Noah
How to Be an Anti Racist - by Ibram X Kendi
Between the World and Me  by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Literature Circle Schedule

Literature Circle Role Sheets

Modern Day Applications:

Potential Field Trips:

Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum (Live or Virtual Field Trips available)
      Human Rights Wing Virtual Tour of the Dallas Holocaust Museum
      Interactive Lesson “Understanding Unconscious Bias”    
      *Current Special Exhibition (until January 12, 2020) “The Fight for Civil Rights in the South”    
      *Free to all Title I schools; Irving ISD provides free bus transportation to the museum

Culminating Projects Suggestions: 

Essay prompt

“GROSS (NPR): You know, toward the end of the book, one of the character - you know, they're talking about what to do and how to help black people and who can be helped and who maybe can't be helped, so let's not spend the energy trying to save them. And so one character says, we're not all going to make it. Some of us are too far gone. Slavery has twisted their minds, an imp filling their minds with foul ideas. They've given themselves over to whiskey and its false comforts, to hopelessness and its constant devils. Those who will not cannot respect themselves. It's too late for them. So it's this debate. It's, like, is it too late for someone? And a character says, we can't save everyone, but that doesn't mean we can't try. Here's one delusion - that we can escape slavery. We can't. Its scars will never fade. And to me, like, that's what the book is really about, how the scars of slavery will never fade.”

From your perspective, what is this book really about?

Socratic Seminar

Oprah’s Book Club Discussion Questions - Students complete a Socratic Seminar starting with the questions listed here for discussion. (Students can create their own questions for multiple levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy)

Quilt Squares to assemble into classroom quilt

Quilt Codes - Students create their own quilt with art supplies and create a code for their past self to ease the journey, or a quilt that codifies their own life.

TED Talk Analyses Jigsaw

TED Talks- Jigsaw Opener - Students, in groups, pairs or individually, watch one TED Talk and present the key points to a larger group or the entire class.

Compose a Fugitive Slave Advertisement

Fugitive Slave Advertisements - Students select one name and create a backstory for the primary document listed in the Columbia University directory of fugitive slaves

Slave Advertisements from University of North Carolina, realia from the era

Supplemental Materials:

“Confronting the Reality of Slavery” - NPR Interview with Colson Whitehead “Fresh Air” Podcast

The Origins of Lynching -10 minute video

NewsELA - “Defund the Police”, “House Hearing on Reparations for Slavery Coincides with Juneteenth”

CommonLit - “EXCERPT FROM SOUTHERN HORRORS: LYNCH LAWS IN ALL ITS PHASES”, “Letter from Frederick Douglas to Harriet Tubman”

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

CDC Tuskegee Experiments Information

Harriet Tubman- Letters and activities




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