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Henry's Freedom Box: Making Connections
Jenn Jicha

Grade Level:               4                                                                                                  Printer-Friendly Version                          
Time Required:        55 minutes

Purpose:     This lesson will be used during the second day of a unit on slavery and the     Underground Railroad.  This lesson allows students to recognize new information about slavery and the Underground Railroad.  It will also allow students to produce a creative writing piece using information gathered from the text.

Goals:              NYS ELA standards:

                        1. Students will read, write, listen and speak for information and understanding.

                                2. Students will read, write, listen and speak for literary response and expression.

                        Performance Indicators:

      • Collect and interpret data, facts, and ideas from unfamiliar texts.
      • Use a graphic organizer to record significant details from informational texts.
      • Produce imaginative stories and personal narratives that show insight, development, organization and effective language.


The students will:

1.         Identify new information about slavery and the Underground Railroad.

2.         Construct a K-W-L Chart, individually and as a class, on slavery and the Underground Railroad.

3.         Compose a diary entry describing their first-hand account as a slave escaping to freedom.


            A.         For Teacher Use:

Chart Paper or Computer, Projector and saved word processing document of the Whole Class K-W-L Chart on Slavery/Underground Railroad

Vocabulary Definition Worksheet

                        Vocabulary Worksheet Key

                        Journal Entry Component Criteria

            B.         For Student Use:

                        Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Individual K-W-L Plus worksheets

                        Student Dictionary

                        “List 80. Descriptive Words” from RTBL (to be passed out during the lesson)

                        Vocabulary Worksheet (to be passed out during the lesson)

                        Writing Notebook

Instructional Strategies:

This lesson plan will follow the Directed Reading Lesson (DRL/DRA) Format 1(Betts, 1946; adapted by Snowden from Graves, Juel, & Graves, 2001).

I.          Opening- Before Reading (Step 1):              8 minutes

            The class constructed an individual and whole class K-W-L Plus Chart on the topic of slavery and the Underground Railroad and completed the “What I think I know”   and “Questions I Still Have” columns in a previous lesson.  I will ask the students to have their individual K-W-L Chart worksheets out in front of them for this lesson.  I will display the whole class chart written on chart paper or projected on a screen from the computer in front of the class.  I will write the “Vocabulary to Look For” on the board from the Vocabulary Definition Worksheet.

1.         I will explain to the class, “We will be reading Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine.  Although this is a picture book, it is based on a true story about a slave named Henry Brown.  The story will give us a lot of information about slavery, the Underground Railroad and how slaves were treated.  Please keep your eye out for the special vocabulary words I have written on the board.”   I will go over the vocabulary words with the whole class and explain that we will all be reading the story silently and as they do so, they are to jot down any new facts they have learned on their K-W-L Chart under the “Facts I’ve Learned” column. (8 minutes)

II.         Body-During Reading (Step 2-4):                 42 minutes

            2.         Students will read the story silently and fill out their K-W-L Chart along the way.                          I will circulate the room to monitor the students and assist those with questions or                         need help. Students may jot down vocabulary words in their student dictionaries,                         if they wish. (20 minutes)

3.         After reading the story, I will ask the students to share their facts with a partner for 2 minutes.  I will then ask the partnerships to share some facts to be added to the whole class K-W-L Chart. Then, I will ask the students to look at the “What I think I know” column and transfer any of those that were proven true by this story into the “Facts I Learned” column.  Ask, “Did we know many facts before reading this story?” and “Was anything you thought you knew proven false?” (7 minutes)

                       I will facilitate a short discussion about the book among the whole class to check                            for comprehension.  For example, I will ask: “How would you describe Henry                                Brown?”(brave, determined, strong, hero), “What words does the author use to                            make you think that? Can you find some examples in the book for us?,” “The book                        states that many slaves did not know their birthdays.  Why did Henry consider                            March 30, 1949 his birthday?,””Why was Henry considered one of the most                                    famous slaves of the Underground Railroad?,” “Has there ever been a time when                        you felt like escaping from a situation? Where were you, what were you doing and                        what did you about it?”(segue to follow-up writing activity). (15 minutes)

III.        Closing-After Reading (Step 5)                     5 minutes

            4.         Follow-up Activities:

                        I will have students reflect on Henry Brown’s emotions and escape and ask them                         to devise their own escape in a writing exercise.  The exercise must be written in                         a first-person, diary form from the perspective of a slave.  The students may use                         diagrams and pictures to support their ideas.  I will instruct the class to use some                         of the facts from our K-W-L Chart.  The students should focus on using                                         descriptive words to describe their emotions leading up to, during and after their                         escape;  for example, how can they let the audience know they are scared,                                     excited, brave, frustrated, heartbroken, etcetera.  I will past out “List 80                                         Descriptive Words” and ask students to incorporate some of these words into                                 their writing just like Ellen Levine did in Henry’s Freedom Box.  Students will                         be asked to keep this list in their writing folders for future use.  Students will have                         three class days to work on this assignment.  I will also distribute a vocabulary                             worksheet to be completed at home or during a free period, which will be due the                         next day.


I.          Tools for Assessment and Evaluation (if applicable):

            A.         Assessment

         Vocabulary worksheet: students will complete with 80% accuracy.

         Completeness of K-W-L Chart.

         Diary/journal entry to convey comprehension of the story, knowledge of the topic and use of descriptive words. 

            B.         Evaluation

         The writing activity will be evaluated according to its adherence to journal entry component criteria.

II.         Self-assessment/reflection:

            A.         Teacher self-assessment:

         As I observe students’ reading, I will note any areas of weakness in order to address them later in the lesson, or in a future lesson.  I will also note any areas of strength, as to build on these during the lesson or future lessons.

         Did the students comprehend the story? Where they able to extrapolate historical facts? Did the students seem interested in the lesson?

            B.         Student self-assessment:

         As the student reads the story, she will recall prior knowledge about the topic and recognize and record new information on her K-W-L chart as she reads.

         During partner work, the student will share his ideas and check his understanding with his partner.  The student will further assess his comprehension and understanding during the whole class discussion and completion of the whole class K-W-L chart.

         After the lesson, the student will notice if she still has more questions about the topic, text, or assignment and ask questions as needed.

III.        Student Feedback and/or Assessment of Instruction:

         I will ask the students to reflect on this lesson in their writing notebooks, What was one thing you liked  about this book/assignment/lesson?  What was one thing you didn’t like about this book/assignment/lesson?”

Adapted by Jenn Jicha (2008) from: Henry’s Freedom Box Teaching Resources (, 2008.)

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2009 Jenn Jicha
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Updated: September 9, 2009