• 1. Activate students' prior knowledge about slavery.
    Display for students the interactive The Underground Railroad: The Journey. Read aloud the text of The Journey as students follow along. Ask: What is a slave? Elicit from students that a slave is someone who is legally owned by another person and forced to work for that person without pay. Have students share their impressions of slavery. Discuss some of the conditions of the slaves, such as harsh working conditions, hunger, and separation from family members.


    2. Introduce the phrase “Underground Railroad.”
    Ask students to define the terms underground and railroad as they are used in everyday language. Then explain the historical meaning of this phrase. Tell students that the Underground Railroad was a group of people who secretly helped slaves travel from states where people kept slaves to states or areas where they would be free. Show students the map Underground Railroad: Routes to Freedom. Ask students to define each term in this historical context. Elicit from students that:

    • Underground means “hidden.”
    • Railroad means “path” or “route.”

    Tell students that once slaves escaped, they had to keep their experience a secret or they might be caught and returned to their lives as slaves.

    3. Navigate the Underground Railroad interactive.

    Continue to navigate through the Underground Railroad interactive. Read aloud the text as students follow along. Ask students to describe the dangers they hear about. Have students vote to choose which decisions to make as you move through the interactive.

    4. Have students brainstorm questions about the Underground Railroad.
    Ask students: What are you curious about? What would you like to learn more about?

    Extending the Learning

    Move on to the next activity in this series: The Underground Railroad Route.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • define the phrase
    • describe an escaped slave's journey to freedom

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Brainstorming
    • Discussions
    • Multimedia instruction

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

    • Theme 2:  Time, Continuity, and Change

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 1:  How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
    • Standard 17:  How to apply geography to interpret the past
  • What You’ll Need

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
    • Plug-Ins: Flash

    Physical Space

    • Classroom


    • Large-group instruction
  • Background Information

    The Underground Railroad helped people escape slavery. It was made up of secret routes, safe houses, and guides to lead slaves to places where they could be free. The Underground Railroad is a symbol of the struggle for freedom.

    Prior Knowledge

    • None


    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.

    slavery Noun

    process and condition of owning another human being or being owned by another human being.

    Underground Railroad Noun

    system used by abolitionists between 1800-1865 to help American slaves escape to free states.

    For Further Exploration

    Picture Books

    • Winter, Jeanette. Follow the Drinking Gourd. New York: Knopf, 1988.