Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

Social Studies
Understanding Slavery

Teacher Tips

Grade Level: 5-8
Curriculum Focus: Slavery, American History, World History, American History

Project Overview
Online Components
National Standards Correlations
Using the Project in Your Classroom

Project Overview

Slavery has existed since the earliest civilizations, and still persists in parts of the world. Students today have difficulty understanding the many ways in which slavery permeated the fabric of society, but without this understanding, they cannot appreciate the Herculean effort it took to abolish the institution. This project introduces students to the broad scope of slavery throughout history, from Biblical times to recent decades. It also helps students discover how pervasive slavery was in many American institutions, including business, religion, government, and home life.

Online Components

A World of Slavery
In this overview of slavery around the world and through history, students will discover how common an institution it has been since the dawn of civilization. Students can explore many manifestations of slavery, ranging from ancient Greece to modern Asia. They'll be able to compare the ways that people were enslaved?as war captives, debtors, or based on racial attributes?and the rules that kept slaves in oppression.

A Slave on Three Continents
This section focuses on the life of a single remarkable man, Olaudah Equiano. Born free in West Africa, he was captured and enslaved at age 11. He experienced slavery in Africa, in the Caribbean and American colonies, and as a slave sailor to a British Naval officer, before he purchased his freedom and became a famous abolitionist speaker and author. Students will learn Equiano's story through his own words, by reading excerpts from his autobiography.

Witness a Slave Auction
This interactive section draws students into a slave auction in antebellum Virginia and lets them explore the ways in which slavery permeated American society and its institutions. Students can attempt to stop the auction by stepping into the shoes of those present, ranging from the auctioneer, buyer, and seller, to a justice, clergyman and newspaperman, as well as the slaves themselves. By seeing the situation through the eyes of each character, students learn how difficult it was for any single individual to stop slavery.

National Standards Correlations

The content and activities in this project help students meet the following content standards for grades 5-8, as described by theNational Center for History in the Schools.

United States History, Era 2:
Standard 1: Understands why Europeans brought enslaved Africans to their colonies
Standard 3: Understands how the values and institutions of European economic life took root in the colonies, and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas
Standard 3C: The student understands African life under slavery.

World History
Standard 5-12: Compare the economic and social importance of slavery and other forms of coerced labor in various societies from ancient times to the present.

Using the Project in Your Classroom

Slavery Throughout Time
Collaborate with your students to create a large, multi-threaded timeline. Divide a 10 foot length of a bulletin board, white board, etc. into 40 three inch segments (each segment will equal 100 years). Starting at 2000 B.C. on the left, label each section in 100 year increments. Next, draw horizontal lines across the bulletin board so that there are seven vertical sections for each region discussed in the "A World of Slavery". Divide your class into groups and assign each group an area to be responsible for. As your students use "A World of Slavery," have each group take notes on when and where slavery occurred on their assigned region. After they finish exploring "A World of Slavery," ask them to cut pieces of counting machine tape to match the period of time that slavery occurred (3 inches equals 100 years) in their assigned region. Students then summarize their notes on the cut paper and place the notes in the appropriate intervals on the board. A discussion could then be launched from the completed timeline. For example, pose the question, "Why has slavery been practiced for so long in Asia compared to the Caribbean?"

Changing and Enduring Arguments
European and American views toward slavery have changed over time. Before your students begin to explore the online feature "A Witness to Slavery," ask them to write down why they think slavery is wrong and why slavery could still exist today. Next, have them make a T-chart: one side for pro-slavery arguments and the other for anti-slavery arguments. As they explore "Witness a Slave Auction," have them fill in their charts with the arguments of both sides. When they finish, have them compare their initial statements to what they have now written. Pose these questions to start a classroom discussion on what they found: Were any arguments against slavery different than yours? What arguments against slavery were similar? Are any of the historical arguments for slavery still used today or recently (Nazi Germany)? Could you use an historical argument against slavery to persuade someone today that slavery is a violation of human rights?

Following Olaudah Equiano's Life
Use a globe or map, string, and markers (or overhead markers if using laminated maps) to map Olaudah Equiano's travels. As they read through "A Slave on Three Continents," ask students to draw dots and lines that connect the various locations. If using markers, assign two colors: one for the years he was enslaved and the other for his life as a freeman.

Profiles of the Abolitionist Movement
Ask students to note the leading figures of the Abolitionist movement as they explore the online feature "Witness a Slave Auction." Using a blank chart, they can write a brief summary about each abolitionist: who they were, what they did, where, when, and how they fought against slavery. Students then use this information to make trading cards for each leader or develop a comic book based around an abolitionist of their choice.

Navigation Bar

Home     A World of Slavery     A Slave on Three Continents     Witness a Slave Auction

Teacher Tips     Resources

Understanding Slavery: Home Page Witness a Slave Auction A Slave on Three Continents A World of Slavery Resources Teacher Tips Brazil Greece Germany Britain Roman Empire China South & Southeast Asia Egypt Zanzibar West Africa Caribbean Spanish Main North America