Powerful Slavery and Civil War Learning Extensions

Allison Friedman

Storyworks’s most recent nonfiction feature will introduce your students to one of our favorite historical heroes: Robert Smalls. During the Civil War, desperate to free his family from slavery, Smalls risked his life to commandeer a Southern ship and steer it towards freedom.

This thrilling story is a perfect jumping-off point to further learning about slavery in America and the Civil War. Here are a few resources to get you and your students started:

TO READ: A choose-your-own-adventure book about the Civil War

TO DO: Small-group discussion

We’ve already raved on this blog about the “You Choose: History” books, which let kids navigate their own way through historical events. In the Civil War installment, they’ll have to choose between three main paths: joining the Union Army, joining the Confederate army, or remaining a civilian.

LEARNING TASK: Divide students into groups of three and assign each one a different path through the book. After they’ve each read through their particular storyline, have them come together as a group to share what they read with each other.

TO EXPLORE: An interactive website about the Underground Railroad

TO DO: A newspaper article

With an engaging historical-fiction narrative, fact-packed photo slideshows, and fascinating primary documents, this multimedia site leads students through the harrowing journey of an escaped slave: from the hardships of life on a plantation, through the dangerous journey north, to the bittersweet reality of reaching freedom.

LEARNING TASK: Have students imagine they are a mid-1800s Northern newspaper reporter and write an article about a former slave who just escaped to freedom. They should include at least five details from the website in their articles.

TO WATCH: A mini video biography of Frederick Douglass

TO DO: A compare-and-contrast essay

This short video offers a brief overview of the life of Frederick Douglass, another former slave who, like Robert Smalls, escaped to freedom and became a respected political leader.

LEARNING TASK: After you watch the video as a class, have students research Frederick Douglass independently online. Then have them write a short essay comparing Douglass’s life story with that of Robert Smalls.

TO READ: A detail-packed book about slavery in America


Written in an engaging question-and-answer format, this simple yet informative book addresses a range of questions children may have about slavery—everything from “Why did slavery start in America?” to “What would you eat?”

LEARNING TASK: Before students read the book, have them complete the top two boxes of this KWLH chart. After they’ve finished reading, have them complete the bottom two boxes.

We hope these learning extensions spark even more curiosity in your students! As always, let us know if you found any awesome learning extensions of your own!

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