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Teaching Guide

Teaching Abolitionism

Abolish student boredom.


Slavery. It's over. What not to like?

Well, it's difficult to travel back to a time when slavery was A-OK and people were fighting with their lives to end it.

We're definitely not going to be shackling kids together and leading them on a re-enactment of the Underground Railroad like Lena Dunham did as a kid. We're going to get through this without traumatizing your students.

In this guide you will find

  • information on key figures in the abolitionist movement.
  • tons of insightful, non-traumatizing activities.
  • links to modern articles detailing the legacy of abolitionists over a hundred years later.

It goes without saying: slavery was about as far from easy as you can get. At the very least, learning about it can be a relatively painless experience.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

1. Direct your students to this site, where they can read excerpts from Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

2. Explore with your students what the narrative reveals about slavery.

  • What makes this narrative so powerful?
  • What does it reveal about the life of a slave?
  • What does it reveal about the institution of slavery?
  • To what extent did this narrative affirm other portraits of slavery?
    • To what extent did it broaden the portrait of slavery?

3. Ask your students to write a two-paragraph introduction to the narrative, written from the perspective of an antebellum abolitionist. Encourage them to think about what image of slavery, slaves, and slaveowners abolitionists were anxious to present to the public. The following questions may help your students think about all this:

  • Why was Harriet Jacobs' story an attractive narrative among abolitionists?
  • Why did they prefer to disseminate this sort of narrative rather than David Walker's Appeal?
  • What qualities are exhibited by the slaveowner?
  • What qualities are exhibited by the slave?
  • What does this narrative reveal about slave families?

Instructions for Your Students

Slave narratives became an important tools used by abolitionists to cultivate support for their cause. One of the most powerful of these was written by Harriet Jacobs, a young woman who escaped from slavery in 1842 and published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in 1861.

Read this brief excerpt and think about what the narrative reveals about slavery and its impact in 1861.

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