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Teaching Guide

Teaching Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

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Douglass’s narrative was the Twelve Years a Slave of 1845. And you could probably spend twelve years teaching this brave and revolutionary book and still not get everything out of it…but we can help you maximize whatever time you do have.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity exploring poetry inspired by Douglass’s narrative.
  • a lesson on the tense relationship between Fred Douglass and Abe Lincoln.
  • historical resources on Abolitionism, the Jim Crow Era, and the Civil War.

And more.

You're about to teach one of the most influential books ever written, and we’ll make sure you do it justice.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: This activity asks students to consider what Frederick Douglass would think about contemporary American and world politics, including the election of President Barack Obama. Students adopt the voice and style of Douglass's Narrative to write their own creative essays. Teachers should allow one class period for discussion, and assign the essay for homework.

Materials Needed: Computer with internet access and speakers

Step 1: Teachers begin by playing audio clip of NPR’s interview with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on the occasion of Obama’s election.

Step 2: Teachers lead a discussion asking students to speculate on some of the questions Prof. Gates asks:

  1. What would Douglass say?
  2. Would he think the election was an occasion for prose? Poetry? Song?
  3. Would Douglass think that Obama’s election would solve the problems Gates thinks will linger?
  4. What might Douglass think of other contemporary issues and problems?

Step 3: Teachers explain the essay assignment, encouraging students to try to imagine what Douglass might think of some contemporary issue – and also to try to adopt his voice, tone, and writing style in their own essays.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading Standards 2.3, 2.5; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 2.4, 2.5; 11th & 12th grade Reading Standards 2.4, 2.5; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3; Listening & Speaking 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

 After escaping from slavery, Frederick Douglass spent his life trying to reform American society – first trying to abolish slavery, then advocating for enfranchisement (voting rights) for African Americans and women. But what would he think if he were around today? Would he be satisfied? Would he still find plenty to criticize?

This assignment lets you imagine what Douglass would think of the world today by adopting his voice and writing your own Narrative, Part 2 – a sequel, if you will. Doing your best to imitate Douglass’s style and tone, you’ll write an essay that imagines what he would say about some contemporary issue America (or the world) is facing today.

Step 1: Listen to the audio clip of NPR’s interview with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on the occasion of Obama’s election.

Step 2: Participate in a discussion with your classmates and teacher, and respond to some of the questions Prof. Gates asks:

  1. What would Douglass say?
  2. Would he think the election was an occasion for prose? Poetry? Song?
  3. Would Douglass think that Obama’s election would solve the problems Gates thinks will linger?
  4. What might Douglass think of other contemporary issues and problems?

Step 3: For homework, write an essay in which you try to imagine what Douglass might think of some contemporary issue. For this assignment you should write in the first-person, pretending you are Douglass himself. You should try to adopt his voice, tone, and writing style in your own essay. If you need some guidance on Douglass's tone and style, see these Shmoop resources:

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3

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