Browse By Migrations Geography Timeline Source Materials Education Materials Search
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Streams of Time Lesson Plan: Visually Organizing the History of the Atlantic Slave Trade
Students should use this lesson plan with The Transatlantic Slave Trade, focusing on the segments "Capture and Enslavement," "Development of a Trade," and "Suppression of Slave Trade." Students will create a visual organizer in the form of a color coded triple-timeline to help them understand the chronological streams that flow through the essay; this activity should be conducted either in preparation with or in conjunction with reading the essay rather than as a follow-up. The organizer reinforces the written word for visual learners and assists them in identifying relationships between the three sections of the essay. This lesson is designed for middle school students, grades six-eight.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • Growth and change in the European colonies during the two centuries following their foundings (e.g., the arrival of Africans in the European colonies in the 17th century, rapid increase of slave importation in the 18th century).
  • Elements of African slavery during the colonial period in North America (e.g. relocation of enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and North America, the slave trade and "the middle passage").
  • Patterns of indentured servitude and influences on slavery.
  • The social, cultural, and political events that shaped African slavery in colonial America.
Time required
One 50-minute class period or possibly longer, depending on the amount of outside reading and written work assigned.
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Direct students to write the current date on a piece of paper and then to jot down a list of five events that have occurred in their lives since they woke up in the morning.
  2. Collect their answers and ask them:

    1. Would a historian 100 years from now be able to reconstruct the life of a 21st century student in a U.S. school from just one list?
    2. If the historian had many lists, would the reconstruction be more reliable?
    3. If a historian were to see the same item on multiple lists, would that be significant and why?
  3. Discuss if there might be anything on the lists to suggest cause and effect relationships, and explain what that means if students are uncertain.

  1. Direct students to read The Transatlantic Slave Trade, focusing on the sections of "Capture and Enslavement," "Development of Trade," and "Suppression of Slave Trade."
  2. Divide students into three teams and provide each team with construction paper of a single color. Assign each of the three teams one of the above essay sections.
  3. Ask students to review their section for key events and their dates, and then create a single entry for each date and related event. A single piece of construction paper should include a date, a heading identifying the event, and a short description of the event. Once each page has been created, the group will organize all their pages chronologically into a timeline.
  4. When all groups have created their entry pages and organized them into a timeline, ask them to combine their timelines, merging the three streams from the three sections into a single timeline. Depending on the physical characteristics of the classroom, this may be done on the wall (or walls) either vertically or horizontally.

1. Once the single timeline has been organized, ask students where there are long breaks in activity. Ask students to determine if some events seem clustered.

2. Ask students to identify instances where there is a cause-effect relationship. Have the class discuss whether there are many cause-effect relationships between the three sections over the entire span of the timeline. Discuss if information contained in one of these streams tended to be the "cause," or if the three interrelated equally.

3. Ask students to write three paragraphs or a journal entry self-evaluating three aspects of the lesson:

  • How effectively did the group work as a whole and what contribution did you make to its effectiveness?
  • What, if anything, did the visual organizing of the essay into timelines add to your understanding of the Transatlantic slave trade?
  • What single event that you learned about the Transatlantic slave trade do you believe is most significant, and why?
  • Evaluate on a five-point scale (which may be multiplied for weighting) or five letter-grade rubric as follows:

    Grading Elements Points/Grade
    No response 0/F
    Response does not address all three questions; shows little insight; offers few ideas; and has many technical problems 1/D
    Response addresses all three questions; shows some insight; provides a general response; and writing has some technical problems 2/C
    Response addresses all three questions; shows some insight; provides some specifics; and demonstrates most technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 3/B
    Response addresses all three questions; shows originality and insight; provides specifics; and demonstrates technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 4/A

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center's digital exhibition, The African Presence in America: 1492-1992, includes a general bibliography, children's bibliography, teacher resources, and a timeline (including segments of specific time periods as well as the full timeline) at:
    • Many commercially-produced or Internet web sites also include timelines for U.S. and world history. For example, Timelines of History at includes timelines accessed by chronology, geography, and subject. Donna Campbell's Gonzaga University site includes political, social and literary entries with an abundance of links providing images and detailed information:
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • Art/Graphic Design: Students may wish to illustrate many of the timeline events or to create a mural incorporating the dates, events, and related images generated by the essay.
    • Social Studies: Students may wish to compare and contrast the timeline(s) they created from the essay with a commercially generated world history timeline of the same era. For a long-range project, students might generate chapter timelines from their textbook on construction paper of a fourth color, looking for overlaps between their text and the essay and additional cause-effect relationships.
    Home About Glossary The New York Public Library
    Privacy Policy | Rules & Regulations | Using the Internet | Website Terms & Conditions

    © The New York Public Library, 2005.