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The Transatlantic Slave Trade
The Transatlantic Slave Trade Lesson Plan
This lesson can be used for students studying The Transatlantic Slave Trade. Students will use a variety of resources, including the narrative, The Transatlantic Slave Trade. Students will understand the continuum of history by studying the former slave ports including but not limited to, New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond. They will study each port's history, and investigate its culture today.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 6-12
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 founding (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.
  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g., the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Transatlantic slave trade, the ways slaves forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
  • The role of government in various areas of public service in the early 1800s.
Time required
Anywhere from two traditional class periods to one week, depending on depth and breadth of student research
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Lead the class in a discussion of these questions:

    1. Where did your students' families come from?
    2. When did they arrive in your area?
    3. What intermediate stops were there?
    4. How did their families make the journeys?
    5. Do they know anything about how other members of their cultural or ethnic groups are distributed throughout the United States?
  2. Lead into a discussion of the African-American migrations and their role in forming American history and culture.

  1. Have the map of the migration on the overhead projector or on students' computer screens. (link to map of this migration)
  2. Hand out copies of the narrative; or, if students are online, they can read it on their screens. If the reading level of the class is low, you may opt to read and stop at intervals to check for understanding.
  3. Once the students have read through the narrative, have them start filling in any information that they can based on the following series of springboard questions:

  4. What dates, from beginning to end, frame this migration?
  5. Where is the point or where are the points of origin of the people?
  6. What was their existing circumstance in that location?
  7. Why did they leave?
  8. How many left?
  9. Where did they go?
  10. How were the destinations chosen before they embarked upon their journeys, or were they arbitrary in nature?
  11. What event or circumstance ended this migration?
  12. What is the legacy today of this migration in both the points of origin and destination?
  13. How does this migration fit in with the other migrations (can only be done if studying a group of migrations)? Are there any connections between migrations?
  14. For any unanswered questions, direct students to other resources, such as the gateway, other areas of the site, and library resources.
  15. For a culmination activity, have students research any of the Atlantic slave trade ports along the eastern and southern United States, including but not limited to New Orleans, Charleston, and New York. Divide the class in groups so all the port cities are covered. Students should be able to answer the following questions after their research:

  16. What is the population of African Americans in that area today?
  17. What evidence is there that this location was once a large slave port?
  18. What enslaved ethnic groups originally entered the States through this port?
  19. What African influences are found in the city's culture today?
  20. What was the original source of work for the enslaved population?
  21. How is that work source the same or different today?
  22. Have students present their findings in an oral presentation format. Once they have given their presentations, students should analyze commonalities and differences between the slave ports, the enslaved populations, and the cultures then and now. They should also hypothesize why certain cities have embraced more of the African cultural roots than others.

You can devise your own criteria-based rubric, depending on the depth of the research, group participation, oral presentation, and effort.

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