Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

Home> Teachers> Free Lesson Plans> Abolishing Slavery In America

Abolishing Slavery In AmericaAbolishing-Slavery-In-America

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two to three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • Learn what happened aboard the slave vessels Zong and Amistad.
  • Consider what each incident reveals about views of slavery in Great Britain and the United States.
  • Write an essay exploring each country's attitude toward slavery.



  1. Ask students what they know about slavery. Possible answers include the following:
    • Slavery was the practice of bringing people from Africa to the New World to work against their will and without payment for plantation owners.
    • Slavery is inhumane.
    • Slavery was the cause of the Civil War.
    • People in the northern part of the United States opposed slavery.
  2. Explain that people began using slaves for cheap labor beginning in the 1600s, and that in the early days of the United States parts of the country relied on slavery. Because of this economic dependence, many were ambivalent about the use of slaves and didn't recognize the moral dilemma that slavery represented.
  3. Show students the "Revolt Aboard the Amistad "segment in the Abolishing Slavery in America program to introduce them to two incidents aboard slave vessels that illuminate the worldwide ambivalence toward slavery in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
  4. Divide the class into groups of two or three students, and have them discuss what these two incidents reveal about people's attitudes toward slavery at the time. Have the groups consider the following questions.
    • Did most people think slavery was wrong? Explain your answer.
    • How did people in the United States view the African slaves?
    • What events helped changed people's views of slavery?
    • How did the events that took place on the Zong and the Amistad affect the status of slavery in Great Britain and the United States?
  5. For additional information on the events described in the program, send students to these Web sites:
  6. Give students time in class for research and group discussions. Then have each student write an essay that includes the following information; students can begin their essays during class and then complete them as homework.
    • The events that took place on the Zong
    • Reactions to the Zong incident in Great Britain
    • The events that took place on the Amistad
    • Reactions to the Amistad incident in the United States
    • What the events and reactions to them reveal about attitudes toward slavery at the time in Great Britain and the United States
  7. During the next class period, give students an opportunity to share their essays. Then discuss what students learned about human nature by looking at the ambivalence people felt about slavery. Ask: Can you think of recent events that reveal a similar ambivalence? In our country, what checks are in place to ensure that people do "the right thing" in situations involving moral dilemmas?

Back to Top


Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:  Students were highly engaged in class and small-group discussions; researched their topic thoroughly; produced a thoughtful, in-depth essay.
  • Two points:  Students participated in class and small-group discussions; conducted an adequate amount of research, produced a satisfactory essay.
  • One point:  Students participated minimally in class and small-group discussions; did not research their topic thoroughly; produced an incomplete essay.

Back to Top


John Quincy Adams
Definition: President of the United States from 1825-1829; he also argued the case of the Amistad rebels before the Supreme Court, basing his defense on the principle that all men have the right to be free.
Context: John Quincy Adams was successful in his bid to free the Amistad rebels; they returned to Africa in January 1842.

Definition: A Cuban slave schooner; during a mutiny in 1839, slaves took over the ship and tried to return to Africa.
Context: For two months, the Amistad wandered on the waters just off the eastern coast of the United States.

Definition: Slave on the Amistad who took charge and spearheaded the mutiny
Context: Cinque used a nail to unlock his shackles and then found knives to fight the ship's crew.

Luke Collingwood
Definition: Captain of the British slaver Zong at the time of the 1781 incident
Context: Fearing most of his cargo would die before reaching Kingston, Collingwood decided to collect the insurance money on his captives. He gave the order to jettison 132 sick or weak Africans.

Definition: An institution that allows people to own other humans and use them for forced labor
Context: In the 19th century, the economy of the southern part of the United States became dependent on slavery, which was abolished after the Civil War.

Back to Top

Academic Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • U.S. History: Era 2-Understands how the values and institutions of European life took root in the colonies and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas
  • Language Arts: Viewing -Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
NCSS has developed national guidelines for teaching social studies. To become a member of NCSS, or to view the standards online, go to
This lesson plan addresses the following thematic standards:

  • Culture
  • Time, Continuity, and Change

Back to Top