Slavery—The People Could Fly | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G7:M3

Slavery—The People Could Fly

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In this eight-week module, students explore the life of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave and noted abolitionist who wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The module focuses on the questions of what makes stories powerful and on understanding an author’s purpose. In addition, students analyze how writers use figurative language and word choice to convey meaning. In Unit 1, a recommended read-aloud of The People Could Fly introduces the topic and the question that connects all three units in the module: What gives stories and poems their enduring power? Next, students build the background knowledge that will allow them to more fully understand the context of the Narrative:  they learn about slavery, Douglass’s life, and the debate over slavery in the United States before the Civil War. The Narrative is a compelling, complex, and somewhat lengthy text; in this module, students read five excerpts from the text. In Unit 1, they read the first two of those excerpts, building their capacity for making sense of this complex text and learning the routines that will guide their work for the remainder of the module. Then students study poetry about slavery. They learn how to read and analyze a poem, and are introduced to the tools that poets and other writers use to make stories powerful: word choice and figurative language.

Unit 2 centers on the analysis of excerpts from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Students read three excerpts, analyze how each excerpt served Douglass’s purpose, and consider how he used language to convey meaning. They have consistent practice with short constructed responses that use evidence from the text.  The End of Unit 2 Assessment is an essay in which students explain how the Narrative conveyed Douglass’s purpose and distinguished his position from that of others (RI.7.6). In addition, students develop a clearer understanding of how sentences are constructed, and they use this understanding to help them read and write (L.7.1). In Unit 3, students write their own powerful story, using Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery[1] as a mentor text. They select one event from the Narrative and rewrite it as a picture book for younger students, making sure that the story they create is powerful, just as the stories they have been reading are powerful. This final performance task addresses  ELA standards W.7.3, W.7.4, W.7.5, W.7.9, W.7.11, L.7.1, L.7.2, L.7.3, and L.7.6.


[1] This children’s book is integral to several lessons in this module, and is widely available in public and school libraries. However, a free alternative children’s book, Turning the Page–Frederick Douglass Learns to Read, and corresponding alternate lessons are now available within Unit 2 and Unit 3 to accommodate schools/districts that are not able to secure a copy of Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery. 

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What gives stories and poems their enduring power?
  • How did Douglass’s purpose and audience shape how he told his story?
  • When you write a story, how do your purpose and audience shape how you tell that story? How can you use language, images, and theme to give the story you write enduring power?
  • Stories and poems have enduring power because they tell about important or interesting events, people, and places; they have themes that help readers understand the world and often empower people; and they use powerful language and powerful images.
  • Douglass wrote the Narrative to convince his audience that slavery should be abolished. He responded to the reasons that some people gave to justify slavery, and showed why they were mistaken.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read literature and informational text about slavery, abolition, and Douglass. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies Practices and Themes to support potential interdisciplinary connections to this compelling content.

These intentional connections are described below.

Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the New York State Common Core K–8 Social Studies Framework.

Social Studies Practices, Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence, Grades 5–8

  • Define and frame questions about events and the world in which we live and use evidence to answer these questions 
  • Identify, describe, and evaluate evidence about events from diverse sources (including written documents, works of art, photographs, charts and graphs, artifacts, oral traditions, and other primary and secondary sources)
  • Analyze evidence in terms of content, authorship, point of view, purpose, and format; identify bias; explain the role of bias and audience in presenting arguments or evidence 
  • Describe and analyze arguments of others 
  • Create meaningful and persuasive understandings of the past by fusing disparate and relevant evidence from primary and secondary sources  

Social Studies Key Ideas and Conceptual Understandings, Grade 7

  • 7.2e Over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery grew in the colonies. Enslaved Africans utilized a variety of strategies to both survive and resist their conditions.
  • 7.7b Enslaved African Americans resisted slavery in various ways. The abolitionist movement also worked to raise awareness and generate resistance to the institution of slavery.

Texts to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.


Text Quantity ISBNs
The People Could Fly: The Picture Book
by Virginia Hamilton
Teacher copy only
ISBN: 978- 0375824050, 0375824057
Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery
by William Miller
Teacher copy only
ISBN: 978-1880000427, 1880000423
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
by Frederick Douglass

Module-at-a-Glance

Each module is approximately 8 weeks of instruction broken into 3 units. The "week at a glance" chart in the curriculum map gives the big picture, breaking down the module into a detailed week-by-week view. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.

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