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Title: Freedmen's Bureau

Subject: Reconstruction
Grade Level(s): Elementary
Author(s): Janet Batlan, Deborah Spitzer
School: Cardinal Forest ES
Lesson Time: two to three class periods

Topics Covered:
African Americans
Southern States
Time Periods Covered:
Civil War & Reconstruction, 1850-1877

Part 1

Essential Learning Description

To get an understanding of the African American feelings upon learning that they were freed and the ramifications of that freedom after the Civil War.

National History Standards (Historical Thinking Standards):
2. Historical Comprehension
3. Historical Analysis & Interpretation
5. Historical Issues

Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS):
Grade 4
Grade 6
Grade 7
Grade 11

Learning Strategy Objectives:
1. Tell What You Know (Activate Prior Knowledge)
2. Make Predictions
3. Make Inferences
5. Use Resources
8. Use/Create Graphic Organizers
10. Cooperate
11. Use Imagery

Part 2


Evaluation will be teacher observation based upon depth of final discussion, visual organizers, reader’s theater skit and mind map posters.

Instructional Strategies


As a homework assignment or class activity, create a Mind Map using what you know about the Reconstruction period in US history. See template. Collect finished product and provide time to share and compare later at the end of this unit.

Day 1

  1. Read “Free at Last” poem on page 80 of Read Alouds and Primary Sources and ask the students, “How did it make you feel?” (5 minutes)
  2. Hand out Word Splash using the bolded vocabulary words from the POS unit Civil War and Reconstruction. Divide the class into mixed ability groups of 3 or 4 students and ask them to write one brief paragraph using all of the words. Allow time for whole class sharing and discussion of vocabulary. (20 minutes if the class has had prior opportunities to use this technique, longer if not).
  3. Present an overhead depicting the Virginia landscape following the Civil War and ask the students to describe what they see in the picture. Have students predict changes that might occur in the South now that slavery is illegal. (5 minutes)
  4. Tell the students that they have been freed. A law was just passed freeing them from their parents! Each student must decide his or her own fate. Cards will be passed out with the following options:
    • Remain with family
    • Live as far away from the family as possible
    • Live independently but close to home.

Whole class discussion of the pros and cons of each option to include survival needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Use a “T” chart on an overhead to help \visualize the discussion. (20 minutes)

Day Two

Discuss the idea of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. (15 minutes) AmendmentXIII (the Thirteenth Amendment) of the United States Constitution states: Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. (Note: This is a big reason why Jim Crow laws were passed and enforced. Many times the sheriff received payment for the criminals whose punishment was to work off their sentence.)

  • How do you think the slaves felt?
  • What would they do now?
  • Where would they go?
  • How would they survive?
  1. Divide the class into groups of 2 or 3. Each group will be given graphic organizers to fill out predicting the needs of freed slaves. Give them 5 minutes to fill these out in their small groups.
  2. Teacher lists the “needs” on the board/overhead and discusses findings with the students. (10 minutes)
  3. The class will receive graphic organizers predicting how the Freedmen’s Bureau can help the newly freed slaves. Give them 5 minutes to fill these out in their small groups.
  4. Teacher lists the actions of the Freedmen’s Bureau on the board/overhead and discusses findings with the students comparing it to the needs that were identified. (10 minutes)

Day 3

  1. Have children regroup into larger groups of 6 or 8 (mixed abilities), pairing half of the group representing the Freedmen’s Bureau with half representing the freed slaves group. Members compare their graphic organizers. Children should make predictions about how each group felt when their needs or assumptions were or were not fulfilled. Teacher may write lists of common predictions on board. (10-15 minutes)
  2. Have these larger groups prepare a Reader’s Theater using a handout (template). (20 minutes)

Day 4

Students share their writings with entire class during their Language Arts time or on the following day. (45 minutes)

Materials and Resources



  1. “Free at Last” Read Alouds and Primary Sources. Scott Foresman Virginia Social Studies. Copyright, 2003, Pearson Education, Inc. (page 80)
  2. Creating Reader’s Theater – Habits of Mind. National Council for History Education, Inc.
  3. Mathew Brady’s Illustrated History of The Civil War, Benson J. Lossing. Portland House, a Division of Random House Value Publishing Inc. NYNY. (Page 441)
  4. United States Constitution

Extended/Advanced Adjustments:
Reader’s Theater is an opportunity for differentiation. Teacher may work with a small group to guide them through creating the Reader’s Theater.

Attachment(s) (html documents)

Mind Map Directions & Rubric
Word Splash
Readers' Theater Directions
Example of Readers' Theater
Readers' Theater Rubric
Readers' Theater Template

Download/Print (Word .doc format)