Lesson Plan

Routes of the Underground Railroad

A black and white engraving showing a group of African Americans huddled together.
Would you risk your life to escape slavery?

Library of Congress

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Grade Level:
Seventh Grade-Twelfth Grade
African American History and Culture, Community, Government, History, Slavery, Social Studies
One to two class sessions.
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Reading Science and Technical Subjects RST (9-10).3, Speaking and Listening SL (9-10).2
liberty, Slavery, Abolition, Underground Railroad


Students will map the routes of the Underground Railroad network, and learn about its secret code words and symbols.


Students become aware of how vast and complex the network of the Underground Railroad was, while gaining an understanding of the many variables involved in escape and how secrecy was maintained.  


  • "Write-on, wipe-off" desk maps of the United States, showing the physical and political boundaries.
    • If these are not available to the teacher, outline maps can be used. Here are some good, basic political maps of the U.S. from National Geographic. 
    • Another option for this exercise is the students could use political and physical maps from their atlases or textbooks, and use tracing paper to map their routes for this activity.

Before the lesson:

  • Photocopy handouts of the Underground Railroad routes.
  • Prepare physical and political U.S. desk maps (write-on/wipe-off or outline paper). Should have enough maps for student groups working in pairs or groups of three at the most.




The mapping activity shows the routes to freedom that students chose. Teachers could more formally assess by asking students to explain (either verbally or in written form) why they chose the routes, or what changes they made after receiving the physical map, if any.

Enslaved Africans often used the lyrics of songs to communicate information about the routes to freedom of the Underground Railroad (such as Follow the Drinking Gourd). Now that students have attempted to make this journey using the mapping activity, have them write the lyrics for a song that would help others to know details and tips about the best escape route from South Carolina.The students may enjoy this interesting web site about the meaning of the song Follow the Drinking Gourd from NASA.

Park Connections

This lesson plan helps students understand the promise and paradox of liberty granted in our nation's founding documents.


National Geographic has an excellent web simulation of the Underground Railroad that students can do independently.

Additional Resources

Print resources:
Ayres, Katherine. North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Yearling Books, 2000.

Ayres, Katherine. Stealing South. Yearling Books, 2002.

Bial, Raymond. The Underground Railroad. Houghton-Mifflin, 1999

Blockson, Charles L. African Americans in Pennsylvania: Above Ground and Underground: An Illustrated Guide. RB Books, 2001.

Fradin, Dennis Brindell. Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Hanson, Joyce and Gary McGowan, & James Ransome. Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad. Cricket Books, 2003.

Lasky, Kathryn. True North: A Novel of the Underground Railroad. Scholastic, 1998.

Sterling, Dorothy. Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman. Scholastic, 1991.

Switala, William J. Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania. Stackpole Books, 2001.

Web Resources:
The National Park Service Underground Railroad Web Site


The History Channel's Underground Railroad Web Site

Library of Congress African American Odyssey Web Site

National Geographic Underground Railroad Simulation Web Site

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

PBS Underground Railroad-Africans in America Web Site

NASA Web Site that explains the meaning of the song Follow the Drinking Gourd


Abolitionist, Anti-slavery, Fugitive, Underground Railroad