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Frederick Douglass, Non-Fiction Analysis to use for ANY Novel with Slavery Theme

Laura Randazzo
Grade Levels
8th - 11th, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschool
Formats Included
  • PDF
7-page PDF
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Laura Randazzo


The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a compelling autobiography and provides an honest view of the harshness of life for African-American slaves in the 1800s. Use this 45-minute lesson that includes a slice of Douglass’ narrative to show your students the ugly reality of life in pre-Civil War America.

This package includes a two-page excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ book (in public domain) in which he details battling Mr. Covey, an abusive slave owner. After students read the passage, they complete an 8-question worksheet that requires them to dig back into the text, emphasizing analysis and interference of the material. Once you’ve discussed the answers as a class, then show your students a letter written in 1865 by a former slave to his master. The letter is filled with candor, grace, and even a bit of dry humor. Another series of deep-thinking questions accompanies the assignment. You could split the two different texts and question sets into two separate lessons, but I like to compare-and-contrast the two men’s experiences and all of the material usually fits well into one class period.

These materials were designed to stand on their own and would work just as well for a history class as an English class. I, however, use these materials with my high school students’ study of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I use this lesson the day after the class has read ch. 8 of the novel, when Huck discovers Jim hiding out on Jackson’s Island and Jim reveals his reasons for running away. By the end of the period, the class has a good understanding of the harsh conditions that Jim and the other slaves faced. As an additional homework assignment, I have my students write a letter from Jim to Miss Watson explaining his reasons for leaving.

I hope you like this lesson, which will keep your students busy with Common Core-aligned tasks.

Want more lesson materials to excite your students as they get to know Huck and Jim?

Click here to view my catalog of Huckleberry Finn lesson materials

Thanks for stopping by!

Cover image credit: George Kendall Warren, National Archives and Records Administration, WikiMedia Commons, Public domain

Total Pages
7-page PDF
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
45 minutes
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.


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