Jefferson and Slavery — For ELD Students

Lesson Plan


Grade Level

High School

Author Info

Heather Moore
Arcadia High School
180 Campus Dr
Arcadia, CA 91740

Type of Lesson

Cooperative Learning


1-2 class periods

Interdisciplinary Connections

Quote analysis and decoding techniques



Students engage in a thoughtful and academic discussion about Jefferson and slavery after having worked through key quotes and primary sources regarding the topic.

Prior Knowledge

Students should have a good working knowledge of Jefferson’s philosophy regarding human rights, his work on the Declaration of Independence, and the concept of slavery. It is best if they have already read the handout “The Life of Thomas Jefferson” biography for ELD students section on slavery (preferably as homework the night before).

State Standards

CA Skill Standards for Social Studies:

Historical Interpretation

3.Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

CA Content Standards for American History:

11.1 Students analyze the significant events in the founding of the nation and its attempts to realize the philosophy of government described in the Declaration of Independence.

11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights.

Common Core Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies:

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text

8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to articulate, whether lingually or visually, Jefferson’s view on slavery, understand the contradictions within Jefferson’s life, and philosophically evaluate Jefferson’s character and views with regards to slavery and liberty.

Additional Learning Outcomes

Students will engage in an academic and philosophical conversation, whether orally or on paper as they feel comfortable, with regards to Jefferson and slavery.

Essential Questions

  1. How would you describe Jefferson’s thoughts about slavery? Do his actions and his words go together or not?
  2. Do you think Thomas Jefferson was a good person? Why or why not?
  3. Do the good things that Jefferson did for America make up for the fact that he owned slaves? Why or why not?
  4. Can we judge Thomas Jefferson by our thoughts and views today or should we only think about him in the way that society was back then? Why or why not?


  1. 5 minutes
    Warm Up:Distribute handouts “Thomas Jefferson and Slavery”Read “Part 1: Information” as a class to give a brief overview of Jefferson and slavery.
  2. 2 minutes
    Transition:Divide class into 6 groups. Assign each group one of the six quotes on the handout and direct students to decode it to figure out what it means. Provide dictionaries — both English and translating — to students.
  3. 25 minutes
    Activity Part 2:Facilitate as students decode their quote, draw, and write its meaning. (about 15 minutes)Have a representative from each group share the meaning that they came up with while students in other groups write it onto their paper. Use a document camera to share images or have another student from the group draw it on the board. (about 10 minutes)
  4. 30 minutes
    Activity Part 3:(This part may be edited out for time.)Display 3 pages from Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book either using overhead technology or printing them as handouts:Page 29:

    Page 25:

    Page 52:

    (See Note to Teachers in the handout file for more information on these excerpts)

    Discuss with students as a group, pointing out how enslaved African-Americans are depicted in the book, what types of items they were provided, and how Jefferson recorded this information.

    Direct students to answer the four questions on the worksheet, performing a quick check for understanding afterwards.

  5. 25+ minutes (teachers’ discretion)
    Activity Part 4:Direct students to individually fill in their answers to the 4 questions about Jefferson and slavery. Encourage them to go slowly and really think about their answers.As students finish, pair them off to share answers and record them in the second column.Bring the class together as a whole for a larger, moderated discussion about Jefferson and slavery. Allow students to participate on paper and in non-lingual ways as they feel comfortable.

    **Be advised that this discussion needs to be properly moderated. It would be best to model an appropriate and inappropriate comment first, and set ground rules for the discussion in order to maintain an academic and open environment.**

Related Assets

Handouts and Downloads


Materials Needed

Additional handouts for part 3 can be found by following a link to the Massachusetts Historical Society:

Image only:

Image with transcription:

Technology Needs

A projector and document camera will be helpful, but not required



Encourage students to submit their thoughts on the discussion the next day or following week as they may come up with new ideas.


Evaluate students’ comments during the discussion as appropriate for teacher’s pre-existing grade scale.


Accommodations – Students with Special Needs

Allow students to write or draw their comments for the discussion on paper if they are uncomfortable sharing orally.