So you’re excited about Harriet! ME TOO!
Harriet is a film directed by Kasi Lemmons, from a script by Gregory Allen Howard. It is set for a November theatrical release. It is, of course, a film about Harriet Tubman, the African American liberator of enslaved people who was also an advocate for the equal rights of women.
The release of this film gives a unique opportunity for educators and parents to take a refreshing look at Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy through lessons, projects, and field trips.
This is a micro-syllabus, in the tradition of the Nat Turner, Moonlight, and David Bowie Syllabi that I have previously created. Please use it as a starting point for your lesson planning about Harriet Tubman and Black History.
Film and Video Resources
- Harriet (2019) [In theaters November 2019]
- Harriet Tubman: They Called Her Moses (2018) [This 48 minute documentary is ideal for older high school students with longer attention spans.]
- Underground, Season 2, Episode 6: Minty [The entirety of this episode is a monologue from Harriet Tubman.]
- Carry Me Home: A Remember America Film (2016)
- What You Never Knew About Harriet Tubman (2014) [A short video from the Smithsonian.]
- Harriet Tubman – Civil Rights Activist | Mini Bio (2010)
- Animated Hero Classics: Harriet Tubman (1996) [This is a popular animated film which comes with a resource and activity book for emerging readers!]
- A Woman Called Moses (1978) [This mini-series, well known among educators of a certain age, has not been seen by today’s students. If you introduce it to your classes, be mindful that the pacing and production value match that of other 70s period pieces.]
Books for Emerging Readers
- I am Harriet Tubman (Ordinary People Change the World) (2018) by Brad Meltzer
- Before She was Harriet (2017) by Lesa Cline-Ransome
- Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman (2000) by Alan Schroeder
Books for Confident Readers
- I Am #6: Harriet Tubman (2013) by Grace Norwich
- The Story of Harriet Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad (1990) by Kate McMullan
- Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman (1987) by Dorothy Sterling
- Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad (1955) by Ann Petry
Books (and an article) for Seasoned Readers
- “A century after Harriet Tubman died, scholars try to separate fact from fiction” (2013) by Krissah Thompson, from The Washington Post.
- Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People
- Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton (2004)
- Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson (2004)
- Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories by Jean Humez (2004)
- Harriet Tubman: Negro Soldier and Abolitionist by Earl Conrad (1942) [If link is broken, try searching through your favorite used bookstore database.]
- Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory and History by Milton C. Sernett (2007)
The above links were thanks to the work of Rebecca Beatrice Brooks at Civil War Saga, from her post Best Books About Harriet Tubman. Like me, she is an Amazon Associate, so when you click any links in the Seasoned Readers section, she will get the credit!
Assignments and Activities
- NewsELA: Civil Rights Activists: Harriet Tubman [One passage is leveled for readers at lexile level 500 to 1108, with assignments corresponding to each level. Skills include determining central idea and text analysis. Also available in Spanish.]
- NewsELA: Harriet Tubman gets a new home along the Underground Railroad [This interesting passage is leveled for younger readers, capped at around the 6th grade level. Skills include determining central idea and inferences.]
- This Resource and Activity Book goes along with Animated Hero Classics: Harriet Tubman.
- Debbie has created a word bank and story paper for emerging readers and writers, hosted on her blog.
- This vocabulary worksheet might be good for your confident and seasoned readers. I recommend re-purposing the comprehension questions as prompts in an instructional circle after viewing the film.
- The Harriet Tubman section of Scholastic’s The Underground Railroad: Escape From Slavery is useful for links to primary sources; however, several links are broken or need editing in order to work.
- Here’s a Harriet Tubman Unit, designed with 4th graders in mind, that seems like it can be easily scaled up for older children and adults.
One of my favorite activities in the Nat Turner Unit was creating a mock jury deliberation. Students study a simplified version of the law, as it existed in the time period studied, and decide whether to convict or acquit. In that process, they learn about jury nullification. Mock jury deliberations are simpler to implement than a mock trial.
When Harriet gets a rating, bring the idea of a field trip to your principal and go through the process to organize the trip as soon as possible. Some teachers prefer to take trips as the last part of a unit, but I prefer to do it first. Seeing the film first gives students a starting point for discussion throughout the unit.
The theater closest to my school didn’t give a huge discount for film tickets, but it’s always worth asking. If the discount isn’t cheap enough, consider connecting with a local African American service organization, such as The Links, the AKAs, the Deltas, or the Alphas. They might be able to subsidize the cost of tickets and concessions, or even make it a joint project where they attend a screening with you and your students.
Always have a meeting with the attendees before you go on the trip so they understand the academic and behavioral expectations of their participation. Invite parents to come, too, especially if you expect students to be ruffled by violence depicted in the film.
Make sure you are aware of which students or their families have consented to being photographed. You’ll want to document the event and share it through your school’s social media.
Finally, do your best to see the film in advance of the students so you can develop discussion questions and identify potential triggers for you or the students.
Do you have any resources that you’d like to share about teaching Harriet Tubman? Share them in the comments section below!
About the Educator
Rashid Darden is a novelist, fraternalist, and seasoned educator with twenty years of service to children, opportunity youth, and adults. He is a native Washingtonian who has relocated to rural Northeastern North Carolina. Rashid is available for keynote addresses and professional development workshops. Please use the contact form on this site to reach him with your questions.