Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Quickly and Easily Introduce the Emancipation Proclamation to ELLs

"...I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, 
and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free..."
-- Abraham Lincoln

A new National Monument devoted to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War recently opened.  It’s located in the area surrounding Beaufort, South Carolina, and reading about it reminded me of the two months I spent at Penn Center on St. Helena Island as a Peace Corps trainer many years ago.  Penn Center was a school founded for freed slaves and it is part of this National Monument.  The Park Service manages it and you can read about it here.

That was the first time I’d ever been to the South and many of my stereotypes about the region were dispelled. I loved the time I was there: It was a gorgeous location, the food – I’d never had collards or grits or hush puppies before – was delicious, and the local people were wonderful.  And I only saw alligators from a distance.  :-)

Older English Language Learners who are immigrants have probably heard about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves but they probably don’t have much background knowledge about that era or about African-American history in general.  Here's a quick and easy activity you can do to introduce your students to this period.

Below is an 1864 print (retrieved from the Library of Congress) with the text of the Emancipation Proclamation surrounded by illustrations about slavery and freedom.  Display the image and ask students to describe what they see.  Or put students in pairs or small groups and then ask for volunteers to report out what they discussed.
Find a FREE Emancipation Proclamation activity & info about task card biographies of important African-Americans | The ESL Connection
Illustrated Emancipation Proclamation; grab your copy HERE
It should be pretty obvious that the illustrations on the left depict slave life and the illustrations on the right show what life could be like for freed African-Americans.  You can ask your students to describe what they see and how the pictures represent life before and after the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered.  You can also ask your students what the two large images in the center at the top represent.  The image on the left is clearly Justice because she is holding the scales normally associated with that character.  I’m not sure what the image on the right represents; perhaps it is Liberty.

Many primary sources are hard for ELLs to access because the language in them is too difficult to comprehend.  But if you focus on the images and not the text, all students can offer their ideas.  You can also ask your students to write about their reaction to the before and after illustrations or they can write a compare-and-contrast composition about life for African-Americans before and after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.  After doing this introductory activity, your students will be ready to go deeper into what the Emancipation Proclamation was all about and how it impacted the South.

Of course, there is much more about African-American history that students should learn.  If you would like to teach your students about the accomplishments and pioneering firsts of African-Americans who were born in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, you might be interested in my newest resource.  It’s a collection of 80 task cards with biographies of famous and not-so-famous African-Americans that you can use to develop the writing, speaking, and listening skills of your students.
Click HERE for more info about this resource!
A list of 15 activity ideas is included and while it’s a great resource for Black History Month, you can actually use the task cards any time of the year to teach about African-American history.


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