Henry’s freedom box

Author(s): Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson


Social Justice focus: Racism

Synopsis: This is a gripping story of Henry Brown, who is unaware of his age. He is a slave who dreams of freedom. He hopes to celebrate his birthday once he seeks freedom breaking the shackles of slavery. He grows up in a warehouse away from his family. After he is married, things get worse as his family is sold at the slave market. One fine day, he decides the break the chain of slavery by mailing himself north in a crate. He finally celebrates his birthday the day he seeks freedom.

Lesson Plan: Hayley Lukich

Primary/Junior/Intermediate Lesson Plan (Abbreviated Template)

Consecutive and Concurrent Programs

8P43: Henry’s Freedom Box

Grade(s): 5

Lesson Topic/Title: Henry’s Freedom Box

Subject(s): Language, Drama, and Social Studies

Strand(s): Oral Communication & Reading, Creating and Presenting & Reflecting, Responding, and Analyzing, & Understanding Context

CONTENT STANDARDS & PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: What are students expected to learn? Which Achievement Chart Category(ies) will be addressed?

Overall Expectation(s):

  • Oral Communication: 1 & 2
  • Reading: 1
  • Drama: B1 & B2
  • Social Studies: A3

Oral Communication

1. listen in order to understand and respond appropriately in a variety of situations for a variety of purposes;

2. use speaking skills and strategies appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes;


1. read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning


B1. Creating and Presenting: apply the creative process (see pages 19–22) to process drama and the development of drama works, using the elements and conventions of drama to communicate feelings, ideas, and stories;

B2. Reflecting, Responding, and Analyzing: apply the critical analysis process (see pages 23–28) to communicate feelings, ideas, and understandings in response to a variety of drama works and experiences;

Social Studies

A3. Understanding Context: demonstrate an understanding of significant experiences of, and major changes and aspects of life in, various historical and contemporary communities in Canada

Specific Expectation(s):

  • Oral Communication: 1.1, 1.2, & 2.1
  • Reading: 1.7
  • Drama: B1.1 & B1.2
  • Social Studies: Understanding Context: A3.1

Oral Communication


1.1 identify a range of purposes for listening in a variety of situations, formal and informal, and set goals related to specific listening tasks

Oral Communication

Active Listening Strategies

1.2 demonstrate an understanding of appropriate listening behaviour by adapting active listening strategies to suit a range of situations, including work in groups

Oral Communication


2.1 identify a variety of purposes for speaking


Analysing Texts

1.7 analyse texts and explain how various elements in them contribute to meaning


Creating and Presenting

B1.1 engage actively in drama exploration and role play, with a focus on examining issues and themes in fiction and non-fiction sources from diverse communities, times, and places


Reflecting, Responding and Analysing

B2.1 express personal responses and make connections to characters, themes, and issues presented in their own and others’ drama works

Social Studies

A3.1 identify the main reasons why different peoples came to Canada

Achievement Chart Category(ies)

Knowledge & Understanding

  • students will build on prior knowledge of equity and freedom
  • students will interpret the books meaning and significance (true story)
  • students will consider the box that was brought in and what it represents


  • students will consider what freedom means to them and how is that idea changing
  • students will compose meaningful questions for the person in the hot seat
  • students will think critically about their freedom wall comment


  • students will communicate their thoughts, wonderings, and/or experiences with the class
  • students will ask any questions or wonderings they may have


  • view and compare their ideas and add to their perspectives through a gallery walk of a Freedom Wall

LEARNING SKILLS AND WORK HABITS: Responsibility, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative, Self-Regulation

  • Responsibility – students will actively listen and show they can be responsible for their behavior
  • Independent work – students can come up with a question on their own
  • Collaboration – students will discuss and build on their perspectives by learning from one another
  • Initiative – students will ask questions and share ideas without hesitation
  • Self-Regulation – students can monitor, assess and control their own behaviours to suit the needs of the class and activities



  • I can listen actively to the story and understand why it is important to listen
  • I will ask thoughtful questions when it is time to do so and when I am unsure of something
  • I will reflect on the fact that this is a true story with real life significance and consequences
  • I can share my thoughts and ideas both verbally and written
  • I can self-regulate my behaviours to suit the needs of the classroom and activity

ASSESSMENT TASK /STRATEGY: Observation/Conversation/Product

PURPOSE: For/As/Of NATURE: Diagnostic/Formative/Summative

Diagnostic/Formative Assessment

FOR/AS Learning – this lesson is designed as the beginning of a deeper unit on social justice and literacy. Students will learn about social justice issues while instilling reading, listening and speaking strategies.

Diagnostic – Getting an idea of what students think and how they see the world is incredibly important so that teachers can start to lay the foundation of a topic. The freedom wall will help inform me of various mindsets in my classroom.

Observation – I will observe my students and take Anecdotal notes to indicate who is a respectful listener, and is thoughtfully able to compose a question, as per the language curriculum.

Conversation – I will assess the mindfulness of the questions asked, and the depth of the conversations between students’ groups. I will add details to my anecdotal notes.

Product – Students will add a card to the Freedom Wall with a comment or word of their choice. This activity is meant to collect thoughts into one place, and get students to reflect on various aspects of social justice


  • Students will listen actively to the story and understand why it is important to listen
  • Students will ask thoughtful questions when it is time to do so and when I unsure of something
  • Students will reflect on the fact that this is a true story with real life significance and consequences
  • Students will share thoughts and ideas both verbally and written
  • Students will self-regulate behaviours to suit the needs of the classroom and activity
  • Students will ask meaningful questions related to the themes presented
  • Students will use text evidence to support thinking and questions

ASSESSMENT TOOL(S) – Anecdotal Record

  • Anecdotal notes will be taken to indicate who is a respectful listener, and on the depth of student comments, questions and peer discussions. I will use this form of assessment to get an idea of what students think and how they see the world, and so that that I can start to lay the foundation of what this unit needs to touch on


  • Prior to this lesson students will have a base knowledge understanding of equity, freedom and slavery. This lesson will introduce the idea of escape and the underground railroad in North America for subsequent lessons to build upon

Accommodations: Helps teach same material and same expectations

Student A – will sit next to peer models and be given copies of the text to help guide him. He will highlight text evidence that exhibits Henry’s bravery in his pursuit of freedom to help guide him compose a question

Modifications: Changes learning and expectations

Student B (ELL) – will work on his letters and sounds using his iPad during the freedom wall activity. Associated words will be included in his work to build the connection to the story. I will check in often to ensure he is on task


  • My iPad
  • iPad slide show with pictures of ways people tried to obtain freedom for visual reference (pews, boxes, etc.)
  • Connection to Apple TV or projector
  • A BIG box – minds on – to encourage students to think about the ways people were willing to go to obtain freedom
  • Physical book: Henry’s Freedom Box book by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • Notes ready in Henry’s Box book for prompting
  • Photocopies of text evidence for target group
  • Construction paper
  • Tacks
  • Blank paper for all students
  • Pencils and erasers for all students


The Box (10 minutes)

  • I will have the students sit on the carpet
  • HOOK
    • I will bring in a big cardboard box in that can fit a person inside!
    • We will talk about what it would be like to be in a box like that…
  • I will ask the students questions to generate discussion:
    • 1) What would be difficult about being in that box?
    • 2) How long do they think they could stay in that box?
    • 3) What reasons would they need to be in that box?
  • We will then talk about freedom:
    • Explain how slaves had to make sacrifices in order to obtain/find freedom
    • I will then share some pictures from my iPad/Apple TV connection of other ways people escaped to freedom (eg. church pews, boxes, mail, etc.)
    • Very small introduction to Underground Railroad – a system of paths, safe houses, secret codes, etc. to obtaining freedom across north America and beyond
    • Introduce book


Read Aloud (20 minutes)

  • I will read aloud Henry’s Freedom Box book by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • I will providing prompting questions throughout the read aloud to encourage students to think about freedom, racism, prejudice and social justice, and slavery deeply

Hot Seat Activity (10 minutes)

  • I will have a volunteer come up and sit on the “hot seat”
  • The volunteer will take on the character of Henry. They will answer the audience’s questions by pretending to be the character and speak from his point of view
  • I will model the first question
  • I may have a second set of volunteers come up and pretend to be Henry’s children or wife if time allows


The Freedom Wall and Gallery Walk (10 minutes)

  • We will share some written thoughts and ideas aloud on the carpet, and once shared aloud (and approved), we will have a discussion about its value to the Wall, and add the card to the Freedom Wall
  • Finish by having the students look at the Freedom Wall in a gallery walk and reflect alone or in a Think, Pair, Share


  1. Were my students successful in meeting the learning goals and success criteria? How do I know
  2. Did my instructional decisions meet the needs of all students? If not, what are my next steps?
  3. What worked well? Why?
  4. What will I do differently:
    • When teaching this lesson again?
    • For the subsequent lesson?
  5. What are the next steps for my professional learning?


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Social Justice Picture Books Copyright © 2019 by Ruth McQuirter, editor and Gurbinder Kaur, contributing editor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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