Grade 8: A Letter to Harriet Tubman


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Reading Informational Text

RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

RI.8.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.


W.8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

W.8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

W.8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

W.8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

W.8.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


L.8.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

L.8.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Speaking and Listening

SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.


This Grade 8 lesson titled “A Letter to Harriet Tubman” cited on is intended to be completed in two 90-minute sessions of English Language Arts/Literacy instruction. The lesson gives students opportunities to read a primary source document (complex text) closely, discussing and answering text-dependent questions as a guide. Throughout lesson activities, students independently complete an evidence chart as a pre-writing activity. As a culminating task, students write an expository essay to discuss Douglas’ opinion of Harriet Tubman and her efforts and risks as compared to the role he played in the abolitionist movement. Students may use any relevant notes they compiled while reading and answering the text-dependent questions as they craft their essays.


Connecticut teachers should be cautioned that the website and the teacher notes/preparation materials will require familiarity to be used effectively. No pacing guide is included. Common Core Writing Standards W.8.7 and W.8.8 are not targeted during the initial lesson activity or culminating writing prompt. These standards might apply if the “Additional Tasks” described in the lesson plan are completed. If this lesson is used in a social studies classroom, Common Core Standards for History/Social Studies could be substituted. As the lesson materials state, additional supports and accommodations may be needed for students who are ELL, have disabilities, or read well below the grade level text band. While there are assessments guidelines, there is no aligned-rubric that elicits direct, observable evidence of the degree to which a student can independently demonstrate the major grade-level CCSS standards with appropriately complex text. The letter is not included in the lesson materials; however, the text is available for no cost online in several places on the Internet. Click on this sentence for a link to a free download of the letter.  While a specific text is referred to in the lesson materials, alternate texts on the same topic could be substituted.


This lesson is a useful example of how to make reading text closely, examining textual evidence, and discerning deep meaning a central focus of instruction. The instructional activities focus on engaging students in a productive struggle with a primary source document through discussion questions and other supports that build toward independence. Materials include text-dependent questions with suggested evidence-based answers for teachers, a list of Tier ll/Academic Vocabulary, and for the culminating task: a sample completed pre-writing evidence chart and a student response sample of the expository essay.

To view a complementary lesson on the website, click on the title below:

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself