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Lesson Plan: Slave Kingdoms


Ghana is the roughly the size of the states of Indiana or Illinois. It has a rich culture as a power in Africa — its Ashanti empire was greater than Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the past kings and queens of Ghana used its well-established political and economic structures to sell their own people through the African slave trade. Ghana was the first European sub-Saharan slave port, and some scholars say that the African trade routes could not have started without the support of Ghana's ruling class. One of America's leading scholars on African American culture and history retraces his family roots to Ghana and explores the psychological impact of the slave trade on his identity as an African American.

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • View "The Slave Kingdoms" video and record their observations on a video viewing guide.
  • Research additional materials to learn more about the country of Ghana.
  • Produce a 10-14 page classroom newspaper (8 x 11 size) based on the theme, Ghana: Past and Present.
  • Interview members of the community who have researched their family ancestry.
Tools and materials

  • VCR and TV
  • "The Slave Kingdoms" video
  • "The Slave Kingdoms" viewing guide
  • Computers with Internet access and access to a library
  • Word processing and simple page layout software (like ClarisWorks) that allow text to be place with graphics
  • Digital camera (if available)
  • Scanner or photocopy machine
  • Student Activity Sheet: Viewing Guide

Time needed

4-5 hours of class time

Relevant National Standards

Mid-Continent Regional Education Laboratory

   World History

  • Understands the economic, political, and cultural interrelations among peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas between 1500 and 1750.
  • Understands the development of different African societies.
  • Understands how slavery was defined by different groups of people (e.g., key differences between the understanding of "slavery" by Africans and by European settlers in the Americas; how slavery was practiced in ancient, medieval, and early modern societies).
  • Understands how the African slave trade influenced the lives of slaves in the Western Hemisphere (e.g., the institutions, beliefs, and practices of slaves working on plantations in the Western Hemisphere; the history of open slave rebellion and resistance in the Western Hemisphere; how the English and Spanish subdued slave rebellion in their colonies).

Teaching Strategy

  1. Watch the video and review the critical thinking questions on the viewing guide. Consider one of the key points of the video: the Ghanaians' honesty toward their nation's role in the slave trade.

  2. Divide the class into 5 sub groups of 4-5 students and assign each student one of the following jobs. The teacher can either choose the jobs for the students or students can decide on their own. Each student should have a clear understanding of his/her role.
    • Editor (1): Oversees the general news gathering process. Coaches writers on sources of information; monitors progress toward completion of deadlines; edits copy with writers; leads the group from start to finish; helps out with all areas of newspaper production.
    • Writer (2-3): Gathers news and information from a variety of sources (teachers, students, counselors, books, magazines, Web sites) and writes stories to a length specified by the editor. Considers a variety of lead types: straight news, anecdotal lead, description, shocker lead, question lead, delayed suspense, quote lead.
    • Layout artist (1): Consults many of the same sources as writers to find visuals that can be incorporated into the classroom newspaper and places the stories onto the page in a graphically appealing fashion. Two- and 3-column formats work best for 8 x 11-page newspaper.

  3. Each group should discuss and decide upon one topic or "angle" of Ghana that they would like to cover. The angle may be derived from students' brainstorming, topics covered in the video, or they may choose from the list below. Each group should plan to complete 2-3 pages for their section. This includes space that would be taken up by graphics. They may even come up with a title for their section of the class newspaper. Each one of these sections would have 3-4 stories:
    • Religions of Ghana (including vodou)
    • Roles of women in Ghana society (past and present)
    • Slave trade history
    • Geographical information of Ghana
    • Ghana's government and political systems
    • Ghana's economy
    • Languages and cultural groups/tribes of Ghana
    • A how-to section on retracing your family history/genealogy A section devoted to the life and works of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    • Ghana's influence on the formation of the United States economy and population

    Types of stories that can be written for each section:

    • News piece
    • First person account
    • Feature narrative
    • Q&A box
    • Editorial (opinion piece)
    • Personality profile
    • "Man on the street" question and answers
    • Public opinion/class poll
    • Sidebars

  4. Sidebar options and ideas for graphics.

    Each group should consider using "sidebars," smaller stories that usually appear on the "side" of the major story, in their section where appropriate. Sidebar topics might include:

    • A profile on a parent who retraced his/her family history or even visited their home country in the manner that Gates did (does not have to be of African descent). Sample questions might include: What first got you interested/started in retracing your heritage? What research methods did you use? How long did it take to complete your research? What kind of results did you get? What did you find out about your family's past? How did these results live up to-or fail to meet-your expectations? Would you do it all again if you had the opportunity? What advice would you give to others who are retracing their heritage?
    • A how-to story on obtaining your passport
    • The history of Kente cloth, how much does it cost today, and where can it be bought?
    • A matching of voodoo symbols with their meaning
    • A fact box on all the different languages spoken in Ghana
    • A fact box on Ghanans in the United States
    • A discussion of labels: "African American" or "black"?

    Page layout artists might consider the following as possible graphic elements:

    • A sketch of a slave ship
    • A picture of a slave castle
    • A bio box on Don Francisco DeSouza
    • Maps of the slave trade/Ghana and its cities
    • Mug shots (small pictures) of anyone quoted in the newspaper stories
    • Lift-out quotes printed in boxes
    • Population graphs
    • Chronology of the slave trades
    • Pictures of Ashanti artifacts

  5. After the video has been watched, and the roles have been assigned, consult with the groups on their story selection and discuss their approach and check for understanding.

  6. Give the students two or three class periods to research and write their stories. Establish a deadline structure that will work for all the groups. Include the editor of each group in the revision process. The layout artist will be given stories as they are completed and place on the pages with the graphics.

  7. As each group concludes its section of the newspaper, the teacher collects the sections and compiles them into the master class newspaper. (A cover sheet might be ideal.) Duplicate the newspaper for class distribution.

Assessment Recommendations

You may develop a rubric that ensures:

  • Clarity of thought expressed in the writing
  • Multiple sources are properly quoted/attributed in the stories (adequate research)
  • Consistency of size and type of font used in body text
  • Graphics do not occupy an inordinate amount of space in the text
  • Rules of grammar, style and punctuation are observed
  • Deadlines within the group have been met


Have students research other aspects of the African and Caribbean slave trades:

  • What other nations contributed to the slave trade?
  • When did those routes dissolve?
  • What were some of the laws that were created in the United States to stop the slave trade?

Further Resources

Web sites

National Geographic (geographical information about Ghana)

Library of Congress: Ghana — A Country Study

Central Oregon Community College (a copmrehensive timeline of the African slave trade)

The Genealogy Homepage

National Scholastic Press Association

Books and magazines

  • Barnett, Jeanie M. (1999). Ghana. Chelsea House Publishers.
  • Ghana: A Country Study. (1994). Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
  • Ghana: A Study of an Economically Developing Country. (1994). Thomson Learning.
  • Harrower, Tim. The Newspaper Designer's Handbook 4th ed., McGraw Hill.
  • Hornblower, Margot. "How to Search for Your Roots," Time, April 19, 1999, Vol. 153, no. 15, pp. 55-69.
  • Killingray, David. The Slave Trade. (1980) Greenhaven Press, Inc.
  • McKissack, Patricia and Frederick. (1994) The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay, Life in Medieval Africa. Henry Holt and Company.




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