Geography Clues in Reading
Part of the Florida Geographic Alliance's collection of lesson plans.



Grade Level: 4-6

Time: 1 week


This lesson demonstrates how geography can be integrated in the teaching of reading.

Connection to the Standards

Connection to the Curriculum

Prior Knowledge

The students will know: the 5 themes of geography, how to use a map scale. The students will also use research skills to identify persons who assisted on the underground railroad.




  1. Guided Reading (whole class)
  2. Shared Reading
  3. Independent Reading
  4. Whole Class (teacher reads)



Hougthon Mifflin. Fast as the Wind, 1993.

Suggested Readings

Rappaport, Doreen. Escape from Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom.

Smucker, Barbara. Runaway to Freedom.

Haskins, Jim. Get on Board, The Story of the Underground Railroad.

Discovering Geography Clues in Literature

TITLE:____________________________		AUTHOR:______________________________

ILLUSTRATOR:______________________		COPYRIGHT DATE:______________________

LANDFORMS:_________________________		CLIMATE/WEATHER:_____________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________


__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

TRANSPORTATION:___________________		WILDLIFE/ANIMALS:____________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

NATURAL DISASTERS:_________________		ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS:______________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

TRADITIONS/RELIGION:______________		LANGUAGE:____________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

__________________________________		_____________________________________

On the back of this page list any other information that you discover from the 
book.  Look for any information about the population(density,origins, cities,
problems) and for the real location of the story.

The Ballad of Eliza

What did you think of Eliza and her escape? Show your feelings in a verse about Eliza. You can write rhymed verse, like a ballad, or a short poem that does not rhyme. Or think of another way to show your feelings about this selection.

What is Courage?

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." -Mark Twain

Think about how Mark Twain's definition of courage applies to the story that you have just read. How was Eliza able to master her fear? How was Eliza's courage different from the courage George and Rosetta showed in helping people cross the river? Get a classmate and discuss your thoughts about fear and courage. Then try to come up with your own definition.

ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY: Five Journeys to Freedom

Written by Doreen Rappaport

Illustrated by Charles Lilly

A Note From Doreen Rappaport: Slave escapes occurred from the earliest times after enslaved Africans were first brought to America in 1619. Without particulars of geography, and with only the North Star to guide then, slaves found their own routes across swamps, rivers and mountains toward the North and freedom. They went to the black quarters of Northern cities. There, free blacks helped them find jobs and shelter to begin life over again as free men and women.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 allowed owners to seize runaways and bring them to court to reclaim ownership. Slaves were not permitted trials by jury nor allowed to have witnesses speak on their behalf. Abolitionists - antislavery activists - attacked the law as unconstitutional and as legalized kidnapping. By the 1830's abolitionists had created their own informal network to help runaway slaves. This network was called the Underground Railroad. Its "freight" or "passengers" were the fugitives. People who helped the fugitives, leading them to safety and often offering them transportation in rowboats, wagons, or other conveyances, were "conductors" or "station masters." "Stations" along the way - barns, attics, storerooms, secret rooms, and even straw mattress - were places where the fugitives were fed and sheltered. As soon as possible, the freight was moved farther on the "railroad line" by wagon, by boat, or by train to the next station on the way to freedom.

It is estimated that 25,000 to 100,000 slaves escaped despite the overwhelming odds against making it. The River of Ice is just one of the stories of those courageous ingenious Americans who risked their lives for freedom.

The River of Ice

"We needed the money, and Eliza'll fetch a good price. She's young, and a good looker and a good worker."

Eliza's master's words stunned her. He was selling her. Not that she hadn't always known it was a possibility. Like all slaves, she lived with the gnawing reality that at any one moment she could be sold and uprooted form her loved ones. But Eliza's owners had always been so kind to her that she lulled herself into forgetting reality. Their kindness had vanished with their need for money. Within a few days Eliza would be separated from her two year old daughter, Caroline.

She knew what she had to do. She couldn't let anyone take Caroline from her. She couldn't lose this child. She had already buried two others.

She waited patiently all day for the darkness and the quiet. She had done her chores efficiently but not too efficiently, not wanting to draw attention to herself. She had listened to her mistress' talking, ignored what she was supposed to ignore, nodded where she was expected to nod and answered when she was expected to answer. She had carefully controlled her every facial gesture and tone of voice so she wouldn't give away her angry feelings, so that her owners wouldn't suspect that she had overheard their plan to sell her.

Now it was almost time. Caroline was asleep wrapped in a blanket made from saved scraps of wool. Eliza was tired too, but she didn't dare sleep. She needed to leave a few hours before daylight so that she could cross the river when it was light. If she gave in to her weariness, she might not get up in time. She lay awake, thinking about the journey ahead.

When she thought that it was time, she scooped Caroline up from the floor and took her in her arms. "Be good, darling, don't cry now," she whispered worried that the other children and adults in the cabin would awaken.

She tiptoed out of the cabin. When she stepped outside, the night air bit into her face. She pulled the blanket farther over Caroline's head and looked up at the sky. There was the single star. the one that pointed the way to freedom. She followed it down to the other stars, grouped like a drinking gourd.

"If I am thirsty before I cross the river to, I drink from the sky." She laughed silently at her joke.


There was no sound but her feet quietly touching the cold ground as she walked the five miles through the woods toward the river. She knew all about the river, the long, narrow river that separated the slave state of Kentucky from the free state of Ohio. She'd heard stories of slaves who swam or rowed across it. Eliza had dreamed of crossing that river ever since she was old enough to realize that she was a slave. She had talked with other slaves about what it was like to be free, but she had never thought that she would be brave enough to escape. But all that had changed today. Today with her master's words, she had found a courage that she did not know that she possessed.

Crossing would be easy. The river was always frozen at this time of year. Her feet, clad in thin-soled shoes, were cold now and would be even colder by the time they touched free ground, but that was a small price to pay for freedom. She pulled Caroline closer and ran along the narrow path that led to the river.


In less than two hours, at daylight, she spotted the river. She raced eagerly toward it. When she reached the river bank, she saw that the ice had started to thaw. It was broken up some and was slowly drifting in large cakes. Her heart sank. Crossing was impossible now. She would have to hide and wait for the cold night to swoop down and freeze the water some more.

Her eyes searched in both directions for signs of a shelter, for a place where she might rest while she waited for the river to freeze again. She had heard there were free colored folks living along the river who helped runaways. There were a few cabins in the distance. But how would she know which cabin held friends? She wouldn't, but she would have to take a chance.

She pulled the blanket away from her self to reassure herself that Caroline was still sleeping. "Thank you, Lord, for keepin' her still." Then she ran down the path alongside the river. It was a while before she came to a small cabin, not much bigger than the one that she had shared with ten others. Black smoke was rising from the chimney. Dare she stop and ask for help? Her eyes scanned the landscape again. There was no place to hide near the river. And no place in the woods. And even if she could find a place, Caroline might not survive the freezing cold. What choice did she have? Her master would soon discover she was gone and start tracking her down.

She lifted her head to the sky. "Dear Lord, help me."

She knocked gently on the cabin door. No answer. She knocked again more vigorously. The door opened hesitantly. A short man, with frizzy gray hair and skin black as ebony, nodded at her. It was the kind of gentle greeting that black folks often give each other on their way to Sunday service.

"Mornin'," he said in a quite voice. His friendly eyes fixed on the bundle that was her daughter.

Eliza swallowed and whispered, "We need a place to stay until nightfall."

"Welcome," he said, hurrying her into the one room cabin. The cabin had a small table, two chairs, and straw matting on the floor near the hearth to sleep on. There was a roaring fire in the hearth.

"I'm George, and that's my wife Rosetta." His wife, a pleasant looking women with cocoa skin like Eliza's, was stirring something in a large pot over the fire. She beckoned for Eliza to come and sit near her.

Eliza squatted down on the straw and held Caroline gently in her lap, hoping not to disturb her sleep. Rosetta ladled out a liquid from the pot and handed it to Eliza. The broth was warm and nourishing. George brought Eliza a blanket and told her to stretch out. Before she knew it, she was asleep. She spent most of the day sleeping by the fire.


When she awakened , it was almost twilight. George was gone. Rosetta was feeding soup to Caroline. Eliza waited until Caroline had sipped the last spoonful. Then she took her daughter into her arms, planted kisses all over her face, and rocked her back and forth. Caroline drifted into sleep again.

"Where are you from?" Rosetta asked. Eliza told her story. Rosetta told Eliza that she was a freeborn colored but George had been born a slave. She had worked hard and saved money to buy his freedom.

"But if you free, why you stay in Kentucky?" asked Eliza.

Rossetta smiled gently. "'Cause there are more like you wontin' to cross the river. And they need shelter till they get cross. So we stay and wait and help."

The door opened, and George hurried in. Eliza knew from his worried eyes that is was not safe. "The slave hunters are out. Goin' from cabin to cabin askin' about you."

It was too dangerous to stay any longer. Eliza had to cross the river now or she would be captured. She stood up with Caroline in her arms. She nodded silent thanks to Rosetta and George and raced out the cabin door toward the river.


With a sinking heart, Eliza realized that there was even more water between the massive ice chunks. She looked back at the cabin, then at the river path in the other direction. There were figures in the distance hurrying toward her. Her eyes followed the river to the other side. "It not that far," she whispered to Caroline, trying to encourage herself. "And then when we get there, we gonna be free." She looked up toward the sky. "Lord, we need you." She took Caroline's arms and wrapped them around her neck. "Hold on tight , and don't let go, 'less I tell you," she whispered.

Eliza stepped onto the ice. It was solid. She stepped across a large chunk onto another. That was solid too. And then another. She rushed forward to the next chunk. The ice was giving way. She could feel the weight of her body threatening to pull her down into the water. She leaped onto another chuck. Cold water came rushing up to her ankles.

On the other side of the river she saw a man standing on the shoreline. Eliza leaped onto another chunk. And then another. "We gonna get there," she said to herself as she felt the water rising above her ankles.

A minute later the water reached up to her knees. "Lord, Lord." Soon the water would start to cover Caroline. She was only thirty or so feet from freedom. The water rushed up to her chest.

"Mama. Mama," Caroline screamed as the water began to cover her.

"Let go baby." With her left had Eliza undid Caroline's arms from around her neck. With her right hand she grabbed a chunk of ice. The she slid Caroline onto the piece of ice. Caroline screamed louder as the ice touched her back. "I here baby," Eliza shouted, grabbing the ice chunk with both hands and kicking her feet hoping to propel herself and the ice with Caroline on it farther toward shore.

She was only ten feet or so from the shore. Caroline's screams filled Eliza's ears. The icy water was beginning to numb Eliza. "Lord, we so close." She kicked even harder. The chunk of ice with Caroline on it was almost at the river bank. Eliza was only a couple of feet from shore. The man grabbed Caroline off the ice, and Eliza pulled herself onto the shore.

Eliza's pursuers watched passively from the river bank on the Kentucky side as she and her daughter stepped onto free soil. The man at the river bank took Eliza and Caroline to the home of antislavery sympathizers, who gave them food and dry clothing. That night Eliza and her daughter began their trip by the Underground Railroad to Canada.

You can read four other exciting, real-life stories in Escape from Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom.

Part of the Florida Geographic Alliance's collection of lesson plans.