ALEX Lesson Plan


Henry "Box" Brown

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Linda Hardee
System: Huntsville City
School: Highlands Elementary School
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33083


Henry "Box" Brown


This can be an extended literature connection (the book is useful but not required to use this lesson plan).  

The book Henry Brown's Box, the Slave who Mailed Himself to Freedom, is the basis for this lesson.  

In Henry's later life, he was an international speaker, describing his courageous journey to become free.

This is a College- and Career-Ready Standards showcase lesson plan.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
CE (K-12)
1. Courage
CE (K-12)
25. Perseverance
ELA2015 (5)
22. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information. [W.5.1]
a. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer's purpose. [W.5.1a]
b. Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details. [W.5.1b]
c. Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically). [W.5.1c]
d. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented. [W.5.1d]
ELA2015 (5)
24. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. [W.5.3]
a. Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator, characters, or both; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally. [W.5.3a]
b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations. [W.5.3b]
c. Use a variety of transitional words, phrases, and clauses to manage the sequence of events. [W.5.3c]
d. Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely. [W.5.3d]
e. Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events. [W.5.3e]
ELA2015 (5)
38. Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking. [L.5.1]
a. Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections in general and their function in particular sentences. [L.5.1a]
b. Form and use the perfect (e.g., I had walked; I have walked; I will have walked) verb tenses. [L.5.1b]
c. Use verb tense to convey various times, sequences, states, and conditions. [L.5.1c]
d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.* [L.5.1d]
e. Use correlative conjunctions (e.g., either/or, neither/nor). [L.5.1e]
ELA2015 (5)
39. Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing. [L.5.2]
a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.* [L.5.2a]
b. Use a comma to separate an introductory element from the rest of the sentence. [L.5.2b]
c. Use a comma to set off the words yes and no (e.g., Yes, thank you), to set off a tag question from the rest of the sentence (e.g., It's true, isn't it'), and to indicate direct address (e.g., Is that you, Steve'). [L.5.2c]
d. Use underlining, quotation marks, or italics to indicate titles of works. [L.5.2d]
e. Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. [L.5.2e]
ELA2015 (5)
40. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening. [L.5.3]
a. Expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader or listener interest, and style. [L.5.3a]
b. Compare and contrast the varieties of English (e.g., dialects, registers) used in stories, dramas, or poems. [L.5.3b]

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Enduring Understandings - "The past affects humans and humans affect the future." and "What makes a person or event important?"

Students will learn about the life of a courageous slave who chose to undertake a great risk to be free.

Additional Learning Objective(s):



 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

61 to 90 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Large empty appliance box with the approximate dimensions of Henry's box (3 feet, 1 inch x 2 feet)

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with Internet access


Henry Brown was born a slave in 1815 in Virginia. He wrote an autobiography: The Narrative Life of Henry “Box” Brown Written by Himself (1851). He describes his slavery experiences as mild physically, but emotionally very difficult. He was sold and separated from his family when he was 15 and worked in his master’s tobacco factory. He had to pay his owner a portion of his wages, but saved a good amount of money. When he was 21, he got married (with permission) but he lived in fear that his family could be sold without notice. He watched in horror as his wife and children were sold to North Carolina. His son saw him and called out. That caused him to try to escape. He had the help of local white abolitionists and shopkeepers to ship him from Richmond to Philadelphia. He was in a box 3 feet 1 inch wide, 2 feet 6 inches high and 2 feet tall on a 27-hour trip partly upside down. He survived and became a speaker until the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Then he moved to England. 

More information can be found and a link to his video 


1. Read Henry's book or share with the class the highlights of Henry Brown's life. Discuss how they might react in a similar situation (empathy, courage).

2. One at a time, let the children try fitting inside the empty appliance box. Remind them that Henry was traveling on his side for most of the journey and had to remain silent so no one would know his presence. Let the children stand close to the outside of the box and ask a child to go inside and try to cough quietly--did they hear it?

3. Link to the Web for pictures and additional information and the video.

4. After Henry toured as a speaker, he was not very popular. Many slaves thought by going public with the way he escaped, he eliminated that as a possibility for others to use the same method.

5. Think about how brave and clever Henry was, to think up such a plan of mailing himself all the way to Pennsylvania. Could you do that, would you do it?

6. Write an essay (see assessment strategies) on how Henry used what he had to gain his freedom. 

7. There are many additional materials for Language Arts and Social Studies on the Crafting Freedom website. 

**Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download.

Assessment Strategies

Essay - In your opinion, "How is literacy today connected to opportunity, freedom, and success in life?"

5th graders should understand the importance of literacy and the lifetime value it provides. What if Henry wasn't as brave or clever or he was caught trying to escape slavery...speculate on what could have happened to him.

Rubric, see attachment.


Read Henry's book or discuss with the class, the highlights of Henry Brown's life. Discuss how they might react in a similar situation (empathy, courage).

Use Productive Thinking (many, varied, and unusual ideas then add details) to think of other ways Henry could have used to escape.

Perhaps there is a student in class, with adult help, that might make a real wooden box for more authentic experience.



Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

Presentation of Material Environment
Time Demands Materials
Attention Using Groups and Peers
Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior
Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.