Transatlantic Slavery with Scaffolding for English Language Learners (ELLs)

This lesson introduces the topic of transatlantic slavery using a variety of primary source maps, images and easy-to-read documents, with suggestions for differentiation for English Language Learners (ELLs) in a regular or self-contained ESOL classroom setting.

Moving from teacher-centered to independent activities, the lesson begins with a power point overview and structured English language practice to front-load vocabulary. In small groups or pairs, students interpret a map of the Atlantic Rim to construct a bar graph showing numbers of slaves by the Atlantic region where they were taken. Individually, students use a rubric to prepare and present an aspect of slavery based on close reading of a primary source. Through the content lesson, ELLs purposefully practice the English listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills they need to meet the lesson objective.

Teacher notes provide a script for the power point presentation, guided questions, and strategies for scaffolding. Because beginning English language learners are new to this country, they likely have little prior knowledge of US history, particularly the American perspective on exploration, colonization, the Columbian Exchange, Triangular Trade, and so on. The lesson builds background knowledge, integrates world geography, and takes a global approach to the introduction of the topic.

Historical Background

Through the colonization of the Americas, slaves and their labor were economically extremely important. Slaves and serfs made up around three-quarters of the world's population at the beginning of the 19th century, according to David P. Forsythe (2009) in "Encyclopedia of Human Rights, Volume 1,” Oxford University Press.

In Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Yale University Press, 2010) David Eltis and David Richardson provide maps and the explanation used in this lesson on transatlantic slavery that involved 21 million Africans and almost every country with an Atlantic coastline. The Atlas is based on an online database ( with records of nearly 35,000 slaving voyages that tell which nations participated in the slave trade, where the captives boarded ship, and where they landed in the Americas. Maps in this lesson illustrate the scale of transatlantic trade and how it drove the establishment of colonies and cities along the Atlantic coast and accessible waterways.

Lesson Objective

Students will orally present different aspects of transatlantic slavery after close reading a variety of primary sources.



  1. Activator: Mind map (slide 3 of the teacher power point which also includes an overview of slavery and explanation of lesson tasks)
  2. Language instruction and practice (large group): Using the web site, ELLs practice new English vocabulary and language structures (reading, writing, listening and speaking in English) with the Language Practice Packet, in various groupings. Each activity begins with teacher modeling on the Promethean board.
  3. Activity 1: Past tense verb cloze (text: Slavery and the Middle Passage)
  4. Activity 2: Close reading a primary source (text: Arriving in America)
  5. Activity 3: Writing captions for primary source images (text: Being a Slave)
  6. Activity 4: Retelling (text: Underground Railroad)
  7. Map and Bar Graph (small groups): In small groups, students read a map called The Atlantic Slave Trade, Volume and Destinations, 1701-1810, construct a bar graph with map data, and write answers to simple English questions. Students share their work on the Promethean board.
  8. Close Reading Practice (small groups): In pairs, small groups, or independently, students examine a primary source and record on a data collection chart what they notice and what they infer. Using a rubric, students prepare to briefly present to the class about their primary source.
  9. Culminating Activity – Primary Source Presentation (independent): Individually or in pairs, students give a two-minute presentation about their primary source to the class. The rubric is used as an assessment tool. Peers complete a listening capture sheet which is also reviewed by the teacher to promote respectful behavior and learning.


Through the extended lesson, homework may be adjusted for differentiation. For example, newly arrived ELLs are challenged by translating new English words into their native language. More proficient ELLs are challenged by independently continuing tasks begun together in the classroom. Proficient ELLs benefit from preparing to read text aloud in class while looking up at the audience, a reading strategy that develops comprehension and fluency; or retelling text in their own English.


Students use a rubric to prepare and self-evaluate their oral presentations. The teacher uses the rubric to evaluate the student presentations. Rubric categories are content for 10 points; preparation, 4 points; speaking, 4 points; and listening, 4 points.


For students with little English, the teacher must use a variety of visuals, speak slowly, and scaffold each lesson to convey the content as well as explicitly teach the English language students need meet the content objectives. The teacher could assign a buddy who speaks the same native language or teach the new student/s how to use an electronic translation device or GoogleTranslate on the internet. Note that many ELLs have little experience using a conventional monolingual or bilingual dictionary and may not have sufficient English comprehension to identify the appropriate dictionary definition for a given context.

This extended lesson accommodates groupings such as:

  • Same native-language groups – for emphasis on comprehension and vocabulary development
  • Same English proficiency – for differentiated language practice and content instruction, and modified assessment
  • Mixed English proficiency – for more proficient students to model language for less proficient
  • Similar background knowledge – for differentiated focus of content instruction
  • Cooperative learning – for specified roles depending on personal strengths regardless of English proficiency or background knowledge in the content area
  • Jigsaw groups – for students to practice their oral presentations before assessment
  • Student choice – to work alone, with a partner, with a teacher, with a group, and so on


Eltis, David and David Richardson. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Yale University Press: 2010.

Unknown, Anne. “Slavery.”

Grayson, Robert O. Runaway Slave Advertisement from Antebellum Virginia, 1854 (advertisement), Library of Congress, American Memory, American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera,

McPherson, William D. Scars of a whipped slave. 1863. Photograph. Source: The Archival
Research Catalog (ARC) of the National Archives, ARC Identifier 533232 / Local Identifier 165-JT-230, Item from Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952,

Reinel, Pedro and Lopo Homen. Terra Brasilis, 1519 (map), French National Library in
Paris, France,

Unknown. Cantino planisphere, 1502 (map), Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy,

Unknown. Handbill advertising a slave auction, in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1769. Handbill, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ62-10293),

Unknown. Sale in New York, 1789 (Advertisement), Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, Digital ID: 497464. Classified sale of a teenage slave girl.

Unknown. Threat of separation (photograph), Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture / Photographs and Prints Division (Digital ID: 497496), Poignant portrait of a multi-generational slave family,

Wadstrom, Carl B. Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship in An Essay on Colonization, particularly
applied to the Western coast of Africa in Two Parts (Diagram), London, 1794, 1795, Library of Congress Broadside Collection, also Prints and Photographs Division (LC-USZ62-44000),

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