Lesson Plan: Henry’s Freedom Box (3rd Grade)

Before Class: Put up a large poster of an empty tree (see attached) on one of the classroom walls.

Focus Activity (10 minutes): Show students the cover of Henry’s Freedom Box. Ask them the following questions:

  • What do you see in this picture?
  • Why do you think that the illustrator included these things in his picture?

Write answers on the board.

Guided Reading (30 minutes): Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson

  • Pg. 3: “Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind? They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.”
    • Why does Henry’s mom say that slave children are like leaves?
  • Pg. 8: “Free bird! Happy bird!
    • Do you think Henry wants to be like the birds?
  • Pg. 8: “The leaves swirled in the wind.”
    • Why do you think that the author tells us about the leaves here?
  • Pg. 16: Does Henry look happy here? Why not?
  • Pg. 21: “Henry no longer sang. He couldn’t hum.”
    • Why can’t Henry sing or hum anymore?
  • Pg. 24: Remember when Henry had to leave his family when he was younger and he looked at the birds? What idea does he get when he sees this bird?
  • Pg. 29: How do you think Henry is feeling now that he’s in the box?
  • Pg. 31: “Someone might hear him.”
    • What would happen if someone heard Henry?

Discussion (15 minutes): Ask students what they thought of the story and Henry. Return to focus activity: Look at the front cover of the book again. Is there anything that you notice about the cover that you didn’t notice before? What do you think the birds and the trees without leaves stand for?

           Write on board:

  • Birds stand for freedom.
  • Trees with no leaves stand for family members who were sold.

Activity (20 minutes):

  • (10 minutes): Tell students that slaves lost both their family and their friends when they were sold by the masters. Give each student a leaf cutout (see attached). Tell them to color in the leaves and write down the names of their family and friends.
  • (10 minutes): Bring the class back together. Ask students if they can be sold like Henry or his family. Why not? Explain that since there is no more slavery in the United States that leaves can stay on family trees. Attach each student’s leaf to the branches of the class tree.

Assessment (15 minutes): Complete handout (see below). **Answers to Bonus Question to possibly be used in tomorrow’s party.**

Homework: Tell students that “Since Henry didn’t get to have a birthday party when he was your age, tomorrow we’re going to have a party to celebrate Henry.” Give each student a “freedom bird.” Tell them that as a gift to Henry they have to each go home tonight and write 1-2 things on the bird that they get to do because they are free. In addition to this, students should feel free to decorate the birds however they would like.

During the party tomorrow, the songs given in answer to the Bonus Question will play. Each student will share one of the things they can do because they are free and the “freedom birds” will be hung above the classroom tree. Ask students: Did anyone come up with a reason you didn’t think about? Did anyone think of any other reasons that haven’t been mentioned? Write any new reasons on extra freedom birds and hang them up.


Empty Tree (Smaller Scale)

Family/Friends Leaf



Henry’s Freedom Box Assessment

 1. Henry didn’t say thank you when he was given to his master’s son because:

  1. He wanted to stay with the master.
  2. He didn’t like his master’s son.
  3. He wanted the master to free him.

2. What was Henry’s plan to get his freedom?

3. What was Henry’s nickname once he made it to Philadelphia?

  1. Henry “Mail” Brown
  2. Henry “Box” Brown
  3. Henry “Underground Railroad” Brown

4. Write two-three sentences on why Henry wanted to be free.


Henry liked to sing when he was happy. If you were happy what song would you sing? Why?


Freedom Bird



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