Social Studies Using Children's Literature

"Samuel's Choice"

by Richard Berleth

Publisher and Date: Scholastic Inc. 1990

Curriculum Developer: Stephanie Davis

Summary: Samuel is a young slave in Brooklyn during 1776. He works as a boatman for his master which gives him more freedom than other slaves, but he still wonders what it would be like to be free. When the Revolutionary War comes to Samuel, he is forced to make difficult decisions about true freedom.

Social Studies Relevance: This book introduces a part of history that greatly impacted America. It also deals with the psychological aspect of social studies because of the personal decision making topics. Geography can be addressed in relation to where the events took place that are discussed in the book.

Grade Level Focus: fifth grade

Relationship to Social Studies State Core:

1. Create individually, or in a group, one or more of the following: newspapers, posters, poetry, bumper stickers, interviews, surveys, bulletin boards, stories, etc.

2. Evaluate with other class members right and wrong actions, according to universal standards, as being morally acceptable or unacceptable.

3. Analyze the effects that the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence have on the lives of students.

4. Explain the scope and limits of freedom in a democratic society.

5. Outline the major historical events, people, wars, and documents that played a significant role in United States history from 1492 to the present.


Lesson Plans

What Is Freedom?


Materials Needed:


1. Decision Making Strategy. Arrange students in small groups (3 - 4 students) according to the people they are sitting near. Have each group talk about the definition of freedom. They need to write down a definition that all members of the group are willing to support by coming to a consensus (make sure that the students understand the meaning of "consensus" beforehand). Tell the students to look for signs of freedom in the story.

2. Read Samuel's Choice up to page 24 where it reads "Was this freedom?" Have students get back in their groups and discuss whether or not their definition would qualify this situation as freedom. Ask them to discuss why it would or why would it not support their definition.

3. Decision Tree. Continue to read until page 24 after it reads "Then I knew my choice." Stop and have the students complete a Decision Tree. It may be most effective to do this activity with the use of an overhead projector. As a class, list the good consequences of Samuel not helping the American soldiers and the bad consequences. Also list the good consequences of Samuel helping the soldiers and the bad consequences. Have the students individually decide what Samuel's decision will be. *(The decision tree format is found at the end of this lesson.)

4. Finish reading the story.

5. Have the students get back in their groups and evaluate their definition of freedom. Do they still agree with it? Students can make changes to their definition if necessary.


Evaluation: Observation of students' contributions to the decision tree. Read over the groups' definitions of freedom to see if they could work collaboratively to create a feasible definition.


Not Helping the Soldiers

Helping the Soldiers

Good Consequences



Bad Consequences




Who and Why


Materials Needed:


1. Direct Instruction. New York was not the only colony involved in the war with Britain. There were thirteen colonies altogether that were involved. The colonies were: Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Georgia. Samuel mentions some of these colonies on page eighteen when he talks about seeing the soldiers marching passed. 

2. Think-Pair-Share. Ask the students why they think these tired and hungry men were willing to fight against the strong and heavily armed British soldiers. After giving the students enough time to think about some reasons, have the students share their ideas with a partner. Give the partners time to share their ideas and to discuss, then tell the students that just as they came up with many different answers, the colonists had many different reasons for seeking independence from Britain.

3. Direct Instruction. America gave thousands of Europeans the chance they were looking for. It gave them economic opportunities, freedom of worship, and land ownership. Tell the students that there are many events that led up to the Revolutionary War. Some of the background and causes of the war include: the Boston Massacre, the Boston Port Act, the Boston Tea Party, the Continental Congress, Declaration of Independence, the Intolerable Acts, the Navigation Acts, and the Stamp Act.

4. Divide the class up into groups of twos or threes so there are thirteen groups all together. Each group will represent a colony and will pick reasons for wanting independence from Britain. The students will research their colony and the event that led up to their involvement in the Revolutionary war (i.e. Massachusetts because of anger over the killing of a brother during the Boston Massacre).

5. Now the groups will take the knowledge they have gained about their colony and reasons for wanting independence from Britain to create a fictional character. This character will become part of the march that is talked about on page eighteen. They will give the character a name, where he is from, and be knowledgeable about what has brought him to the point of being one of Washington's recruits. The students can make flags with their colony's name on them and a symbol standing for their fight for freedom.

6. Role Play. The students will get in a line and reenact the march of the tired soldiers past Samuel. Have the students write a script that involves each of the groups of colonists and gives them the opportunity to say who they are and why they are there. Tell the students that somewhere in the script all of the "recruits" need to chant the list of the thirteen original colonies (they may come up with a rap, a song, or surprise you with something even better).

Evaluation: Observe the students to see that they have captured the mood of the story. Each student needs to have worked with their group in listing three reasons for wanting independence, presenting a fictional character, and verbally listing the thirteen original colonies.

Where Are We?

Objective: Students will be able to create a story map of Samuel's Choice containing at least six important elements talked about in the book.

Materials Needed:


1. Students need to have prior knowledge of map making (being able to see things from bird's eye view and the relationship of places in a story).

2. Tell the students that it is important to understand the setting of a book so you are able to visualize where the characters are. It creates a better understanding of the story and a greater connection with the plot.

3. Reread the book to the students, concentrating on pages four through eight , and have them each identify on a piece of paper the important places as they are talked about. Have them identify the characters, also.

4. Ask questions to help them understand the order of the story and where places are located.

5. When you are done rereading, allow the students a chance to ask questions of each other pertaining to the relationships of places in the story.

6. Story Mapping. Have the students draw a map of the story using the data they have collected about the places and events in the book. It should include at least six of the following:


Check for the students' understanding of the setting and chronological order of the story by viewing their story maps. Look to see if their maps include at least six major places talked about in the story, and that they have correctly arranged them on their map.



In the News

(adapted from: Teaching Plan: Literature, Scholastic Book, 1993).

Objective: Students will be able to create a class newspaper, based on Samuel's Choice, from the perspective of American colonists in 177.

Materials Needed:


1. Guided Discussion. Have the students read articles found in your local newspaper and tell them to look for the important parts of the article (who the article is about, where it happened, when it happened, what happened, and why it happened). Guide them in a discussion about what made the articles effective as far as giving the needed information. The elements an article needs to contain are: who, what, where, when and why. Discuss what would happen if an article left one of these elements out. The questions posed should require both factual and open-ended answers. Possible Discussion Questions:

2. Listing. After reading Samuel's Choice, create a list on the board of important events or people found in Samuel's Choice. These topics could include battles, the bravery of certain characters, or ideas about the Tories. Have students contribute to the list. When all ideas have been exhausted, vote on the "Top News Stories" in the book so you have it narrowed down to five or six topics (depending on how many groups you want and how big you want each group to be).

3. Hands-on (Minds-on). Divide the class into groups by counting off (up to 5 or 6, depending on the number of story topics chosen). Each number is assigned a news topic to cover. In the groups, students will use the book and other resources to write a newspaper article from the point of view of an American colonist about the event the group is assigned. The article should contain the elements discussed earlier that make up a good article (who, what, where, when, and why). The members of each group will divide themselves out to the tasks (i.e., writing the article, gathering information, drawing maps or pictures, writing headlines and captions, and putting the article together). Story maps made previously during the "Where Are We?" lesson could be used in the newspaper. One section of the paper can be the "Credits" section where everyone writes what they have contributed to the paper (i.e., writers; Amy, Shaun, Jim, and Kelly Illustrators; John and Melissa etc.).

4. When the groups are finished, the class will compile the articles to form the newspaper. Make copies for everyone in the class to read and to take home.

Evaluation: Observation of students' contributions to the list of the major events and stories. Read through the finished newspaper to see that the articles convey the information correctly and effectively (is this something an American colonist in 1776 would say or write?). Make sure that each student has taken part in the making of the newspaper by checking the "Credits" section.