3 Meaningful Reading Activities for Henry's Freedom Box

henry's freedom box lesson ideas

Every teacher knows that there is nothing more precious than time. We are always in need of more time! More time to help students learn, more time to assess students, more time to plan and create engaging lessons.

One way I love to save time is by re-purposing my favorite read aloud books for different lessons. This is a huge time saver since it cuts down on read aloud time. By being purposeful in selecting picture books to read aloud you will not only gain valuable time in the classroom, but also help students develop a deeper understanding of the books that you are reading aloud.

The picture book, Henry's Freedom Box* written by Ellen Levine is one of my all time favorites. It tells the true story of Henry "Box" Brown who mailed himself from Virginia to Philadelphia to free himself from slavery. His story is one of determination and bravery and became one of the most famous stories from the Underground Railroad.

Here are my favorite reading lessons to do following a read-aloud of Henry's Freedom Box:

Focus on Character Traits

Connecting character trait lessons with biographies is a great way to help students identify traits in people that they know. Often times, character trait units are focused on fictional stories and characters. By shifting character trait work with biography reading, students begin to make the real world connection. When reading Henry's Freedom Box, try one of these two activities:
  1. Have students use a simple t-chart to record 3 character traits Henry shows throughout the book. On the left side of the chart have students record the trait and on the right side, they can record text evidence. To go a step further, have students reread their work and circle one character trait that they also have. Students can write about how they show that trait.
  2. Instead of having students create a list of character traits, present students with a list of 15 different character traits. Simply create a list on chart paper and display during the read aloud. Have students keep a list of the traits that they can find evidence for as they listen. After the reading discuss the character traits and evidence that students found. Here are a few to start your list: determined, loving, caring, self-control, brave, persistent, and patient. 

Determining Importance

determining importance lesson activities
Determining importance requires students to filter out all of the details within a text to focus on the big idea. I teach my students that information from a text is important if it directly supports the main idea. If it does not, then we consider that information to be interesting.  Henry's Freedom Box, lends itself perfectly to helping students distinguish important details from interesting ones.

Try this: Have students record information from the book on a t-chart labeled important and interesting. Remind students that in order to write something on the important side it must support the big or main idea. If it does not, it should be written on the interesting side. If you are just beginning work on determining importance, create a class t-chart to record events from the text under important or interesting headings. Grab free organizers for this activity at the bottom of this post.

Summarizing Nonfiction

Once students have sorted all of the events from the story, they are ready to write a nonfiction summary of the book. I have students use TSMIDS to help them summarize informational texts. This stands for topic statement, main idea, and details that support it. It is an easy to use format that allows students to take the important information from their reading and turn it into a paragraph that summarizes what they read. By having students write a summary from their previous determining importance work connects the use of graphic organizers to support writing during reading.

Here are some other lesson topics that coordinate perfectly with this read aloud:
  1. Reading Informational Text
  2. Understanding Biographies
  3. Black History and Learning about the Underground Railroad
  4. Theme and Life Lessons in Literature
  5. Context Clues

No matter which book you read aloud, be sure to use it many ways! Intentionally select books to share with your students that can be used in a multitude of ways. It is also a great way to show students that good readers read books more than once and with different lenses each time. Henry's Freedom Box*can truly be used across all content areas and will engage your students every time you take it off the shelf.

Be sure to check out our favorite things for upper elementary teachers! 
Meaningful Reading Activities for Henry's Freedom Box

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)



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  12. Take great care to read the novel, focusing on Henry's feelings, ideas, and actions.
    Make a character map with a list of Henry's attributes, driving forces, and difficulties.
    Examine how two or three pivotal moments in the narrative shaped Henry's personality. Adapters Miscellaneous


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