Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Phillis Wheatley

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The Let Freedom Ring book series is published by Capstone Press and includes 46 kid-friendly biographies of important Americans.  The Phillis Wheatley biography is written by Susan R. Gregson and includes a glossary of important words, poems written by Phillis, maps of the slave trade, and diagrams of slade ships, among other things.  Surprisingly, the book is only 40ish pages long, but really contains an impressive amount of information, much of which is perfect for use in the classroom.

The book begins with background information about Phillis Wheatley’s capture from Africa, journey to the United States, and purchase by John and Susannah Wheatley.  It details her early years living with the Wheatley family (John and Susannah named her Phillis) and explains how her talent as a writer was evident from an early age:

“The Wheatleys started by teaching Phillis to read, write, and speak English.  After she had mastered these skills, the Wheatleys taught her subjects such as Latin, philosophy, and mathematics.  Phillis loved to read and memorize poems.  She also read the Bible and was interested in religion.”

Facts are presented in a straightforward, easy to understand format that makes this book easy to read aloud to younger students, as well as conducive to silent reading or research for upper-elementary schoolers.

Curriculum Connections

Because Phillis Wheatley isn’t covered by a specific VA SOL, the book could be adapted for use with related topics like History 1.1 (distinguishing the present from the past because of the timeline incorporated) and Civics 1.10, 2.10, and 2.12 (traits of good citizenship and diversity in America).  It could also be used during a lesson on the Revolutionary War because some of those battles are touched on in the text, as well, or in lots of US History SOLs (for example, US1.5, 1.6, 1.7).  It could even be used in an English lesson about poetry.

Additional Resources

  • This Thinkquest website, entitled Voices of the American Revolution, is a neat way to show students the everyday lives of some lesser-known people who contributed to the war.  It has lots of information and a resource page for even further reading.

  • This website, focused on another book series, provides lesson plans and a webquest focused on poetry to teach about Phillis Wheatley.

  • The American Revolution for Kids is a website put together by a class of students with lots of information about all parts of the war.  Phillis Wheatley has a page, but the website is very comprehensive and would be good to have students use for some type of websearch assignment.

 General Information

Book: Phillis Wheatley (Let Freedom Ring series)
Author: Susan R. Gregson
Publisher: Bridgestone Books (Capstone Press)
Pages: 48
Grade range: 2-5
ISBN: 0736844988