Dred Scott Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Use this Study.com lesson plan to teach your students about the Dred Scott case. Investigate the case and its background, and discuss implications of the Supreme Court's decision. Follow up with a high-level thinking activity.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • list events of the Dred Scott case
  • define key terms related to the Dred Scott case
  • read and analyze historical documents


1 hour


  • Excerpts or abridged versions of statements by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the House Speaker in the Dred Scott case, and the dissenting statement by Justice Benjamin Curtis, who supported Dred Scott (one for each student or group; excerpts can be found by a simple online search)
  • Timeline template (one for each student)

Key Vocabulary

  • Dred Scott
  • Harriet Scott
  • Dr. John Emerson
  • Eliza Irene Emerson
  • John Sanford
  • Roger B. Taney

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.5

Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


  • Invite students to connect to learning and examine prior knowledge by posing this question: 'Should laws always be followed, even if they are unjust?'
  • Have students do a flash writing exercise addressing the question, or get students up and moving by having them go to one side of the room for 'yes' and the other side of the room for 'no.' Discuss and share ideas to ensure proper understanding.
  • Tell students they will be learning about an important court case involving a slave who sued for freedom, Dred Scott. Share prior knowledge about the case, if applicable.
  • Show our Study.com video lesson Dred Scott v. Sanford: Case Summary & Decision.
    • Allow students to take notes, or provide copies of the lesson transcript and ask students to follow along and highlight important points.
  • Pause the video at 1:40 and review the events preceding the court case. Make sure students understand the implications of the Scotts' travels. Ask:
    • Why does it matter that the Scotts were in a free state then voluntarily went to a slave state?
  • Finish watching the video.
  • After the video, pass out the timeline templates. Ask students to review the events of the Dred Scott case and fill out the timeline. Share timelines and use information from students to create one complete, accurate timeline on the board or on chart paper.
  • Discuss:
    • Why did the Scotts sue for their freedom?
    • Explain the outcomes of the succession of court cases. Were they just? Were they legal?
    • Explain Chief Justice Taney's reasoning for denying the Scotts freedom. Do students agree or disagree?
    • What was the thinking behind the 'once free, always free' principle?


  • Divide students into groups and assign each group excerpts or an abridged version of statements by either Taney or Curtis.
  • Direct students to review these historical documents and analyze the thinking of Taney and Curtis in relation to the laws they defend and the larger moral picture.
  • Have students translate the statements into a shorter, more modern versions (about one paragraph).
  • Ask each group to choose a representative to read the statement as if they are reading it during the Dred Scott case. Share ideas and evaluations of one another's work.
  • As an exit slip, ask students to write their opinions on the case with at least 2 supporting details.


  • Tally up exit slip answers to see what students would have done if they were deciding the Dred Scott case. Discuss outcome and reasons with the class.
  • Add on to the activity by researching each trial and translating the decisions. Create a living timeline by having students read the accounts in order.
  • Ask students to imagine they are the Scotts during this period. Think of how it felt to get their hopes up and then be disappointed. Write a creative narrative or imaginary journal.

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