Dred Scott Decision Lesson Plan for 8th Grade

Dred Scott Decision | 8th Grade Lesson Plan

I think most teachers would agree that lesson planning starts with the end in mind. I also think it’s safe to say that a majority of educators start their planning with the objective or standard and work backward from there. To effectively hit the objective and scaffold learning, this Dred Scott lesson plan incorporates three different activities. Each activity builds upon the next.  The lesson begins with informational text focused on the life and trials of Dred Scott.  Next,  learning is reinforced with a mapping activity.  Finally, the lesson concludes with a summary writing assessment.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to write a comprehensive summary of the Dred Scott decision, including accurate background information about Dred Scott’s life and major events leading up to the landmark Supreme Court case.


Begin the lesson with a class discussion about the court system in the 1800s. In order to comprehend the magnitude of the Dred Scott vs. Sanford Supreme Court decision, it is important for students to understand how cases move from the circuit courts to the US Supreme Court. Together as a class, create an anchor chart of the court system hierarchy that you can refer to when reading about Dred Scott’s court cases.


The first part of the lesson is important because it lays the foundation for learning.  Due to the complicated nature of the Dred Scott case, starting the lesson with informational text works well.  If there is something students don’t understand, they can go back in the text, re-read, and clear up any confusion.  In order to ensure understanding, address important information in the reading using oral questioning.  At this point in the lesson, you don’t want the information to become too overwhelming, but it is critical that students have a clear understanding of Dred Scott’s life and the events leading up to the landmark Supreme Court case.  A background video that complements the text would be a great way to reinforce learning and address any lingering inconsistencies.

Dred Scott Decision Text

All of the Dred Scott teaching materials discussed in this lesson plan can be found here in printable and digital formats. The text-based questions listed below will work for most comprehensive texts about Dred Scott, but they were written specifically for the teaching materials linked in this post.

  • Where and when was Dred Scott born?
  • Where did Scott’s first owner settle with his family and enslaved workers in 1830?
  • Who was Dred Scott sold to when Peter Blow died?
  • Where did Dred Scott live with Dr. Emerson?
  • Who did Dred Scott meet and marry in Wisconsin?
  • Where was Dr. Emerson transferred to shortly after Dred Scott married Harriet?
  • Where did the Scotts live when their daughter Eliza was born?
  • Who managed Dr. Emerson’s enslaved workers after he died?
  • On what grounds did the Scotts petition the St. Louis Circuit Court for their freedom in 1846?
  • What was the result of the Scotts retrial in 1850?
  • What happened two years later?
  • What was the decision of Dred Scott’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court?
  • Why were many Americans outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision?
  • How did Dred Scott finally achieve freedom for himself and his family?


Maps foster critical thinking. When constructing a map, students are moving beyond the processes of recall and basic reasoning and into a more complex way of thinking.  Including a map activity within the Dred Scott lesson reinforces and builds upon the information gained from the text.  In fact, students will, most likely, need to refer back to the text in order to accurately apply their knowledge in a way that visually represents Dred Scott’s travels across state lines.  Students will not be able to provide an accurate summary, the final portion of the lesson, if they don’t understand Scott’s travels through free and slave states.  This is the time to catch anyone falling behind, which makes the map activity ideal for differentiation.  It will help to ensure you are meeting the needs of all learners in your classroom. Click here to download the map worksheet shown below.

Dred Scott Map Activity


The lesson ends with a focus on a summary writing skills.  Students are asked to summarize the Dred Scott case by writing a newspaper article as a journalist in 1857.  Before writing the article, students complete an outline that they will refer back to when writing their summary.  The outline serves as a guide for the summary writing process. It includes all the necessary information students will need to write an effective summary:

  • Who is Dred Scott?
  • Where did Dred Scott live?
  • What did Dred Scott try to do to get his freedom? When?
  • Why did he think he could win?
  • What was the outcome?

After completing the outline, it is time for students to showcase what they have learned over the course of the lesson.  If students did an adequate job addressing the questions contained in the outline, they should be able to identify the main idea and summarize the events in a concise newspaper article.  I provide students with a newspaper article template that includes space for them to include their own unique newspaper name, article title, and illustration.  The finished product serves as a great tool for assessing the lesson objective. It also looks great hanging up in the classroom!

You will need the following materials to mirror the Dred Scott lesson detailed above: an article or text detailing Dred Scott’s life and the landmark Supreme Court case, a black outline map of the United States in 1857, the outline questions posted above, and a newspaper article template.  I also like to include a summary writing rubric that I review with students before the writing process begins.  If gathering the materials is something you don’t have time for at the moment, but you’re interested in delivering the Dred Scott lesson in this format, click here to access the lesson from Literacy in Focus on TpT.  It includes everything you need for a successful lesson without all the stress of planning it!


Dred Scott Teaching Materials

“This really helped my 8th grade students understand the Dred Scott decision and the activities that went with it were both engaging and fun. I would recommend this!” -Jess

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Dred Scott Decision | Lesson Plan for 8th Grade