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Underground Railroad: The William Still Story

Heroism and Leadership

Intermediate (grades 6-8)

1-2 class periods

Program Segments


NYS Core Curriculum - Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, 6-12


  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (Integrate info via charts)


  • Text Types and Purposes (Support claim, establish and maintain a style)
  • Production and Distribution of Writing (clear and coherent writing)
  • Research to Build and Present Knowledge (Short research projects, avoid plagiarism)

NCSS Themes

I.     Culture and Cultural Diversity
III.   People, Places, and Environments
IV.   Individual Development and Identity
VIII. Science, Technology, and Society


Students will be able to:

  • define the term hero and identify heroic behavior
  • define the term leader and identify leadership qualities
  • apply the definition of hero and leader to William Still, to the fugitive slaves, and to themselves

Focus Questions

  • What is a hero?
  • What is a leader?
  • Does a leader need to be a hero?
  • How are William Still and the fugitive slaves heroes?
  • How are William Still and the fugitive slaves leaders?
  • Do you see yourself as a hero, leader, or both? Why or why not?

Key Concepts

Heroism, Leadership, Character Traits
Instructional Resources


  1. Watch the Underground Railroad: The William Still Story segment regarding heroism and leadership.
  2. Discuss as a class:
    - What is a Leader? What are leader qualities?
    - What is a Hero? What are hero qualities?
    - Who are some past and present day leaders and heroes
  3. In small groups, ask the students to complete the Heroism and Leadership Venn Diagram including 3-5 examples in each category. Share their responses as a class. Record the class consensus regarding the characteristics and examples of heroism and leadership.
  4. Ask the small groups to complete the Heroism and Leadership Worksheet based on the qualities recorded on the Heroism and Leadership Venn Diagram.
  5. Using the information from their Venn Diagram, worksheet and class discussion, students should write a comparison essay of a leader or hero in their life and compare them to William Still (common traits/characteristics).

Assessment Tasks  

Complete and submit the Heroism and Leadership Worksheet and Venn Diagram. Students should each submit a comparison essay.

Extension Activity

Create a collage including five famous people who are heroes, another five people that are leaders, and another five people that have both qualities. The collage can be formatted as a Venn Diagram.

Portrait of William Still
Portrait of William Still
Massachusetts Historical Society
William Still quote
Filer image
Group of slaves in front of plantation in South Carolina
Courtesy Library of Congress
William Still quote

Program Segment for Lesson Plan

Underground Railroad: The William Still StoryEpilogue

Program segment for PBS Learning Media

Underground Railroad: The William Still StoryWilliam Still's Place in History

William Still earned the name "The Father of the Underground Railroad".

Underground Railroad: The William Still Story is a co-production of WNED PBS and 90th Parallel Productions Ltd, Toronto.

Underground Railroad: The William Still Story was made by The Canada Media Fund, Canadian National Railway, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – a private corporation funded by the American People. With additional support from David W. Pretty, Vernon Achber, and Phil Lind. And by PBS.