Learning, Online - Reflections on teaching history

Haitian Revolution Lesson Plan

In this history lab students critically read primary sources in order to answer the question “Who Was Toussaint L’ouverture?”  Students work in groups with each student concentrating on one source about Toussaint. Groups construct a profile that characterizes the Haitian Revolutionary.  Teachers can differentiate the assignment by assigning more difficult texts to more proficient readers.  This can be done with students first working in expert groups on the same document, and then creating the profile in a different group with each document represented.  The plan below was developed for two days of sixty-seven minute periods with eleventh grade students.  Some groups used time outside of class to finish their profiles.  Adjust as necessary, of course.


  • Create student groups of four
  • Make copies of documents, (Lear, French Minister, Toussaint, and Rainsford)
    • Two sets for each group
    • One copy of the constitution
    • This copy of the documents has hyperlinks to The Louverture Project, for teacher use or online reading
  • Make copies of images of student to use for profiles
  • Review slides on the Haitian Revolution

Day One

Step 1: Hook. Project images of Toussaint L’Ouverture (slide 1 in presentation), and tell class that we
are not sure which most accurately represents the man. Opening questions:

  • If he was so important, and he was, why might we not know what he looked like?
  • How can we find out who Toussaint L’ouverture was?
  • How should history books represent Toussaint L’ouverture?

Step 2: Establish context with a short presentation on the Haitian Revolution.  Less is more.  Limit presentation to just enough for students to understand the documents.  Students will need to know:

  • St. Domingue (later Haiti) was a French colony
    • Slavery
    • Variety of racial groups
    • Sugar
  • Haitian Revolution began as a slave revolt
  • Toussaint Louverture became a military leader and as such he controlled the island by 1801
  • French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte tried to reconquer St. Domingue for France
  • French officials acting on Napoleon’s orders captured and imprisoned Toussaint in France, where he later died
  • Napoleon’s attempt to regain control of Haiti failed, and it became an independent republic

Step 3: Students read documents. Group students into heterogenous (by reading ability) groups of four.
Give each student a reading, with the Constitution and a packet of all four sources as extra readings for students to examine if they finish early. Documents are of uneven difficulty; assign them based on student reading level.  Lear document is the most difficult,

  • Based on the source have students predict how their document will portray TL, they can write
    this on the document
  • Students read and mark up the documents: underline key ideas, writing summary statements
    and questions in the margin, and circling ideas that need clarification
  • Create a source card/sheet with:
    •  Information about the source, who wrote it
    • Sourcing analysis: how the source’s social position or document type may have influenced
      the content. Put another way, what about the author or the type of document may have
      influenced its conclusions.
    • The source’s main ideas that has about TL
      ◦ Supporting quotations or paraphrase
      ◦ Based on this source: Who was TL?
  •  Collect these and quickly read before day two to check for any problems or missing features;
    alternately, scan student work while they are working; Some students will experience difficulty
    interpreting the documents.

Day Two

Step 4: Brief meetings in expert groups: Students with the same document go over the
information on their cards in groups of people with the same documents.  Teacher circulates to clarify misconcptions.

Step 5: Students move back into their home groups. Students share their interpretations of the
sources, and discuss the sourcing analysis. Students record information in a chart that includes a
sourcing analysis.

Step 6: Groups decide who Toussaint L’ouverture was and what the main idea will be for their profile.  Encourage students to consider the sourcing of the documents.

Step 7: Construct the profile, modeled on profiles in text books, including:

  • Main idea: who was Toussaint L’ouverture?
  • Supporting evidence:
    • Quotations
    • Historical events
  • Headline
  • Choose a visual and write a caption that includes rationale for picking that visual

Roles Students could be given individual responsibility for different pieces of this project. :

  • Researcher/recorder: records and analyzes group input; locates additional resources
  • Copy writer: primarily responsible for the text of the profile
  • Editor: overseas project; edits profile; writes title for profile
  • Graphic Designer: lays out the page, places the visual, finalizes the caption wording

Extension: Students compose a recommendation regarding inclusion of the profile in their textbook.
Individually, students will write one paragraph recommending to the publisher either that their profile
of Toussaint Louverture appear in the text. If they recommend inclusion, they must indicate what
they would leave out from the relevant section of the text.

Black ink signature

Toussaint L’ouvertures signature. One possible visual for students’ profiles.

I presented this lesson at the MCSS 2013 Conference.  The session included a discussion of history labs as critical tools for teaching historical thinking.  I handed out this Lesson Plan in my session.  Professor David McNally has assembled a useful set of sources from Toussaint L’ouverture.

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.