Using the Underground Railroad

By Becky Boyle

My students loved this activity. Yours will, too!

I recently had the opportunity to pilot National Geographic Education’s Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom interactive game with my 8th grade U.S. history students.

Want to learn more about Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom? Here’s a blog post that walks you through the game.


Before the students began the game, I briefly explained to them that we had a unique opportunity to try out a new game for National Geographic on the Underground Railroad. I explained that they would have an avatar and work through the game as a fugitive slave seeking freedom in the North. Students were encouraged to record notes and comments while they played the game.


Let the games begin! Once they were successfully on the site, students were completely engaged. I observed students intently focused on making the best decision possible for their character. They took notes about different actions and, on occasion, would consult with the student next to them.

Some student comments included:

  • I thought it was fun. I learned what could have happened when slaves were caught.
  • I loved it!
  • I liked it. It was educational. (Several students had this opinion)
  • I learned about the free slave law [Fugitive Slave Act].
  • I was surprised at how entertaining the game was. I like how it was interactive instead of us just reading about it.
  • It was interesting because it’s like a Choose-Your-Own Adventure book.
  • I think it was really fun especially for a game you play at school.
  • I learned how hard it was for them (fugitive slaves).
  • It was fun and it was also cool to make decisions like you are actually one of them.

My classes study the Civil War at the end of the year. Students are academically tired, and often their attention is more on finishing school and beginning summer vacation. Next year, our school district will be 1:1 student-to-iPad use, and I plan on using the Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom app. This interactive will be a great learning experience for our Civil War unit and will help keep students engaged with their learning until that last school bell of the year rings.

Becky teaches 8th grade U.S. history at Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington, Indiana. She worked a three year grant cycle with other teachers in her district for the Teaching America History project. She is also a recipient of the Indiana History Teacher of the Year Award given by the Indiana Historical Society. 

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