Sugar Changed the World:  A Story of Spice, Magic, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

5 Lessons


Sugar has touched people over distances and time for centuries.  Not surprisingly, sugar is a natural motivator for students’ interests at all levels of school and all levels of skill across most of the curriculum.  This study guide is designed to enhance students’ mastery of key content and skills in geography, civics, U.S. and World History, economics, music, language arts, science and other disciplines (K-12) through examination of the impact of sugar on people, ideas, and trade.  It is intended to be used in conjunction with Sugar Changed the World:  A Story of Spice, Magic, Slavery, Freedom, and Scienceby Sibert Award-winning author Marc Aronson, along with other materials.  Each lesson is designed with multiple objectives in mind, to make the most efficient use of teachers’ time.

The guide consists of a preparatory activity and five lesson plans drawn from topics investigated in Sugar Changed the World:  A Story of Spice, Magic, Slavery, Freedom, and Science:

  • Preparatory Activity:  The Geography of Sugar
  • Lesson 1:  The Science of Sugar
  • Lesson 2:  Sugar Through Language, the Arts, and the Senses
  • Lesson 3:  The History of Sugar
  • Lesson 4:  The Economics of Sugar
  • Lesson 5:  The Civics of Sugar

Within each lesson plan you will find all or most of the following information:

  • Synopsis of lesson
  • Lessons (including procedures, materials and hyperlinks or additional resource suggestions)


Although the study guide is designed so to provide an integrated course of studies across the curriculum, it is not expected that students will complete all the listed activities.  Teachers may assign selected activities to their classes, allow students to choose an activity for themselves, or set up independent learning centers with the material needed for suggested activities.  Also, teachers may wish to give students the opportunity to earn extra credit by completing some activities as independent work.  Recognizing the time and accountability constraints facing classroom teachers, we encourage you to select and adapt the activities that best meet your students’ needs and abilities.

This study guide was written by Jean M. West, an education consultant in Port Orange, Florida.


Preparatory Activity:  The Geography of Sugar

Synopsis of Idea:  Have students trace the journey of sugar outward from New Guinea on a map or globe.  Then, have students trace with contrasting colored yarns or markers the journey of people who labored growing sugar, estimate the distances involved, and evaluate the impact of sugar on the movement of people worldwide.

Materials needed:

  • World map or globe (inexpensive inflatable or flea-market globe)
  • Yarns or markers of several colors
  • Stickers or pushpins


  1. The Journey of Sugar   
  2. Read aloud the passage from the book, “Hawaii is where the two journeys of sugar cane join:  hundreds of years earlier, the first inhabitants of Hawaii brought those cane stalks with them from their homes in the Pacific.  As we have seen, the plant had been taken from New Guinea and brought to India, then on to Persia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Azores, then via Columbus on to the New World.”
  3. Direct students to mark the progress of sugar around the globe by locating and marking each of the locations in the paragraph with a sticker or pushpin on a world map or globe.  Next, connect the locations with a marker line or yarn.  Finally number the locations from the first (New Guinea, to the last, Hawaii.)
  4. Ask students to calculate the distances from New Guinea to India, India to Persia (modern Iran), Iran to the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean to the Azores, and the Azores to Hispaniola in the Caribbean.  What is the total distance sugar traveled to get to the New World?
  5. Discuss as a class why people would go to such lengths (or at least distances) to transplant sugar from its source to other locations.


  1. The Demographics of Sugar
  2. Read aloud the passage from the book, “Every day, we live in the world sugar created – where the descendants of Africans live in the Caribbean, in Brazil, in the United States and Canada; where the grandchildren of indentured Indians share those Caribbean islands—and American cities; where the children of China, Japan, the Philippines, and Korea make up the population of Hawaii….”
  3. Direct students to locate Africa on a world map or globe and to place a sticker or pushpin on it.  Next, have students place markers on the Caribbean, Brazil, the United States, and Canada.  Finally, have students connect the markers to Africa with marker lines or yarn.  Ask students to calculate the distances from Africa to each of the four destinations and then add all four distances.
  4. As students to locate India on a world map or globe and to place a sticker or pushpin on it.  Next, have students place markers on an island of the Caribbean, such as Cuba, and an American city, such as Los Angeles or New York.  Finally, direct students to connect the markers to India with marker lines or yarn.  Ask students to calculate the distances from India to the two points selected as destinations and then add the two distances.
  5. Finally, direct students to locate the Hawaiian Islands and place a sticker or pushpin on it.  Next place markers on China, Japan, the Philippines, and Korea.  Connect the marker to Hawaii with lines or yarn.  Ask students to calculate the distances from Hawaii to the four destinations and then add all four distances.
  6. Add the three subtotals for a final total of distances.  Ask students to evaluate the impact of sugar on the migration of people worldwide.


  1. Google LitTrips
  2. Visit the Sugar Changed the World website at to access the Google Lit Trip for the book.  There students can look at maps from the book as transparencies and compare them with current Google Earth views of the same locations.
  3. Students may access imbedded author’s notes with fun facts, many of which did not make it into the book.


Additional resources

BBC History has an interactive map on the Abolition of British Slavery at which places many of the events of this book into geographic context, providing visual interplay between events in the Caribbean and in Great Britain.


Lesson 1:  The Science of Sugar

Synopsis of Idea:  The sucrose molecule is formed of two rings, glucose and fructose.  The union and separation of the components seems a neat little metaphor for sugar changing the world.  Students will learn about sucrose and how saturation works (it’s the basis of candy-making) and then look at an ingredient and nutritional composition of a candy and relate it to how the body metabolizes sugar, relating it to issues including obesity, cavities, and diabetes.


  1. Chemistry of sugar 
  2. Direct students to look up the molecular formula of sucrose C12H22O
  3. Next, after examining a graphic representation of the molecule direct the students to make a model of sucrose.  They may use students in the class, tennis balls, and baseballs (borrowed from PE) to create their model.  If the school owns molecular model building kits, they may make a model, or make one on their own.
  4. Ask students to examine the crystalline form of sugar (which is not a perfect cube but an oblong crystal with slanting ends.)
  5. Direct students to conduct an experiment to determine the quantity of sugar needed to reach the point of saturation in a) refrigerated water, b) room temperature, water and c) hot water.  Students should measure and add sugar until it will no longer dissolve, recording the quantity under each of the three conditions.  Ask them to identify under which temperature condition the most sugar is absorbed.
  6. Explain that super-saturation (when a saturated heated mix cools it is super-saturated) is the basis of candy—crystalline (like lollipops) or non-crystalline (like fudge).


  1. Biology of sugar
  2. Direct students to use a baseball card as a template for a Candy Card.  Each student should select a specific candy to research, for example: Hershey Kiss, Kit Kat, Snickers, Goodbar, Butterfinger, Life Savers, Jolly Rancher, Baby Ruth, Skittles, M&Ms, or Tootsie Roll Pops.  Information on the card should include:
  • the year it was invented
  • the person or company that invented it
  • a picture of it and its wrapper
  • the ingredient list
  • nutritional information


  1. Direct students to read how the body metabolizes sugar and then discuss the process in class.
  2. Ask students how the ingredient and nutritional information on their card relates to current guidelines on healthful caloric and sugar intake.  How much of the candy is it healthful to eat?
  3. Discuss how excess consumption relates to obesity, cavities, and diabetes.


Additional resources:

The San Francisco Exploratorium, a science museum, dedicates part of their website to the Science of Cooking.  The Science of Candy includes photographs of sugar crystals and discusses the chemistry of sugar during candy-making at

Try Engineering has an entire lesson plan dedicated to growing sugar crystals at

To locate information about manufactured candies, check commercial websites such as Nestles (Kit Kat and Butterfinger) at Wikipedia (fairly reliable information on the candy), and the product panels for calorie and nutrition information at the grocery store.

For current guidelines on calories, sugar, fat, sodium and other dietary concerns, check the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site at or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

Dr. Robert S. Horn, has created a Sugars4Kids website with a well-illustrated explanation of how humans metabolize sugars (and why we can’t get nutrition from grass) at

Lesson 2:  Sugar through Language, the Arts, and the Senses

Synopsis of Idea:  Through language arts, music, physical education and culinary arts classes, students can explore through taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight the aesthetics of sugar.


Preparatory Activity

  1. Copy the following four sets of words onto index cards, keeping each set separate.
  2. Explain to students that etymology is the history of language and that they are going to figure out the history of the word “sugar” and the related words “candy”, “molasses,” and “syrup.”
  3. Divide the class into four teams.  Provide each team with a “target card,” the final word for the set (i.e. “sugar,” “candy,” “molasses” and “syrup.”)  Provide each team with a packet with cards showing the words that are the building blocks to the target sugar-related word. You may wish to announce that the base words are: Shakara, Kanda, Mel, and Sharab.  Direct the students to try to put the remaining cards in order, giving them a two-minute time limit.  The correct order is:
  • Shakara, Shaker, Sukkar, Succarum, Zucchero, Sucre, Sugre, Sugar
  • Kanda, Qand, Qandi, Candi, Candy
  • Mel, Mellaceum, Melaço, Melasses, Molasses
  • Sharab, Sirupus, Siroppo, Sirop, Sirupe, Syrup
  1. Which group had the highest degree of accuracy?  Does the progression make sense?
  2. Ask students to brainstorm a list of sugar related expressions from “candy striper” to “sugar daddy.”


  1. Sugar Literature
  2. Ask students to read and analyze Virgil’s Georgics IV, his poem about bees.  It is long, so it might be useful to divide the lines among the students, read it aloud, and “translate” the poem into modern language.
  3. Sugar appears in literature in many forms. Students may select and complete one of the following activities:
    1. Create a reading list of at least ten stories and or books that feature sweets (such as Hansel and Gretel orWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).
    2. Identify and analyze how sweets are used as a plot device in a story (for example, Chocolate Frogs and the role their collectable cards play inHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.)
    3. Create a list of at least ten sugar similes and/or metaphors, for example, “sweet as sugar” and “land of milk and honey.”
    4. Jane Austen explores wealth and human values in her writings, but especially inMansfield Park.  The Bertram’s way of life is based on income from their West Indian estate in Antigua—a sugar plantation whose operations were based on slave labor.  Fanny Price’s inquiries to Sir Thomas Bertram about the slave trade are met with “dead silence.”  Knowing the economic basis of the Mansfield Park life-style, ask students to read the book and decide whether Jane Austen is critical of British colonialists profiting from slave labor or whether she ignores the issue.


  1. Sugar Music
  2. Ask students to research, listen and then play/perform historical sugar songs mentioned in the book and available on the supporting website, Sugar Changed the World, in the Music and Dance of Sugar Work segment at   :
  • Konbit (collective group work song)
  • Palo Mayombe and Yoruba songs from Cuba
  • Changüí
  • Bomba (also see Asi Bailaba Puerto Rico:  Al Son de la Bomba y la  Plena by Chivirico Davila)
  • Maculele
  • Holehole Bushi
  • Jahaji Music (Ship brothers) at YouTube: “Surabhi Sharma’s Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean”
  1. For additional “sugar music,” select one of the following activities:
    1. Introduction to Musical Genres

Use “sugar” as a theme to introduce different musical genres.  Selections ranging from classical to jazz to country and pop music might include:

  • Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairiesby Tchaikovsky
  • Stevie Wonder’sSugar
  • A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine go Downfrom Mary Poppins
  • Brown Sugarby the Rolling Stones
  • Sugarby Billie Holliday
  • Sugar, Sugarby the Archies
  • Sugar Pie, Honey Bunchby the Four Tops
  • Sugar Townby Nancy Sinatra
  • Big Rock Candy Mountainby Tex Ritter
  • Sugar Daddyby the Jackson Five
  1. Jazz and Sugar

Ask students to create a playlist, history of jazz presentation (slide show or video), or program for jazz band of “Sugar”-themed songs.  Possible titles might include:

  • When I Take my Sugar to Tea(Nat King Cole)
  • I’m Gonna Salt Away SomeSugar (Fats Waller)
  • Sugar Hill Shuffle(Count Basie)
  • Sugar Buzz(Russell Malone)
  • Sugar Foot Strut(Louis Armstrong)
  • Sugar Ray(Miles Davis)
  • Brazilian Sugar(George Duke)
  • Brown Sugar(Cook’s Dreamland Band)
  • When my Sugar Walks Down the Street(Ella Fitzgerald)
  • My Sugar is so Refined(The Hi-Los)
  • Sugar Mamma(John Lee Hooker)
  • Sugar Lips(Al Hirt)
  • Sugar Blues(Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
  • Sugar Rum Cherry(Dance of the Sugar Plums by Duke Ellington)
  • Sugar Cane(Les Nubians)
  • Sugar Kane(Scott Joplin)
  • Sugar Foot Stomp(Fletcher Henderson).
  1. Sugar Rhythm:

Give students the notation for a Hawaiian sugar rhythm (dotted quarter note, eighth note, quarter note, quarter note), have them clap it, and then chant it with drum.  A complete lesson on Hole Hole Bushi is available at

  1. Create a playlist of songs by “Sugar” musicians such as Sugar Ray, Sugarland, Sugar Beats, Sugar Inc., Sugar Mountain and the Sugarhill Gang.


  1. Sugar Art
  2. Using a Venn Diagram, ask students to compare and contrast one of the following pairs of images:
    1. The Liberian Coin and the Wedgwood Medallion of Am I Not A Man?
    2. Compare and contrast a painting of boiling sugar with a photograph of it.
    3. Study the Clark series of eight prints unified by the theme of sugar.  Why does he make the choices he makes for each of the eight prints?  How does he make each picture distinctive?  How does he unify the series?
    4. Discuss who the artists are that made images of slaves working with sugar.
  • How does that effect what is depicted?
  • How do you think a slave might depict the same scene?
  • How does the viewpoint of the artist change the impact on the viewer?
  • To what degree should art be documentary rather than expressive?


  1. Sugar Physical Education
  2. Gardening

If the school is able and wishes to create a community garden, classes may dig garden plots spray-painted on the ground that are five feet square, such as the ones sugar plantation workers had to dig.

  1. Divide class into three teams.  Provide each team with a shovel.  Instruct them to excavate to a depth of 5 inches in the entire square.
  2. The first team to finish wins and selects the first crop to be planted.
  3. Have students and adult volunteers add topsoil and other amendments to excavated patches to begin gardening.
  4. Dance
    1. Have students watch some of the dances on the website,
    2. Direct students to learn traditional dance steps or to create choreography for a sugar dance, either the bomba or maculele, and then perform it.


  1. Sugar Culinary Arts
  2. Honey Tasting
    1. Explain to students that they will be conducting a taste test of orange, buckwheat, clover, and a local honey.
    2. Ask them to create a “judges” sheet to compare elements of the flavor of each.
    3. Conduct the tasting and then discuss how the different honeys were distinct.
    4. Holidays and Sugar

Explain to students that they will be creating a sugar holiday buffet.  This may be done either virtually (with photographs) or using recipes to create the actual delicacies. Holidays with sweet items might include:

  • Valentines (sugar hearts)
  • Easter (chocolate eggs)
  • Christmas (candy cane)
  • Halloween (candy corn)
  • Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins)
  • Passover charoset (Sephardic version: chopped nuts, dates, grated apples, cinnamon, sweet wine, honey)
  • Dia de los Muertos (sugar skulls)
  • Los Posadas (piñata with candy)
  • Chinese New Year (moon cake)
  • Diwali (karanji)
  • Durga Puja (mishti doi)
  • Gantan Japanese New Year (osechi ryori kurikinton: mashed sweet potatoes and sweet chestnut
  • Id El Fitr (sekanjabin: sweet mint drink)
  • Seker Bayrami (Turkish Delight/Loukoum)
  • Madagascar Rice Harvest (koba: steamed rice, banana, honey and peanuts)


  1. Hot Sugar!

This activity requires adult supervision because it will involve a stove and hot liquids. 


  • Candy thermometer
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Honey
  1. Students will work with candy thermometer, water, sugar to learn about the stages of candy making.  Heat sugar and water to the various stages on a candy thermometer and examine how the candied sugar appears at each stage.
  2. Have students add acid (lemon juice), glucose or fructose to invert (separate) the sucrose so it will not recrystallize.
  3. Challenge students to make a dessert or candy requiring sugar to be heated, for example, make crème caramel, rock candy
  4. Sugar Arts:  Marzipan, frosting, and sugar décor 
    1. Watch an episode of a cooking show such as Food Network’sAce of Cakes or Food Network Challenge’s Extreme Candy Carnival or Last Cake Standing for contemporary ideas or go to the website Gode Cookery for medieval recipes at .  Alternately, either of Madeleine Pelner Cosman’s books on medieval cooking such as Fabulous Feasts:  Medieval Cookery and Ceremony or Medieval Holidays and Festivals:  A Calendar of  Celebrations are excellent sources for medieval recipes.  Claude Huyghens book Fêtes Gourmandes au Moyen Ages, is beautiful to look at, although the text is in French.
    2. Challenge students to use the contemporary or historical techniques they have discovered to make frosting decorations, candy “stained glass,” marzipan sculpture, or a similar sugar creation.


Additional Resources:

For a history of food and connections to recipes over the ages, enjoy the Food Timeline at


Lesson 3:  The History of Sugar

Synopsis of Idea:  Because sugar itself is not a topic specifically covered in history, it is necessary to tie activities into content and skills already taught.  Students will use sugar as a vehicle to learn skills in graphing, chronology, research, and historiography, as well historical content related to the slave trade, Sugar Act, Louisiana Purchase, and immigration.

  1. Graphing Sugar Consumption over Time
  2. Direct students graph sugar consumption over 100 year intervals:  (4 lbs. 1700, 18 lbs. 1800, 90 lbs. 1900, 140 lbs. 2000).
  3. Then, to illustrate the weight behind the numbers, work with a scale (perhaps with the assistance of the school clinic) having students pile textbooks and/or backpacks to the appropriate weight.


  1. Chronology 
  2. Preparatory Activity:   Sugar Chronology
    1. Either bring in containers of honey (prehistory), granulated cane sugar (between 100-1200), corn syrup (Karo, 1902), and aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet, 1965) or sucralose (Splenda, 1976), or print out pictures of them.
    2. Challenge students to arrange them in chronological order.
    3. Discuss how close the class came to getting the order correct.  What surprises were there, if any?


  1. Sugar Changed the World Timeline

Make four copies of timeline in the back of Sugar Changed the World.  Divide the class into four groups.

  1. Direct each group to divide the timeline along the divisional ages in the text, i.e. the Age of Honey, Age of Sugar, Age of Freedom, Age of Science.
  2. Next, have the group turn the timeline into a fan book (strips that have a hole punched in the bottom that can be held by a brad or ring and fanned out.)
  3. Finally, divide the timeline into segments and give each segment to a group to create a scrapbook page featuring that segment of the timeline and illustrations or small objects or words that emphasize important elements of that time period
  4. Have the groups display their page individually or coordinate to assemble all the pages into a conventional or folding scrapbook


  1. Kit Kat Seriation

Sometimes, dating artifacts may be done through seriation.  Using Kit Kat candy wrappers (photographed at an exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum, York, England) students will try to place the artifacts in the exhibition case in order.

The key to wrapper dates is:

  • 1 (1973)
  • 2 (late 1940s)
  • 3 (1992)
  • 4 (1935-1937)
  • 5 (1945)
  • 6 (1987)
  • 7 (post 1945)
  • 8 (post 1945)
  • 9 (February 2007)
  • 10 (post 1945)
  • 11, 12, 13 and 14 (February 2007)

Alternately, the teacher might bring in other old containers, such as a series of old Coke or Pepsi glass bottles, cans, and plastic containers (or photographs of the same) for students to arrange chronologically.

  1. Textbook Analysis
  2. This activity may be done in segments at the time the class is studying the topics of the Slave Trade, Molasses Act and Sugar Act, and Louisiana Purchase, or altogether in a unified exercise about historiography, how history is written.
    1. Ask students to examine how their textbook covers these topics, the pages number(s) on which they are discussed, and to count the number of lines about them; and then compare how the same three topics are covered in Sugar Changed the World.
    2. What names, dates, explanations, questions, doesSugar Changed the World add?  How does it change their understanding of these three events?  What research questions that are unanswered does it raise?


  1. Immigration—The Indian Diaspora
  2. When the students study immigration, explain that the United States now has the second largest population of Overseas Indians or Persons of Indian Origin.  (Wikipedia’s Indian American page has a useful Census 2000 map of the population’s distribution throughout the U.S.)
  3. Overseas Indian Population:  Have students make a graph of the number of overseas Indians on each continent.  (Wikipedia’s Non-resident Indian and Person of Indian Origin page has statistics by country.)
  4. Direct students look up the words “taboo,” “caste,” and “defilement” and discuss what they mean.  Explain that crossing theKala Pani (Black Water) was a taboo because:
  5. a) Hindus regarded the ocean as the resting place of the gods who did not wish to be disturbed; sea monsters such ashouglisexisted to protest their rest and people who traveled on the oceans were acting disrespectfully to the gods.
  6. b) Traveling on the ocean meant that Hindus could not rely on the sun and moon when performing dailypoojas(rituals) such as the three times a day sandyavandan.
  7. c) Travelers might have to touch people who were in the “untouchable” caste or eat food prepared by non-Hindus (mlecchas) leading to defilement.
  8. d) Hindus regarded India as the Holy Land,Punyabhoomi, because the Ganges River is the source of the reincarnation cycle; leaving India cut off the cycle which was a grave crime.
  9. e) Persons who were defiled or had committed grave crimes were cut off from their families, society, and property.  Only if they paid for the expensive feasts and went through harsh purification ceremonies (prayaschita poojas) could they be reinstated.  It was not just the indentured sugar immigrants who went through this—Gandhi had to go through purification ceremonies when he traveled to England to study law.
  10. Discuss in class whether some Hindu beliefs made the already difficult immigrant experience more stressful.
  11. On YouTube there is a three-minute video tribute to Jahajis called “170thAnniversary of Indo-Caribbeans Coolies: How Britain Reinvented Slavery” and also a ten-minute clip from a BBC documentary called “Coolies: How Britain Reinvented Slavery” .  Students may wish to watch these for enrichment or follow-up.


  1. History through Biography and Autobiography
  2. Slave Narratives, Oral and Written
    1. Very little of the history of sugar and slavery is in the words of the people who experienced it. That which survives may have language or descriptions of violence.   Teachers must use their best judgment about school policy and their students’ maturity in deciding whether or how to use ex-slave narratives. To read or hear narratives of ex-slaves collected by the Federal Writers’ Project between 1936 and 1938, go to the Library of Congress American Memory website’s “Born in Slavery” section at  The entirety of Ellen Betts’ interview is available online.
    2. Documenting the American South is a University of North Carolina website that has online numerous printed North American slave narratives including that of Ouladah Equiano at
    3. In the interests of time and recognizing the difficulties of using some of the ex-slave narratives, teachers may use an extract from Betts’ and Ouladah Equiano’s narratives.  Ask students to compare and contrast the differences in time and location, for the two individuals, as well as their upbringing and access to education.
    4. Discuss the impact of editors on their narratives.
    5. Direct students to conduct biographical research for further information on the following individuals mentioned inSugar Changed the World:  Zumbi, Pierre Lemerre the Younger, William Beckford, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Charles Deslondes, Quamina, John Smith (British Guiana missionary), Bechu, Norbert Rillieux.  They may present their information in the form of a traditional paper or oral report, or in a more creative manner, such as an “obituary” written for a newspaper or produced as a video or computer slide-show.


Lesson 4:  The Economics of Sugar

Synopsis of Idea:  Sugar lends itself to exploration of a number of basic economic topics including: supply, demand, price, labor, raw materials, division of labor and specialization, industrialization, competition, boycott and social responsibility.  These activities use simulation and examination of popular products to help students learn about the economics of sugar.

  1. Preparatory Activity:  How is it Sweetened?
  2. Provide a copy of the ingredient panel of Twinkies, Oreos, Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Honey Smacks Cereal and Coca-Cola (original).
  3. Ask students to determine what ingredients are used to sweeten each product.
  4. Identify what sweetener is most commonly used.  Ask students to hypothesize why that is the case


  1. Division of Labor, Specialization, and Industrialization
  2. Divide the class into four teams.  Provide the teams with three minutes, timed, to complete the task described below.
  • Team 1:  Provide the team with one pair of scissors, a single sheet of pre-drawn figures as a sample and sheets of blank paper.  Each person on the team must copy the figures, color, and cut out a cow, apple, ear of corn, and sugar.
  • Team 2:  Provide the team with one set of crayons to share and sheets with pre-drawn cows, apples, ears of corn, and sugar.  Each person will be given scissors.  They will then color and cut out the cow, pig, apple, and ear of corn.  (Mechanization)
  • Team 3:  Provide the team with sheets of the pre-drawn cow, apple, ear of corn, and sugar.  Give two people scissors to cut out the images and each person coloring with a set of crayons.  Have one person do apples only, one cows only, one corn only and one sugar only.   (Division of Labor)
  • Team 4:  Provide the team with pre-colored, sugar only sheets and scissors for each to cut out the sugar.  (Specialization)

At the end of time, count up the total number of sugar pictures produced by each group, along with apple, cow, and corn pictures.

  1. Discuss the impact of mechanization, division of labor, and specialization on the totals each group produced.  What advantages did Team 4 have?  Which group got to be most creative?  Which group had the least interesting task or got the sorest hands?
  2. Share with students the following passage and ask students how it relates to the activity:  “A plantation was not a new technology, but rather, a new way of organizing planting, growing, cutting, and refining a crop.  On a regular farm there may be cows, pigs, and chickens; fields of grain, orchards filled with fruit—many different kinds of foods to eat or sell.  By contrast, the plantation had only one purpose:  to create a single product that could be grown, ground, boiled, dried, and sold to distant markets.  Indeed since you cannot live on sugar, the crop grown on plantations could not even feed the people who harvested it.”


  1. Economic Principles Simulation

Materials:  Requires money, sugar, honey, corn syrup, and candy markers (or the teacher may use Monopoly money, sugar packets, individual honey servings, dried corn, and M&Ms)

  1. Divide the class into three groups:  Sweets Manufacturers (1/3 honey, 1/3 sugar, and 1/3 corn syrup), Candy Makers, and Consumers.
    1. Either the teacher or a designated Banker may handle the money and record transactions.  The teacher should also designate a Factory Worker to swap out the units of sweets for the appropriate unit of candy.  Explain that the purpose of the simulation for the Sweets Manufacturers and Candy Makers is to make the most money in each round and, ultimately, in the simulation.  For Consumers, it is to have the most Candy, with the greatest amount of Money left.
    2. Provide 30 units of sugar to the Sugar Manufacturers, 20 units of Honey to the Honey Manufacturers, and 20 units of Corn Syrup to the Corn Syrup Manufacturers.  Provide $100 in $5 to the Candy Makers and the Consumers.  Inform the Factory Worker and Candy Makers that the sweetener to candy conversions are:
  • 1 unit of sugar=1 unit of candy
  • 2 units of honey=1 unit of candy
  • 1 unit of corn syrup=2 units of candy
  1. Begin the game:

Round One—Supply, Demand and Price:

  • One sugar manufacturer will be drawn by lot.  That person will auction off a single unit of sugar to one lucky Candy Maker.  The Banker will disperse the funds and record the price to that account.
  • The Candy Maker will give the unit of sugar to the Factory Worker and receive a unit of candy.  The Candy Maker will auction off the single unit of candy to one lucky Consumer.  The Banker will record the transfer of funds between the accounts.
  • Two other sugar manufacturers will be drawn by lot.  They will auction off one packet each to the Candy Makers.
  • After going to the Factory Worker, the two winning Candy Makers will auction off the candy to the Consumers.
  • Sugar manufacturers will put up 9 packets of sugar for a three-minute silent auction.  (Each packet will have a sheet of paper and the Candy Makers will write how much they are willing to pay for the sugar, increasing the bids if they wish on as many packets as they wish.)  Record the winning bids.
  • After getting the candy from the Factory Worker, the Candy Makers will put up the candy for a three-minute silent auction to the Consumers.
  • Direct students to graph the quantity of sugar packets offered in each of the three auctions.  Have them graph the quantity of candy offered in each of the three auctions.  These are Supply Charts.
  • Direct students to graph for each of the three auctions the twelve prices paid for the sugar.  Then have them graph the prices paid for the candy.  These are Demand Charts.
  • Discuss the relationship between the supply and demand, how the price goes down as the quantity available increases.
  1. Round Two—Raw Material and Price
  • Sweets Manufacturers will put up 5 units each in a three-minute silent auction to Candy Manufacturers.
  • After getting candy from the Factory Worker, the Candy Makers will put up the candy for a three minute silent auction.  This time there will be a reserve price, the price the candy maker paid for the raw material  (Note, honey requires doubling up while corn syrup is half!) If the Consumer does not offer to pay more than the reserve price, there is no sale.  Record winning bids.
  • Discuss how the price of the raw materials impacted the candy makers’ sales.  Which raw material was the most successful?  Which was the least?
  1. Round Three—Labor and Price
  • Randomly assign labor to Sugar Manufacturers by having them draw slips of folded paper marked with the words “Slave” “Indentured Servant” “Wage Worker.”  Sugar manufactured by slave labor has no reserve price.  Sugar manufactured by Indentured Servants has a reserve of $5.  Sugar manufactured by Wage Workers has a reserve of $10.
  • Honey has no reserve price and Corn Syrup has a $5 reserve.  Conduct a silent auction of all remaining units by the Sweets Manufacturers.  Record winning bids.
  • After getting candy from the Factory Worker, the Candy Makers will put up the candy for a three minute silent auction.  This time there will be a reserve price, the price the candy maker paid for the raw material plus labor, if applicable.  (Note, honey requires doubling up while corn syrup is half!) If the Consumer does not offer to pay more than the reserve price, there is no sale.  Record winning bids.
  • Discuss the impact of labor prices on the candy makers’ sales.  What sold the fastest to Consumers?  Ask consumers if they purchased candy on any other basis besides price.
  • The Banker should inform the class which sweet manufacturer made the most money, which candy maker made the most money, and which consumer had the combination of most candy plus money.
  1. Discuss the strategies that principled candy makers might adopt to convince consumers to pay more for products made without slave labor.
    1. How does it relate to the statement, “Sugar was a bridge—like the sneakers and thee-shirts and rugs that, today, we know are made by sweat-shop labor.  If you wanted the product, abolitionists forced you to think about how it was made.”
    2. How can consumers today educate themselves about products and use the power of the purse string to influence manufacturers and merchants (think about grape boycotts)?
    3. How can ethical manufacturers help educate consumers (think about dolphin-free tuna labeling)?
    4. How can shareholders get multinational/global companies to adopt a no-slavery policy?


Lesson 5:  The Civics of Sugar

Synopsis of Idea:  Civic action is one legacy of sugar.  Students will explore three avenues used historically to shape public opinion to oppose slavery and end mistreatment of indentured servants.

  1. The Legislative Process:  Hearings, Bills, Laws 
  2. Share the following passage with the class.  “In 1806, the anti-slavery forces brought a new bill before Parliament that would limit British involvement in the slave trade.  Some of the most power testimony in favor of the bill came from former army officers who had been to the Caribbean and seen the courage of the former slaves and the horrors of slavery…One member of parliament told his colleagues of the tortures he had seen in the islands…Members of Parliament were being confronted with the reality of slavery.”
    1. Have students compare and contrast the organization of the U.S. Congress and Parliament of Great Britain.  Explain that the legislative process is quite similar.
    2. Show a clip from a Congressional hearing.  The teacher may wish to record a hearing from C-Span or use a YouTube clip.  For a fictional but fun approach, consider showing the hearing to outlaw animal testing from “Legally Blonde:  Red, White and Blue” or showing “I’m Just a Bill from Capitol Hill,” fromSchoolhouse Rock.
    3. Discuss how the hearing process can advance or delay the progress of a bill.
  3. Shaping Public Opinion:  The Abolitionists of  England
    1. Ask students to examine images in the book such as the Anti-slavery bag, and also from:
  1. Ask students to analyze the source examined answering the following questions:
    1. What is the item?
    2. Is it primarily visual, verbal, or fairly well balanced?
    3. Who created this item?
    4. When?
    5. Who is the intended audience for this item?
    6. How is it intended to turn opinion against slavery?
    7. Rate its effectiveness.
    8. Just as the plight of slaves inspired some abolitionists to boycott slave-produced goods, such as sugar and cotton, modern consumers are faced with choices about purchasing goods made in sweatshops, by child laborers, or produced at below-subsistence prices.

Additional Resources:

  • The National Maritime Museum of Great Britain has an online exhibit, Freedom and the Transatlantic Slave Trade with a section on Abolition.  There is an interactive feature which allows students to create their own exhibition, selecting artifacts, some of which may be viewed in 3-D with Shockwave.


  • For older students, consider showing scenes or the entirety ofAmazing Grace, the 2006 movie which recounts how William Wilberforce, William Pitt and British abolitionists succeeded in ending the British slave trade.  Please preview since there is some graphic language and scenes involving laudanum withdrawal.


  1. Satyagraha, Mass Civil Disobedience:  Gandhi
  2. Ask students to read the segments, “The Lawyer” and “Satyagraha,” from Sugar Changed the World.
  3. Discuss the translation of “Satyagraha,” its definition, its methods, and objectives.
  4. Ask students to trace elements of the theory from Thoreau to Martin Luther King, Jr.:
  • Henry David Thoreau opted not to pay a tax because of his opposition to the Mexican War and was jailed.  His 1849 essay, “Civil Disobedience,” came from that experience and influenced Gandhi.  How is his civil disobedience different from that of Gandhi?  How is it similar?
  • Howard Thurman led the Negro Delegation of Friendship to South Asia in 1936 and met Gandhi.  He said that Gandhi had explained that Hinduism’s religious principles offered Indians a basis for non-violent resistance and challenged him to find the elements of Christianity which offered African-Americans the opportunity to overcome racism peacefully.  He brought the idea of Satyagraha back to the U.S., and met Gandhi’s challenge, writing the influentialJesus and the Disinherited, arguing that the power to resist oppression had to come from within.  Discuss why Gandhi believed that use of non-violence by African-Americans would have a greater impact on spreading the idea worldwide than its use by Indians.
  • Martin Luther King and James Farmer read Thurman’s works and were influenced by them.  Examine the Selma Voting Drive, which culminated in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.  How does it embody the principles of non-violence?
  1. The authors summarize the principles of Satyagraha, “Any person can pledge to live up to his highest standards.  Then, the effort to make good on that vow is what defines us as human beings.  We are the sum of our own soul strength, not of the judgments imposed on us by others.”
  • Ask students to write a pledge to themselves.
  • A month later, ask students to write an assessment of how much effort they have made to make good on the vow.
  • On the day before the end of classes, ask them to write another assessment.
  • On the last day, ask students to discuss whether making a pledge and periodically assessing themselves has provided them with some direction and self-esteem.  How is it different setting goals from within, as opposed to having them set by someone else?  How is it different when nothing is collected or graded…it’s just you weighing your own progress?