Trail of Tears Lesson Plan: American Indians and the Cherokee Culture

Submitted by: Allisyn Levy and Angela Watson

Grade Levels: K-3

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades K through 3, students use BrainPOP Jr. resources to learn how and why American Indians were uprooted from their homes. Students will re-enact the events of the Trail of Tears and gain a deep understanding of Cherokee culture. They will also identify lessons we can learn from the tribe’s experiences.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Learn how and why American Indians were uprooted from their homes
  2. Re-enact the events of the Trail of Tears
  3. Gain a deep understanding of Cherokee culture and identify what lessons we can learn from the tribe's experiences

Materials:

  • computer with projector or interactive whiteboard
  • US maps (showing the before/after of American Indian territory)
  • 5 W's Graphic Organizer activity page photocopied for each student

Vocabulary:

American Indian; Cherokee; clan; stickball; stomp dance

Preparation:

Preview BrainPOP Jr.'s Cherokee movie and plan pause points (where you want students to discuss, make predictions, turn and talk, stop and jot, etc.) Collect readings (some good suggestions are on the Read About It page) and maps. Make sure the readings are appropriate for your students' reading abilities if they will be reading the texts themselves rather than hearing them in a read aloud. Photocopy the 5 W's Graphic Organizer activity page if you plan to have students use a guide for note-taking. This organizer works with both the BrainPOP Trail of Tears movie for grades 3+ and the BrainPOP Jr. movie on the Cherokee for grades 2-3. You may wish to preview the BrainPOP Trail of Tears movie to see if it's appropriate to include in instruction for your students.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Start by asking if anyone has heard of the Trail of Tears. Document answers on a KWL chart on chart paper or an interactive whiteboard. Students can take notes if you wish.
  2. Review the Word Wall to familiarize students with the vocabulary used in the movie.
  3. As a class, watch BrainPOP Jr.'s Cherokee movie with closed captioning. Pause for discussion throughout.
  4. Distribute the 5 W's Graphic Organizer activity page and re-watch the movie. Provide students with time to take notes in the graphic organizer during the after the movie. Allow children to work in small groups to discuss their answers if desired.
  5. In the next day's lesson, begin by having students work in pairs or individually to complete the Activity in which they try to imagine what both the settlers and the Cherokee people must have been feeling during the forced relocation.
  6. Use the collected readings as a whole class read-aloud, partner reading, or small group work (in class and/or for homework). You can have different groups read about different perspectives and share out a summary in their own words to teach their peers.
  7. If you choose to share the BrainPOP Trail of Tears movie with students, this is a great time to do so. Have students continue adding to their graphic organizers.
  8. After building up background knowledge, tell students they are now going to act out the Trail of Tears. This can be as low key or big of a production as you wish. Involve students in the planning so every student has the opportunity to contribute in their own way that they are comfortable with. For example, you might start by brainstorming all of the roles (narrator, Settlers, Natives, President Andrew Jackson, etc.).
  9. Depending on your students and time frame, this may grow into a production that involves costumes, sets, props, etc. If that doesn't work for your class, you might also focus on storytelling, and have students retell the story to teach another class, focusing on writing and public speaking skills (fluency, expression, clarity, etc.) It's easy to record audio on a computer, and even better if you can use a USB microphone to eliminate background noise.
  10. Students should have ample time and access to materials to prepare for whatever shape your re-enactment takes. This may involve collaborating with other teachers or inviting family participation.
  11. To culminate, find your students an authentic audience to share their performance with. We recommend documenting the entire project, from beginning to end, to emphasize the process, through photos, video, and transcripts of conversations.

Extension Activity:

You may wish to have students complete the Cherokee POP Quiz. You can divide students into 2 teams and make it "Game Show" style, or have students take it as a whole class (or individually, of course). You could also have students use the Write About It activity to have students write a letter to President Andrew Jackson from the point of view of a Cherokee in 1830.