Trail of Tears Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Use this lesson plan to teach students about the Trail of Tears. Examine the timeline of events, explain the removal of Native Americans, and evaluate the effects on the Cherokee Nation. Finish with a RAFT writing assignment.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • explain the reasons for the removal of Native Americans
  • discuss removal of a culture
  • evaluate and estimate the effects it had on the Cherokee


1 hour


  • Map of the Trail of Tears
  • Index cards in three categories - role, audience, and format. Choose different people involved in the Trail of Tears for the Role, such as Andrew Jackson or a young Cherokee boy; varying audiences, such as Congress, Andrew Jackson, or a Native American Group; essay formats such as essay or narrative writing. Each student will choose one of each card.

Key Vocabulary

  • Trail of Tears
  • Andrew Jackson
  • arduous
  • Indian Removal Act of 1830
  • Cherokee Nation
  • relocation
  • Creeks
  • Chickasaw
  • Choctaw
  • Seminole
  • mediate
  • Lewis Cass
  • Second Seminole War
  • Martin Van Buren
  • Winfield Scott

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3

Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.3

Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.1

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.


  • Begin by having students imagine they are going to be relocated to a basement room in the school because another group of students wants to use their room. They would need to leave their things and carry all furniture. Share reactions and feelings. Discuss whether students would agree to go or fight to stay.
  • Tell students they will be learning about the Trail of Tears. Have a map of the region handy.
  • Share the video lesson What Was the Trail of Tears? - Facts, History & Route. Allow students to take notes.
  • Pause the video at 2:50. Discuss:
    • Were the reasons for the Indian Removal Act constitutional? Explain.
    • Why did Indian Nations accept the treaty?
    • What happened to nations that did not accept the treaty?
    • Was the Indian Removal Act constitutional?
  • Play the remainder of the video.
  • With students, view a map of the Trail of Tears. Show as much detail as possible to make the experience relatable to students.
  • Define and discuss vocabulary terms.


  • Tell students they will create a RAFT writing piece. RAFT is an acronym for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic.
  • Have each student randomly select a card for the three categories to determine their role, audience and format. All students will write about the Trail of Tears as a topic.
  • Demonstrate by randomly choosing three cards, showing them to students, and creating a three column chart to brainstorm. For example, 'Cherokee Youngster' could be in the Role square; 'Andrew Jackson' the Audience; and 'Essay' the format. Show students how you could write words in each square to help build a story about a young Cherokee boy writing to Andrew Jackson about his experiences on the Trail of Tears.
  • Allow students to outline and brainstorm their RAFT piece. Circulate the room to help and scaffold learning.
  • Share outlines and ideas as small groups or a whole class. Discuss and ask questions for clarification.
  • Ask students to write a rough draft of their RAFT for homework. Allow access to the lesson for reference.


  • Read historical documents, such as the Indian Removal Act or the Cherokee Constitution. Ask students to compare documents and analyze findings.
  • Have students write a short skit dramatizing the Trail of Tears. Include dialogue.
  • Measure the distance of the Trail of Tears and the time it took. Calculate speed. Also, calculate the number of lives lost on the journey.

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