Lesson Plans:
Cherokee Removal:
Life Before and During the Trail of Tears

Subject(s)/Grade(s): 7-12th Grade - Designed specifically for 11th Grade U.S. History U. S. History and Civics
Related Subject(s): American Art, Geography

Learning Outcomes

This lesson plan will address the reasons Cherokee land was coveted by Europeans and the various attempts by the Cherokee and others to retain their native lands. Students will be able to:

  1. Identify and analyze reasons for Cherokee removal.
  2. Describe the efforts made by the Cherokee to adopt mainstream American culture prior to removal.
  3. Map and describe the routes taken by the Cherokee sent to Oklahoma.

Teacher Planning

  • Time required for lesson – 1.5 hrs class period (based on 90 minute block)


  • notes (hardcopy or transparency form)
  • copies of maps of the United States
  • copies of Historical Head activity
  • image of the painting Trail of Tears
  • overhead projector for notes
  • computer with internet and PowerPoint capabilities


Students are asked to list five things they would take to Mars if they knew they would never return to Earth.


  1. Students share their homework with the class (items they would take to Mars).
  2. Students take notes on the following topics:
    • reasons people wanted the Cherokees' land
    • efforts made to protect Cherokee land
    • Cherokee attempts to adopt mainstream American culture
  3. Historical Head Activity based on notes above
  4. Students take notes on the following topics:
    • Process of Removal and the Trail of Tears
  5. Using the painting The Trail of Tears, students may analyze the work for historical accuracy and details relating to hardships faced by the Cherokee.
  6. To summarize, students will complete a 3-2-1 Activity as follows:
    3 – ways the Cherokee attempted to adopt mainstream American culture
    2 – facts about the Cherokees' journey to Oklahoma
    1 – effect of the Trail of Tears on the Cherokee


Sudents will exhibit understanding and synthesis of material in three ways:

  1. Historical Head Activity
  2. Discussion about The Trail of Tears painting depicting the journey west
  3. The summarizing 3-2-1 Activity


This plan can be lengthened to incorporate other activities if time allows.
Two useful activities that may be included are:

  • Analyze primary documents of missionaries and soldiers who made the journey with the Cherokee.
  • Using Google Earth, plot key points along the Trail of Tears

    North Carolina Curriculum Alignment

    Social Studies (2006)
    Grade 11 - United States History


    • Duncan, Barbara and Brett Riggs. Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2003.
    • Perdue, Theda. Editor. Cherokee Editor: The Writings of Elias Boudinot. The University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1996.


    – Submitted by Evan Clapsaddle, Swain County High School, Bryson City, North Carolina