Submitted by:

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

NOTE TO EDUCATORS: The movie featured in this lesson plan describes the terrible suffering endured by American Indians as they were forcibly relocated by federal troops. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, consider previewing the Trail of Tears movie before showing it to the class.

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3-12, students use BrainPOP resources to explore how and why American Indians were uprooted from their homes. As students re-enact the events of the Trail of Tears, they will gain a deep understanding of a tragic era in history and identify what lessons we can learn from it.

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 a tragic era in history and identify what lessons we can learn from it.


  • Computer with projector or interactive whiteboard
  • US maps (showing the before/after of American Indian territory)
  • Books or reading passages appropriate for your students with accounts from different perspectives of the relocation The FYI offers 5 different high interest reading passages (and 1 comic) that are a great starting point.
  • Vocabulary Activity Page photocopied for each student


American Indian; forced relocation; ancestral; land treaty; Cherokee; Chickasaw; Choctaw;Creek; Seminole;civilized; voluntary; commemorate


Preview the Trail of Tears movie and plan pause points (where you want students to discuss, make predictions, turn and talk, stop and jot, etc...). Collect readings and maps. Make sure the readings are appropriate for your students' reading abilities. Photocopy Vocabulary Activity Page if you plan to have students use for note-taking.

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 Vocabulary Activity Page as a class (print and photocopy if you wish, or students can add to their personal notebooks). Invite students to pencil in definitions they think they are familiar with. They can revise later.
  3. As a class, watch BrainPOP's Trail of Tears movie with closed captioning. Pause for discussion throughout, and then watch again for note-taking (I use CC to reinforce the audio).
  4. After the movie, try the 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). If you divide the class into 2 teams, my rule is that everyone on the team needs to come to a consensus on the right answer before answering, so there is a lot of debate and opportunities to teach respectfully disagreeing.
  5. Use the collected readings as a whole class, 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.
  6. 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. I start by involving students in all of the planning, so every student has the opportunity to contribute in their own way that they are comfortable with. For example, I might start by brainstorming all of the roles (narrator, Settlers, Natives, President Andrew Jackson, etc...).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. To culminate, find your students' an authentic audience to share their performance with. I recommend documenting the entire project, from beginning to end, to emphasize the process, through photos, video, and transcripts of conversations.