K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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  • North Carolina Cherokee Indians: The Trail of Tears: In this two week unit, students will study the Cherokee by participating in literature circles, learning about Native American story telling, writing a letter to Andrew Jackson to protest against the Creek War, and more.
  • Along the Trail of Tears: A part of history is often forgotten when teaching younger students. This is the relocation of the Cherokee Indians when the white settlers wanted their property. The US Government moved whole groups of Indians under harsh conditions. This trip became known as the Trail of Tears. Using this as a background students will explore and experiment with persuasive writing as they try to express the position of Cherokee leaders.
  • Feed a fighter: In this lesson students will examine “Additional Helps for the 4-H Mobilization for Victory Program,” a Cooperative Extension Work document from the Green 'N' Growing collection at Special Collections Research Center at North Carolina State University Libraries. The document will help students understand the efforts civilians underwent to support military efforts in World War II.

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Learning outcomes

The student will be able to understand causes of removal and effects it had on the Cherokee. The student will be able to explain what the Trail of Tears was and why it was given that name.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

Two days – one hour each day. The writing activity at the end may require more time.


  • North Carolina Social Studies book
  • United States map
  • paper
  • pencil

Technology resources

Computer(s) with internet access.


The class has been studying pioneers and their move across the state of North Carolina. They have also discussed the impact the pioneers had on the Cherokee.


Day One

  1. Display the Trail of Tears painting from the PBS website. Have students observe the painting. As they observe, hand out the Trail of Tears observation sheet. Instruct the students to observe the painting for 5 to 10 minutes and then answer the questions. After students have observed and answered, discuss findings. Have students share what they see and what they conclude about the experience. Point out things you observed and share with the class, as well.
  2. After observing the painting, have students read about the Trail of Tears in their Social Studies book. Discuss questions such as:
    • Why were the Cherokee forced to move?
    • Where did they go? How many went/died?
  3. Divide students into six groups. The first three groups will be working on the computer, while the other three groups are using the United States map. When groups finish one assignment, have them go to the next one.
    • Assignment one: Direct the group to the Trail of Tears map on the Cherokee Museum website. As they navigate across the map, have them read about the different places the Cherokee traveled on their journey. They should be prepared to tell about the route and some experiences when the class reassembles.
    • Assignment two: The groups working with the map will refer to their textbook and identify on the map where the Cherokee started and where the trail ended. They will use the scale to see how many miles were traveled. Also, have students list the states that the Cherokee went through.
  4. Make sure each group has a chance to do both activities. Once they finish, have them come back together and discuss their findings. As students share, point out that many died due to disease, fatigue, weather, etc. Also stress the point that they had to walk this distance. Ask them to consider how they would feel or react in such a situation.
  5. Conclusion: To conduct an informal assessment of the first day’s activities, coordinate a discussion or assign a journal entry in which students address the following:
    • What have you learned about the Trail of Tears?
    • Why did they leave?
    • Where did they go?
    • How long did it take?
    • How many were forced to leave?
    • How many survived?
  6. Conclude by informing students that during the next class, they will read personal accounts and learn about the impact the removal had on the Cherokee.

Day Two

  1. Display the painting again and ask if they see anything different now that they know more about the Trail of Tears.
  2. Divide students into groups. Direct them to the Sequoyah Research Center’s Family Stories from the Trail of Tears website. Assign each group 2 or 3 accounts to read. Give them Personal Accounts of the Trail of Tears sheets. Have them read the accounts and answer the questions.
  3. After students have read several accounts and discussed with their group, have them report back to the class. What did they learn? What happened to the Cherokee? Describe the emotions you read about.


Review persuasive writing techniques and letter-writing format.

Instruct students to imagine that each of them is a Cherokee child whose family is about to embark on the Trail of Tears. Tell them that their Cherokee family has heard the horror stories of the families that are already on the Trail. Based on what they’ve seen and read, write a letter to President Andrew Jackson asking him to let their family stay in the land they love and consider home. Students should include examples of why the Trail is so dangerous and use persuasive techniques.

Supplemental information


Students love to talk about the Trail of Tears and often have misconceptions about it. This is a good way for them to explore other resources to learn more about the Trail of Tears.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 4

        • 4.H.1 Analyze the chronology of key historical events in North Carolina history. 4.H.1.1 Summarize the change in cultures, everyday life and status of indigenous American Indian groups in North Carolina before and after European exploration. 4.H.1.2 Explain...
      • Grade 5

        • 5.H.1 Analyze the chronology of key events in the United States. 5.H.1.1 Evaluate the relationships between European explorers (French, Spanish and English) and American Indian groups, based on accuracy of historical information (beliefs, fears and leadership)....

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 4

  • Goal 2: The learner will examine the importance of the role of ethnic groups and examine the multiple roles they have played in the development of North Carolina.
    • Objective 2.01: Locate and describe American Indians in North Carolina, past and present.

Grade 5

  • Goal 3: The learner will examine the roles various ethnic groups have played in the development of the United States and its neighboring countries.
    • Objective 3.01: Locate and describe people of diverse ethnic and religious cultures, past and present, in the United States.