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

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Related pages

  • Black cowboys during Reconstruction: In this lesson, students will learn about African-American cowboys in the American West during Reconstruction. Students will use the Blacks in the West Mini Page and other online sources to learn about the topic and then demonstrate their knowledge by writing their own fictional narrative. Social Studies and Language Arts teachers may wish to work together for this lesson. This can be used to introduce research skills, to round out lessons on the American West in both Social Studies and ELA and to reinforce short story writing skills.
  • Women in US history: Research lesson: Students will use the Mini Page and other sources to research important women in US history: Bessie Coleman and Sally Ride. They will make a poster comparing these two women. This is intended as an introductory lesson to research skills.
  • Buffalo Soldiers: In this lesson, students will learn about Buffalo Soldiers using the Blacks in the West Mini Page. Students will compare what they learn from the Mini Page with Bob Marley’s song "Buffalo Soldiers." Then students will choose another group of people or a social movement to compare the Buffalo Soldiers to, similar to the way Marley compared them to Rastafarians, and they will write their own song lyrics to demonstrate the connection. This lesson allows students to make connections between different groups across history.

Related topics


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • answer questions about black cowboys in the American West from multiple sources.
  • explain why black men became cowboys.
  • demonstrate their knowledge of black cowboys by creating a comic.

Teacher planning

Time required

Three 60-minute lessons

Materials needed

Technology resources


Black cowboys
Students complete this handout during part one of this lesson. This document contains an answer key.
Open as PDF (684 KB, 4 pages)
Nat Love’s autobiography
Students read this autobiography and answer the questions during part two of this lesson. This document contains an answer key.
Open as PDF (755 KB, 2 pages)
Nat Love interpretive questions
Students answer these questions during part two of this lesson. They may be answered individually or as a class. This document contains an answer key.
Open as PDF (819 KB, 2 pages)


  • Students should know about slavery in the US and discrimination faced by African Americans.
  • Students should have knowledge of a narrative structure so they can translate this to their comic strip.


Part one: Cowboys in the Mini Page

  1. Give students a sheet of blank paper and pencils or drawing materials. Tell them that they will learn about cowboys in this lesson. Ask students to sketch a cowboy on their paper. Stress that this does not need to be perfect, and give them about five minutes to complete their sketch.
  2. After they are done, ask students to show their sketch to the classmates they are sitting next to, and ask for a few volunteers to show their drawing to the whole class.
  3. Ask students what things are similar in their drawings and make a list on the board (e.g., men, wearing a hat, riding a horse, etc.).
  4. Ask students to be specific about the way the cowboys look. Teachers may need to ask specifically what race they think cowboys were. If they hesitate, ask them to think about the cowboys they have seen on TV and in movies. If they don’t say white, the teacher can say it for them based on impressions from television. Tell students they will now check to see if their ideas are accurate.
  5. Project page four of The American Cowboys Mini Page, and direct students attention toward it. Ask a student to read number four on the list (in the middle of the page).
  6. Tell students to think carefully about the last four sentences. Ask a student volunteer to explain this to the class in their own words to make sure that students understand that being a cowboy was a way for black men to escape prejudice and get equal pay. Ask if they are surprised, by this or by any of the facts on the page. Tell students that today they will learn about black cowboys specifically.
  7. Tell students that they will now read another Mini Page that has more information on Black Cowboys in order to learn more about them. Pass out the Mini Page or direct them to the Blacks in the West Mini Page on the computer, and give everyone a copy of the Black Cowboys handout.
  8. Tell students they should answer the questions on the handout by themselves, but they may ask for help from their classmates or you if needed. Walk around the room to monitor and answer questions while the students work.
  9. When students are finished, facilitate a short discussion about the reading. Ask students what they found most interesting, surprising, etc. You may need to clarify that Nat Love did not drive the cattle in cars, that in this case “drive” means to herd them and make them walk while he rode a horse.
  10. Collect the Mini Pages and the handouts, and tell students that in the next activity they will continue to learn about Black Cowboys.

Part two: Nat Love’s autobiography

  1. Start by asking the students what they learned in the previous activity, and facilitate a short discussion about black cowboys. Make a list on the board of what the students know and clarify any misunderstandings.
  2. Tell students that in this activity they will read part of an autobiography from Nat Love. Ask if students know what an autobiography is and clarify if necessary. Ask if they remember Love’s name from the previous activity and confirm that he was a famous black cowboy.
  3. Tell students that writing styles were different in 1907 when this was written, and the autobiography may seem different to them from things they have read in the past.
  4. Tell students that before reading, there are some vocabulary words they should know. Write the words from the vocabulary list on the board or project the vocabulary list that accompanies this lesson, and ask students what they think they mean. If they are correct, write their definition, if not, write the correct one and go over it with the students. Leave the list on the board for them to refer to while they’re reading.
  5. Make sure every student has a copy of the Nat Love’s Autobiography handout. Tell students to read carefully, to ask questions if necessary, and answer the questions on the handout. Walk around to monitor student work.
  6. After students have answered the questions on the passage, facilitate a discussion using the Nat Love Interpretive Questions handout. Alternatively, students could answer these on their own before going over them as a group. These questions allow the students to imagine what Nat Love was thinking and feeling. Question three allows for an explicit discussion about race because he states that the cowboy outfit he approached had other Black cowboys.
  7. Collect the handouts so they can be graded before the next activity.

Part three: Students create a black cowboy comic

Before beginning this activity, you may wish to draw a sample comic panel on chart paper. You should also decide if they want students to complete a four-panel or eight-panel comic strip and prepare the materials accordingly.

  1. Facilitate a discussion on what students have learned about black cowboys from the previous two activities. Write a chart on the board with three columns: “Mini Page,” “Nat Love’s Biography,” and “Both.” Ask students to volunteer information that fits into each category to see that students have understood the readings from the previous activities.
  2. Project the comic strip instructions on the board and/or pass out the instructions to students. Explain to students that they will create a comic strip about a black cowboy. Go over the instructions, stressing the need for historical accuracy.
  3. Show students examples of print comics or a teacher-created example of a completed comic or singular-comic panel on a black cowboy. Demonstrate that a comic panel should show one part of the story or one piece of action. Panels are read from left to right, and the text explains the action. Allow students time to look at the examples and ask questions as needed.
  4. Explain how to use the comic strip template:
    1. If using the template that only uses blank boxes, explain that students should draw a picture of the action, word balloons for anything the characters are saying, and text boxes if they want to write an explanation of the action.
    2. If using the template that has boxes with a rectangle for text underneath, explain that students should use the rectangle to write a description of the drawing in the panel. The drawing should show the action, and they can also draw balloons to write what the characters are saying.
  5. Once students are clear on the format of a comic, explain that they should first brainstorm their ideas. Explain that they must complete their brainstorming before starting on their comic. You may wish to give students brainstorming graphic organizers, such as a flow chart or a cluster web. Depending on class size, you may wish to require that students have their brainstorming sheet approved by you before starting on their comic strip.
  6. Tell students that they should start their comic strip in pencil only. Once their entire comic is completed in pencil, they can color their drawings.
  7. Pass out materials, and make sure students have access to the Mini Page and Nat Love’s autobiography for reference. Walk around the classroom to monitor student work.
  8. When students are finished, allow time to share with their classmates before collecting.

Possible extension

Students could watch this 15-minute documentary on African American cowboys and compare what they say to what they learned from the Mini Page and Nat Love’s biography.


The main assessment is the comic strip. Teachers should check that students’ comics demonstrate a historical understanding of black cowboys and that they followed the guidelines provided. Teachers should also check the Black Cowboys and Nat Love handouts, preferably before the students begin their comic, so that any misunderstandings can be clarified.


  • Students who need extra reading comprehension support could complete the story charts available from this website in English and Spanish when reading Nat Love’s autobiography.
  • Students who have writing modifications could make a comic that is only pictures, and could explain them to their teacher.

Critical vocabulary

a group of people working together
a story someone wrote about their own life
unsettled part of the country
bar, place where adults drink alcohol
moving suddenly, out of control
African-American/black; tell students that at the time Love wrote his autobiography, the term “colored” was frequently used, though today we do not use this word, as it is now considered offensive.
get on a horse
get off a horse
a person who works for the railroad and helps passengers on the train


  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Informational Text

        • Grade 5
          • 5.RIT.6 Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 5

        • 5.C.1 Understand how increased diversity resulted from migration, settlement patterns and economic development in the United States. 5.C.1.1 Analyze the change in leadership, cultures and everyday life of American Indian groups before and after European exploration....
        • 5.H.2 Understand the role of prominent figures in shaping the United States. 5.H.2.1 Summarize the contributions of the “Founding Fathers” to the development of our country. 5.H.2.2 Explain how key historical figures have exemplified values and principles...