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

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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Related pages

  • Black cowboys: In this lesson, students will use the Blacks in the West Mini Page to learn about black cowboys, read an excerpt from Nat Love’s biography, and create a comic about a black cowboy. This lesson teaches students about figures rarely shown in social studies texts and allows them to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways.
  • The African American experience in NC after Reconstruction: The documents included in this lesson come from The North Carolina Experience collection of Documenting the American South and specifically focus on African Americans and race relations in the early 20th century. The lesson juxtaposes accounts that relate to both the positive improvements of black society and arguments against advancement. Combined, these primary sources and the accompanying lesson plan could be used as a Document Based Question (DBQ) in an AP US history course.
  • Civil rights wax museum project: In this lesson plan, students will choose African Americans prominent in the Civil Rights Movement and research aspects of their lives. They will create timelines of their subjects' lives and a speech about their subjects, emphasizing why they are remembered today.

Related topics


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • use multiple sources to gather and evaluate information about a topic.
  • examine the complexities of racism and freedom Blacks experienced in the American West and how this affects the experiences of contemporary Black cowboys.
  • write a fictional narrative to demonstrate their historical knowledge of Black cowboys.

Teacher planning

Time required

Three 90-minute class periods for the lesson activities and beginning the short story, longer to complete the story

Materials needed

  • Copies of the handouts listed below (if students will not be accessing them on the computer) — one per student
  • Copies of page four of the Blacks in the West Mini Page (if students will not be accessing it on the computer) — one per student
  • Pencils/pens

Technology resources

Printing the Mini Page

To print a page from the Mini Page, open the link in your internet browser. On the right side of the page, you will see a “thumbnails” column with an icon for each page. Click on the page you want to print. In some internet browsers, you will see a print icon displayed at the top of the Mini Page. In others, you may need to bring your mouse to the main Mini Page screen, and hover on the bottom right of this screen. Click on the printer icon and print the desired number of copies.


Research graphic organizer
Students complete this graphic organizer during the first two days of this lesson.
Open as Microsoft Word document (33 KB, 1 page)
Research analysis sheet
Students use this sheet to analyze the information they gather during the first part of this lesson.
Open as Microsoft Word document (32 KB, 2 pages)
Black cowboys short story instructions
This document contains the directions for the short story activity at the end of this lesson. You may wish to give each student a copy or simply project it for all to see.
Open as PDF (60 KB, 1 page)


  • While the assessment for this lesson is to write a narrative, the elements of narrative and plot are not taught explicitly, so the teacher will need to assess if these should be reviewed for the students. This could serve as a refresher on story elements, but it would not be best as an introduction. If co-taught with a Social Studies and English Language Arts teacher, the ELA teacher could go more in depth about writing a short story.
  • This lesson will go more smoothly if you have already established a procedure for submitting work digitally, whether emailing them to you, posting on a course website, etc. There should also be a procedure for where to save this work (on the desktop so the students can email it to themselves, on a personal flash drive, etc.) and one for how to name the document (lastname_assignmentname, lastname_firstname_date, etc.). Students should be reminded of the procedure before beginning to work independently.
  • You should also decide beforehand if students will work individually or in pairs and make a list of pairs to divide the students into before the lesson starts.


Lesson preparation

  1. If students will record their research on the computer, they should be sitting at the computer when the lesson starts. Students should be directed to a course website with the document available or the LEARN NC page, or you could have the document already opened with the window minimized.
  2. If your school blocks YouTube, seek permission to allow student access to the African-American Cowboys documentary. If this is impossible, the teacher can load the videos at home on a personal laptop and then should be able to play them for the whole class using a projector, as long as you do not close or refresh the page. Test this process before you intend to use the video in the classroom to ensure it works. If it does not work, read this Edutopia article for ideas on how to use the video in your classroom if the school has blocked YouTube.

Day one


  1. Ask students to take out a piece of scrap paper and write down and/or draw a description of a cowboy. Ask students to be as detailed as possible. After a few minutes, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote or drew. On the board, make a list of words used, particularly the ones describing what the cowboy looks like. If race is not specified, ask students what race they think this group of people normally was in the American West.
  2. Assuming most students will answer “white” or “Caucasian,” explain to students that there was a large number of black cowboys in the US and still is today. Explain that they will learn about this often overlooked part of history and watch a documentary about Black cowboys today. They will use these texts to research Black cowboys and analyze their findings then write their own story about a fictional Black cowboy.
  3. Project page four of the Blacks in the West Mini Page for students to see, and hand out the Research Graphic Organizer and analysis sheets (if using hard copies). While papers are being passed out, ask students to focus their attention on the photographs.
  4. Explain to students that you will start by looking together at the websites used in the lesson, and then students will work independently on the computer. (Note: For some classes, you may want to extend their example, and perhaps complete the entire “Mini Page” column as a class, depending on student needs.)
  5. Direct students’ attention to the photograph on the top left from 1901. Ask students to describe the picture out loud. Record their answers on the board (e.g., all men, people of different races, similar clothing, some riding horses, races do not seem to be segregated based on the fact that the group is standing all mixed up). Possible guiding questions include:
    1. What do the cowboys look like?
    2. Is this the picture of cowboys you have in your head?
    3. How is this different from what you see in movies?
    4. Can you tell anything about the cowboys’ relationship with each other from their postures and where they are standing?
  6. Project the Research Graphic Organizer on the board. Tell students to open it on their own computer and to put the class answers in the first section in the Mini Page column. Ask students not to go to any other websites until all the directions have been explained.
  7. Ask students what they can speculate about Black cowboys just from this picture alone. Tell them not to record anything on their note sheet for this question. Student answers might include: males of different races other than white were cowboys, maybe blacks were seen as equal to other cowboys, being a cowboy was a good job for black men in the early 1900s, etc.
  8. Tell students that they will continue this type of analysis after they have finished looking at the Mini Page and the two other sources. First everyone will look at the sources together before starting to work on their own. Explain that to be a good researcher, you have to look at multiple sources. Some may talk about the same information, but each might have different pieces of information or different perspective. The graphic organizer will help the students see this.
  9. Direct students’ attention to the Research Graphic Organizer again. Show the students how to open the Mini Page from the link on the Research Graphic Organizer by pressing the control key (Ctrl) and clicking the blue underlined “Mini Page” text on the handout. Have them do this to see everyone understands before moving on.
  10. On the projector screen, switch the image back to the Mini Page, and direct students’ attention to it again. Explain to students that the Mini Page automatically opens to the first page, and show them that they will need to click on the page four thumbnail on the right hand side of the screen to get the correct page.
  11. Next, show the students how to get to the Nat Love website and the specific links they will use using the same directions from the Mini Page. Reinforce that students should be sure to look at the specified links and not get lost in the website. When looking at Chapter 22, tell students they should read at least the first three pages. (Note: This chapter includes cowboy tales about saloons and shootings. Nothing is overly graphic, but if you wish to avoid students reading this content, limit them to only the first three pages.)
  12. Next, show students the African-American Cowboy documentary link. Instruct students to use headphones when listening to the documentary. Explain to students that they may have to watch parts of it more than once to get all the information and that they should pause the video frequently to take notes on the guiding questions. You may choose to show this to the whole class instead of having students watch it individually. This would allow for tighter classroom management and may be necessary if YouTube is blocked on student computers. However, the advantage of having students watch it individually is that students can re-watch parts if needed and pause when necessary to take notes.
  13. Explain to students that going through these websites and taking careful notes should take the rest of the class period and possibly part of the next one. You will be monitoring their work and will ask students to return to a section if they have not paid it careful enough attention. Remind students of any computer use policies you have in place and how to save their work.
  14. Tell students that they may work on their research in any order they please, as long as they complete it all. (If you do not have enough headphones for the entire class, specify in this case who will get them first and that after 30 minutes they will have to turn them over to a classmate, so they must start with the documentary.)

Independent work

  1. Students should begin working on their Research Graphic Organizer independently, though it will help if they are allowed to ask each other questions and assist each other. You should walk around the room to monitor the students and answer any questions.
  2. About 10-15 minutes before the class is over, get the students attention. Ask if there are any questions, and/or ask students to share something (brief) that they have learned. Tell students to save their work in whatever manner you have already established. Students should shut down or log off from the computers.
  3. Tell students that tomorrow they will finish researching if they have not already done so, and they will analyze their findings.

Day two

  1. Begin class by reminding students that they will continue working on their Research Graphic Organizer. Ask students if they have any questions from the previous day or if there is anything interesting they found that they would like to share.
  2. Once all questions are answered, tell students that after they finish their Research Graphic Organizer, they should move on to the Research Analysis sheet.
  3. Project the Research Analysis sheet, and go over it with the students, clarifying any questions. Explain that this sheet allows them to compare the three texts, and this is a strategy they can use on their own for future research projects. Pass out hard copies to the students, or instruct them on how to access it from their computer.
  4. Emphasize to students that both the Research Graphic Organizer and the Research Analysis sheets are due at the beginning of the next class.
  5. Students should work independently, though they can ask each other questions, while the teacher walks around the room to monitor student work. If you have someone who finished early, you can either allow them to start on their short story or read Nat Love’s biography from UNC Libraries website.
  6. About 10-15 minutes before the class is over, get the students’ attention. Ask if there are any questions, and/or ask students to share something (brief) that they have learned. Tell students to save their work in whatever manner you have already established. Students should shut down or log off from the computers.
  7. Remind students that both of the sheets are due at the beginning of the next class. If you have a procedure for submitting work digitally, remind students of this.

Day three

  1. Ask students to get out/display their work on their monitors, and do a quick check to see if everyone has it completed. Tell students that you are recording that they completed the work and that their grade for this will be combined with that of their cowboy story.
  2. If it is your policy, remind students whose work is not complete of the penalty for late work, and tell them they must finish it before starting to write their story.
  3. Ask for a few student volunteers to share what they learned. Ask if they noticed any differences or discrepancies between the texts, and if so, talk about the audiences for each. (For example, the Mini Page is written for K-5 students, while the Nat Love webpage seems to be written for an older audience.)
  4. Make sure that students know:
    1. Black men experienced less racism and prejudice as cowboys than in other jobs.
    2. Despite this, black cowboys were often given the worst jobs.
    3. Black cowboys still experienced prejudice through the 1960s and 1970s and were not allowed in “white” rodeos.
    4. Nat Love was a famous black cowboy and met many interesting characters in his life, which can serve as inspiration for their story.
    5. Basic description of cowboy life: working with cattle, bull-dogging, rodeo, clothes they wore, etc.
  5. Explain that in this activity, they will start work on their short story. Project the instructions for students to see and/or pass out hard copies. Go over the instructions with the students. Emphasize that this is a creative way for students to show their knowledge, so they should have fun with it. Tell them they will be able to use all their notes and refer back to the websites from the lesson if the need to. Students may wish to use this online tool from ReadWriteThink to help brainstorm and structure their story.
  6. The teacher should decide if they want to allow students to help each other or if the work should be completely independent from the beginning. Allow students access to their research sheets, the websites used in the lesson, and any notes on writing from previous classes.
  7. Allow students to begin working, and walk around the room to monitor and answer questions.
  8. Some students may finish in one class depending on the assigned length of the story, or you may need to allow them to finish it at home.
  9. Whenever the stories are finished and collected, give students the opportunity to share their narratives with the class, perhaps using a clip of a campfire to pretend the class is camped out with a cowboy outfit.

Possible extension

You may wish to give students Nat Love’s full biography to read. You could have groups of students choose a chapter to read, outline, and present to the class. The biography is fully available online from Documenting the American South, part of the library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The short story is the main assessment, and you may choose to use this rubric to assess students’ stories. Grade the story for historical accuracy, creativity and meeting the teacher-set length requirement. Check that the Research Graphic Organizer and Research Analysis sheets are completed correctly.

Alternative assessments

You may also wish to have students write an outline, a ballad or song lyrics, or draw a comic book of their narrative. Another alternative is to have students work in pairs and write a short play or skit. These alternatives will work for any student, so they could be offered as choices in addition to writing a narrative or could serve to assist students whose modifications limit the amount of writing they can do.


More advanced students may not need the guiding questions on the Research Graphic Organizer.


  • This lesson can complement ELA lessons focusing on authors such as Langston Hughes or Richard Wright or as a counter to mainstream stories of the American West.
  • This lesson can also be used to teach students the skills needed for larger research projects.
  • Additionally, you may wish to also incorporate the lesson Religion and slavery in the American South: Comparing perspectives, which can be used to compare black slave experiences in America with Christianity with those of Jamaicans. Students could further extend this comparison to the Buffalo Soldiers and the Rastafarians, particularly with differences between how they related to authority/white institutions of power.


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

        • Grade 11-12
          • 11-12.RIT.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.RIT.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Information and Technology Skills (2010)
      • Grades 9 - 12

        • HS.TT.1 Use technology and other resources for assigned tasks. HS.TT.1 Use appropriate technology tools and other resources to access information (multi-database search engines, online primary resources, virtual interviews with content experts). HS.TT.2 Use...

    • Social Studies (2010)
      • United States History I

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
        • USH.H.3 Understand the factors that led to exploration, settlement, movement, and expansion and their impact on United States development over time. USH.H.3.1 Analyze how economic, political, social, military and religious factors influenced European exploration...
      • United States History II

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...