Lesson Plan

Picture Analysis/Stories from the Trail of Tears: Building Background Knowledge

Artist rendition of Cherokees walking The Trail of Tears in the winter months
Photo by Sam Kitts
Grade Level:
Fourth Grade
Health, Linguistics, Literature, Mathematics, Science History, Social Studies, Writing
60 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:

4.1, 4.2, 4.3
4.5, 4.9, 4.10
4.5, 4.7, 4.15
4.24, 4.25, 4.26, 4.28, 4.29, W. 4.1, 4.2, 4.7, 4.8
4.32, 4.35, SL. 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, L.4.1, L.4.2, L.4.3, L.4.6
L.4.4a, 4.4.b,
4.OA.2, 4.OA.3, 4.NBT.4, 4.NBT.5, 4. MD.1, 4. MD.2
American Indians, Native American history, american indian culture, trail of tears, hiking trails, Paddling


Russell Cave National Monument is one of the few National Parks that is located and associated with the rich cultural stories of the Trail of Tears. Students will learn how to survive the Trail of Tears by analyzing photos and stories from historical records that are associated with the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears.


  • The events the Cherokee experienced at removal. 
  • The events the Cherokee experienced on the Trail of Tears 
  • The nutritional needs of the Cherokee 


In "Picture Analysis/Stories from the Trail of Tears: Building Background Knowledge," Students will build background knowledge of the Cherokee as they walked along the Trail of Tears through photo analysis, reading real documented accounts from the Cherokee, and use prediction skills. 

This unit coincides with each, "Building Background Knowledge"  lesson plan but can be done independently. However, each lesson plan comes with its own set of objectives and assessments. This program takes 60 minutes to accomplish and targets 4th grade students. 


Walking Area – trail, track, or inside gymnasium,Pedometer/Walking AP,Student Trail of Tears ,Notebook Journal,Pencils,Computer with overhead projector,Internet Connection,Ration Pictures,Family Stories from the Trail of Tears,Map of the Trail of Tears,Daily Nutritional Guide,Poster Board,Magazines with food pictures,Computers for groups of students to conduct research,Trail of Tears photo,Yarn,Rulers,Glue.



  1. Photo Analysis: (This lesson is adapted from a photo analysis Statue of Liberty Immigration lesson presented as a TA-DAH Teaching American History Grant activity) Lesson preparation before activity: The teacher will print the "On the Trail of Tears" painting from the Max D. Standley website. http://www.maxdstandley.com/trail_of_tears_series/the_trail_of_tears.html (Copy of Photo is also included below.) Print a class set of the photo.
    1. The teacher will cut apart the copies into four puzzle pieces.

                     i.     Each piece will be numbered.

                     ii.     Piece number 1 should include the top left corner with the soldiers on the horses and the wagon.

                      iii.     Piece number 2 should include the women on the bottom left.

                     iv.     Piece number 3 should be the top right corner with the Native American on the horse.

                       v.     Piece number 4 should be the male Native American from the center of the painting.

                      vi.     Place the pieces in numerical order in a baggy, face down.

  1. Photo Analysis:
    1. The teacher will instruct the students to take out piece number 1 without looking at the other pieces.

                      i.     The students will predict what they think is happening in the piece.

                       ii.     The students will share their predictions with another student.

  1. Following the same procedures as piece number 1, the students will take out pieces 2, 3, 4 one at a time.
  2. The students will put all of the pieces together.

                         i.     The students will predict what they think is happening in the photo.

                         ii.     The students will share their predictions with another student.

                         iii.     The students will determine if their predictions were correct.

4. Students will answer the Trail of Tears observation sheet.

  1. Story Analysis: (This is adapted from a lesson found in the University of
    1. Students will read Family Stories from the Trail of Tears from the Sequoyah Research Center to discuss and write an analysis of the events. Family Stories from the Trail of Tears – American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center ***Please pre-read interviews. Some of them are very detailed and graphic****

i.Interviews that involve families from Alabama: Wynn, Lizzie – Immigration from Alabama: Chambers, Jenny McCoy; Cook, Wallace; Dowson, Lucy; Hill, Mary. Stories from Alabama are included below.


        ii.These stories and others are found at:


    1. Building Background: Explain that sometimes people tell their children stories about their families.The teacher will give an example: My father was in Vietnam. He was in the Army…..
    2. Students will share a story about an ancestor with a peer.
    3. The teacher will ask for a volunteer to tell a unique or interesting story they heard from their partner.

  1. The students will read stories from people whose ancestors were on the Trail of Tears.
    1. Students will be placed in groups of four and five. Each group will receive a different story from the Trail of Tears.
    2. The students will read the passage together and answer the Group Personal Accounts Questions (included below).
    3. The students will choose a group leader to present the information to the class.
    4. The students will express their feelings about the stories they heard by answering the Individual Personal Accounts Questions in their Trail of Tears Notebook Journal.


  • The teacher will observe student participation throughout the photo analysis.

  •  The teacher will observe student participation during story activity.

  • The teacher will critique class presentation.

  • The teacher will read over Trail of Tears Notebook Journal Responses.

Additional Resources

Additional Resources and Websites


Trail of Tears
Native American