Lesson Plan

The Cherokee People: Elementary Lesson Plan

Black & White painting: Crowd of people on horses, in covered wagons, and on foot move across a dirt path under dark clouds.
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
3.RI.1, 3.RI.3, 4.RI.1, 4.RI.3, 5.RI.1, 5.RI.3
State Standards:
Georgia Standards of Excellence
SS2H1, SS2H2, SS3E3, SS4H3, SS4E1
ELAGSE: 2RI1; 3RI1; 4RI1
ELAGSE: 2SL1; 3SL1; 4SL1
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.

Essential Question

Essential Questions:
How does culture define a group of people?
What defines sovereignty over an area?


Describe aspects of Cherokee life including: Cherokee language, common Cherokee settlements, and the Trail of Tears.
Analyze traditional stories of the Cherokee People.
Role play the trade and barter system.


The Cherokee people's ancestors have been in the Georgia area since before 1000 BC. The Cherokee nation covered a broad area in the Southeastern United States. Their territory included areas of modern day Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Originally a nomadic people, the Cherokee became farmers and, by the 19th century, adopted the culture and lifestyle of white people in attempt to keep their land. They owned plantations with log cabins, stores, and ferries. They had their own government system, schools, and a newspaper. One Cherokee individual, Sequoyah, created a way to write down their Cherokee language using a syllabary.

In 1830's Georgia, the discovery of gold and the desire to expand the country's territory caused the forced removal of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma. This involuntary removal became known as the Trail of Tears. Settlers began to move into North Georgia by late 1832, first attracted by the possibility of finding gold in Dahlonega. From the 1830s through the 1850s, these new landowners moved into the area now known as the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, establishing their homes on the frontier.


Teachers can choose individual or all activities depending on their goals, available time, and their students. It is important to read through all the material and webpages before beginning the activities. 


This is used with Activity 3.

Download Trade and Barter Activity

This is used with Activity 1.

Download Cherokee Syllabary Activity

This is used with Activity 1.

Download Answer Key: Cherokee Syllabary

Lesson Hook/Preview

Message on the Desk Activity

  • Write the following message in large print on the board. (It is written in English and Cherokee.) “ᎣᏏᏲ, today we are going to learn about the ᏣᏔᎩ and a man known as ᏏᏉᏯ.”
  • Instruct the students to brainstorm/anticipate what they might be learning with this lesson.
  • After a few minutes, write the following pronunciation guide above the Cherokee words (actual pronunciation is for teachers only). 
    • ᎣᏏᏲ = O si yo (pronounced long o; 'she'; y with a long o);
    • ᏣᏔᎩ = Tsa la gi’ (pronounced za; 'law'; 'gee' with a hard g like goat); 
    • ᏏᏉᏯ = Si quo ya (pronounced 'she'; 'kwo' with a long o; 'yaw').
  • Instruct the students to brainstorm a few more ideas. 
  • Provide the answer and explain the difference between the Cherokee syllabary and the pronunciation guide.


Activity 1

  1. After the hook, divide students into groups and instruct them to read about Sequoyah and his syllabary. Prepare students to share a fact they learned from this article.
  2. Pass out the Cherokee syllabary practice sheet. Allow students to work on translating the words while all the groups finish reading. (Activity and answer key in materials section.)
  3. Randomly select groups to tell the class one fact they learned from the article. Groups can't repeat a fact that was already mentioned. (If you don't already have a way to select groups, write numbers of scraps of paper and put them in a jar. The numbers represent the groups in the classroom. Choose a number from the jar. That group goes first. Choose another number. That group goes second, and so on.)

Activity 2

  1. Engage in a discussion with the students. The Cherokee Language article said Sequoyah was a "mixed-blood." What does that mean? Who were the Cherokee? Were they different than the Europeans?
  2. Instruct students to read about The Cherokee in Georgia and The Cherokee Nation in the 1820s. As they independently finish, students should draw a picture of what life was like on a New Echota settlement. (Include Georgia standard ELAGSE3RI5 by challenging the students to click on the 3 additional hyperlinks in this section. What information do they find here?)
  3. Walk around and engage students in conversations about their drawings. Make sure everyone is on track.
  4. Allow volunteer students to share their drawings with the class. As students share specifics in their pictures, ask the class how that aspect is the same or different from white Georgia settlers.

Activity 3

  1. Divide students into groups of 4. Pass out a full Trade and Barter activity packet (4 separate pages) to each group. (Activity in materials section.)
  2. Ask one student to read the first paragraph of the packet (same on each page) to the class. 
  3. Engage in a discussion about what it may have been like for settlers to move into Georgia. What may it have been like for the Cherokee when white settlers were there?
  4. Instruct students to cut out the 3 pictures in their "You have these items" section of their page. Remind the groups to help each other cut out the correct pictures. (They do not cut out the "You need these items" section.)
  5. Explain the activity to the students. In the next 10 minutes, each group will become a neighborhood. Everyone must barter with their neighbors to get the 3 items they need. (These items are pictured in the "You need these items" section.)
  6. Allow the students to barter with their neighbors for 10 minutes. 
  7. Engage in a discussion with the students. What 'aha!' moment did you have during this activity? How long did it take you to get the items you needed? Why didn't we trade in this activity (this will highlight the difference between trade and barter)?

Activity 4

  1. Share with your students that gold was found in Georgia, we are all going to be rich! What should we do with the money? Oh wait, we don't want to share with the Cherokee, do we? What should we do?
  2. Read a paragraph about The Trail of Tears to your class. (Optional: Watch the NPS video about the Trail of Tears.) 
  3. Ask a volunteer student to read 2 Cherokee Legends that came from The Trail of Tears: The Legend of the Cherokee Rose and The Legend of the Corn Beads.
  4. Display The Trail of Tears Georgia Interactive Map to the students. Click on and explore the interactive sections of the trail in Georgia with the class.
  5. Instruct students to get out a writing tool (paper, journal, or computer). Students and teacher will journal for 5 minutes about the Cherokee experiences on the Trail of Tears. Explain to students this will only be graded for completeness; not for grammar, spelling, or specific content. The goal is for students to express their feelings and questions about what they just learned.


  1. trade - the action of buying and selling goods and services

  2. barter - the action of exchanging goods and services without money

  3. syllabary - a set of written symbols that represent syllables or individual sounds of words

  4. translate - the action of saying or writing the same words in a different language

Assessment Materials

Exit Ticket

Students can do this in writing or orally with you at the end of the lesson.

Activity: Ticket Out the Door

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

Each of the activities can be adapted for struggling learners in the traditional ways:

  • Do the Cherokee syllabary activity together as a class.
  • Do each activity on a different day to allow for more processing time of each concept.
  • Connect the language activity to different languages the students speak in your class.
  • Role play or provide ample examples before each activity.

Additional Resources

The Cherokee Indians by Bill Lund (1997; Capstone Press)
The official website of the Cherokee Nation
Cherokee Speaks website (includes English pronunciation of each Cherokee sound) 
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (this is an NPS site)

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Teaching with Historic Places  
Upper Elementary Lesson on the Trail of Tears (from Fort Scott National Historic Site)
Cherokee and the Trail of Tears: Middle School Lesson (from Kennesaw Mountain)
Cherokee and the Trail of Tears: High School Lesson (from Kennesaw Mountain)

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: September 7, 2021