Lesson Plan

The Trail of Tears: Photo and Interview Analysis

Trail of Tears Image

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
4.RI.2, 4.RI.3, 4.RI.7
State Standards:
Alabama State Social Studies Standard 3: Explain the social, political, and economic impact of the War of 1812 and explain the impact of the Trail of Tears on Alabama American Indians’ lives, rights, and territories.
Thinking Skills:
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. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


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. By the end of the lesson, students will be able to answer the question:

What was the experience of Cherokee Native Americans along the Trail of Tears?


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. 


*The teacher will print one copy for every two students of the “On the Trail of Tears” photo and get the same number of baggies. 

  • The teacher will cut apart the copies into four puzzle pieces.
  • Each piece will be numbered.
  • Piece number 1 should include the top left corner with the soldiers on the horses and the wagon.
  • Piece number 2 should include the women on the bottom left.
  • Piece number 3 should be the top right corner with the American Indian on the horse.
  • Piece number 4 should be the male American Indian from the center of the painting.
  • Place the pieces in numerical order in a baggy, face down. 

*Make four copies of each of the five interviews for each group to analyze. (Note: If you have more than 20 students, you may need to make more copies.)  

*Teacher should please pre-read interviews. Some include graphic details and may not be appropriate for all learners. 

*Make one copy per student of the photo analysis questions, personal account questions, and the "Step into the Painting Writing" assessment. 


Make one copy per two students and cut according to preparation directions.

Download Trail of Tears Photo

Make one copy per student.

Download Photo Analysis Questions

Make 4 copies of each interview for each group to analyze.

Download Trail of Tears Personal Accounts

Make one copy for each student.

Download Personal Account Questions

Lesson Hook/Preview

*Write the phrase "Trail of Tears" on the board. Ask students to write down a list of emotions, thoughts, or adjectives that they think of when hearing that phrase. 

*Ask students to share their brainstorming. 

*Explain to students that the "Trail of Tears" was the route along which the United States government forced several tribes of Native Americans, including the Cherokees, Seminoles, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks, to migrate to reservations west of the Mississippi River in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s. Ask students why they think the Native Americans referred to the journey as the "Trail of Tears"? 

*Say to students, "Today, you will be analyzing photos and interviews of Native Americans to understand what they experienced during the Trail of Tears. At the end of class, you will be writing a diary entry as a Native American journeying on the Trail of Tears." 


Photo Analysis: 

1. Put students into pairs. Hand each pair a photo baggy. 

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

  • The students will predict what they think is happening in the piece.
  • The students will share their predictions with the class.
  • Following the same procedures as piece number 1, the students will take out pieces 2, 3, 4 one at a time.

3. Each pair of students will now put all of the pieces together.

  • The pairs will predict what they think is happening in the photo.  
  • The students will share their predictions with the class

4. With teacher feedback, the students will determine if their predictions were correct.

5. The teacher will hand out the "Trail of Tears Photo Analysis Questions". Each pair of students will get together with another pair to answer the questions.

Interview Analysis: 

6. 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…..
  • Students will share a story about an ancestor with a peer.
  • The teacher will ask for a volunteer to tell a unique or interesting story they heard from their partner.

7. The students will stay in their groups of four from the end of the photo analysis. Each group will receive a different story from the Trail of Tears. Hand out to each student their group's story and the "Personal Accounts Questions" (Note: If you have more than 20 students, you may have to give two groups the same account or make larger groups).

  • The students will read the passage together and answer the group-section of the "Personal Accounts Questions".  
  • The students will choose a group leader to present the information to the class.
  • After listening to the group leader presentations, students will express their feelings about the stories they heard by answering the individual-section of the "Personal Accounts Questions". 

8. To conclude the lesson, students will step into a painting of the Trail of Tears to write a diary entry as an individual depicted. (See assessment section for materials.) 


  • Trail of TearsThe route along which the United States government forced several tribes of Native Americans, including the Cherokees, Seminoles, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks, to migrate to reservations west of the Mississippi River in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s.
  • Native Americanmember of any of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
  • Rationa fixed amount of a commodity officially allowed to each person during a time of shortage. 
  • Caloriethe energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C, often used to measure the energy value of foods.
  • Nutritionthe process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.
  • Healthybeing free from illness or injury.

Assessment Materials

Trail of Tears Writing: Step into the Painting

Students choose an individual from the Trail of Tears Painting by Max D Standley available at http://www.maxdstandley.com/trail_of_tears_series/the_trail_of_tears.html and write a diary entry as that individual using the knowledge gained from the lesson.

Trail of Tears Writing - Step into the Painting

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

*Teacher-chosen heterogenous pairs for photo analysis. 

*Struggling readers can receive a shorter personal account or one group member can be chosen to read the account to all other group members. 

*Individuals can be suggested to focus on in the "Step into the Painting" assessment. 

Enrichment Activities

*Before writing the "Step into the Painting" assessment, students can watch the Trail of Tears videos available at https://www.nps.gov/trte/learn/photosmultimedia/dvd.htm 

*Students can read and write diary entries from multiple-perspectives including possibly the soldiers accompanying the Native Americans. 

Additional Resources

Additional resources can be found in this document

Related Lessons or Education Materials

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

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Last updated: August 4, 2015