Lesson Plan

Trail of Tears

Max D. Stanley's painting depicting the Trail of Tears with woman crying in foreground and families behind her with horses and wagons.
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
3.L.1.b, 3.L.1.c, 3.L.1.d, 3.L.1.e, 3.L.1.i, 3.L.2.a, 3.L.2.d, 3.L.3.a, 4.L.1.f, 4.L.2, 4.L.2.a, 4.L.2.d, 4.L.3.a, 4.L.4.a, 4.L.4.c, 4.L.5.b, 4.L.5.c, 5.L.2, 5.L.4, 5.L.4.a, 5.L.5.b, 5.L.6
State Standards:
H.12.4.2 Interpret timelines that show relationships among people, events, and movements at the local, state, and national level
H.12.4.5 Reference historic places and national parks to guide inquiry about history
G.8.4.2 Use thematic maps...
Additional Standards:
H.13.4.1 Describe ways people’s perspectives shaped the historical sources they created
C.3.4.1 Evaluate reciprocal relationships between people and rules, laws, and policies
C.3.4.3 Analyze group actions and responses to local and global problems
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. 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.

Essential Question

What is the Trail of Tears?


-Provide an overview of the history of the Trail of Tears, Indian Removal, and Fort Smith's relation to this event
-Provide a quality educational learning experience for students
-Connect students emotionally and intellectually to the event's history
-Students will understand Indian Removal and Fort Smith's role in Indian Removal
-Students will understand the importance of oral tradition
-Students will be able to name the Five Tribes involved in the Indian Removal Act as well as the Osage tribe


The Trail of Tears occurred from 1838-1839; however, the history of Indian Removal, Treaties, and Indian Territory spans a much larger timeline. In the mid- to late- 1700's, Native American tribes, including the Cherokees, had their land diminished and taken over by settlers. Some of this happened by force and some happened by treaties with the government. When the U.S. government made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it included what would become Indian Territory (1834-1907) and what we now know as the state of Oklahoma. Some Native Americans and settlers were coming to this area prior to forced Indian Removal. When the Indian Removal Act was signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, it set in motion forced Indian Removal - relocation of thousands of Native Americans to Indian Territory. This Activity Booklet engages students to think about this tragic event in history and better understand what happened. 


Print the Trail of Tears Activity Booklet for students. 

Play short movie for students on the Trail of Tears: https://youtu.be/7LSkfmCj8Jg

Visit www.nps.gov/trte and www.nps.gov/fosm for more information on the history of the Trail of Tears. 

Supplies: Pencils, colored pencils, or crayons for students use for the Activity Booklet. This activity booklet includes journaling, art, and other creative and engaging activities for the students to reflect on this topic's history. 


Activity Booklet for students grade level 3 - 5 on the topic of the Trail of Tears. Includes Writing, Art, Language, Social Studies, and other creative and engaging activities for those subjects.

Download Trail of Tears Activity Booklet (Student Use)

Activity Booklet Answer Key for Crossword Puzzle and Word Search (Teacher Use)

Download Activity Booklet Answer Key for Crossword Puzzle and Word Search (Teacher Use)

Answer Key for Word Search in Trail of Tears Activity Booklet (Teacher Use)

Download Word Search Answer Key

Answer Key for Page 11 of Trail of Tears Activity Booklet (Teacher Use)

Download Page 11 Activity Booklet Answer Key

Video worksheet for video on Trail of Tears - https://youtu.be/7LSkfmCj8Jg (student use)

Download Video worksheet (student use)

Video worksheet answer key (teacher use) for use with video on Trail of Tears - https://youtu.be/7LSkfmCj8Jg

Download Video worksheet Answer Key (Teacher use)

Lesson Hook/Preview

This lesson includes the opportunity to connect personal lives and stories to an event in history. It fosters empathy for different cultures and encourages the students to learn about their own identity, their family's identity, and those of others. It includes the aspect and importance of Oral Tradition and the role it played in the lives of the Cherokees and other Native American tribes as they experienced life before, during, and after the Trail of Tears. 


1. The teacher is encouraged to preview the lesson with any background information and research they have found on the topic of the Trail of Tears, whether in a textbook or online.
2. Visit www.nps.gov/trte and www.nps.gov/fosm for more information.
3. Show film to students on the Trail of Tears - https://youtu.be/7LSkfmCj8Jg
(Created by the National Park Service and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail)
4. Print activity booklets and facilitate activities for students to complete. 


Route - A way or course taken in getting from one place to another.
Chief - A leader of a tribe or clan.
Trail of Tears - A series of forced relocations of the American Indians from their ancestral homelands to new territories.
Sovereignty - The full right and power of a governing body (such as a state) over itself, without being overpowered or ruled by an outside force.
John Ross - Became the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1827.
Journey - An act of traveling from one place to another.
Indian Removal - An act signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 that authorized the removal of American Indians from their original homes.
Courage - The ability to do something that may be scary to someone.
Territory - An area of land under the law of a ruler or state.
Tribe - A group or community of people.
Hardship - Severe suffering or something very difficult to overcome.
Andrew Jackson - The 7th President of the United States who signed the Indian Removal Act.
Sequoyah - A member of the Cherokee Nation who invented a writing system (alphabet) for his tribe.
Treaty - A formal agreement made between countries or sovereign states.

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Last updated: September 4, 2021