Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act: Part 1


Image from the Pittsburg Dispatch, 1889.

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Adopted from: The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play from Zinn Education Project

When considering 19th-century U.S. expansions such as the Trail of Tears, it’s important not to lose sight of the parallels that still move foreign policy forward today. Economic interests often trump all previous notions of law or humanity, and are used to justify swift and decisive use of force. We must equip students with the ability to search for and find both historical and continuing patterns of such policies that they may wish to be a part of stopping.

The Indian Removal Act did not only focus on the Cherokee but on all indigenous peoples, including the Seminoles. The Seminoles lived in Florida side by side with escaped African slaves and their descendants for at least 100 years. To include them in this lesson is to expose students to further reasoning behind the U.S. motivation of Indian removal, including slavery. The hope is that role-play might help encourage the exploration of the subtleties of what happened and why.

Along with the Seminoles’ role, the missionary role is very important in demonstrating that not all white settlers were in support of the Indian Removal Act; the bill only passed 102–97 votes. Missionaries didn’t support the bill; they still considered the Cherokee as “having risen to a level with the white people of the United States.” Critique everything.

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Language Arts Standards: 

  • ELA.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • ELA.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • ELA.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
  • Additional standards listed in PDF Download

Social Studies Standards: 

  • Historical Knowledge 8.1. Evaluate continuity and change over the course of U.S. history by analyzing examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among groups, societies, or nations.
  • Historical Knowledge 8.2. Evaluate continuity and change over the course of U.S. history by analyzing key people and constitutional convention, the age of Jefferson, the Industrial Revolution, the Westward Expansion, and the Civil War.
  • Historical Knowledge 8.3. Examine the social, political, and economic factors that caused the Westward Expansion from the American Revolution through Reconstruction.
  • Historical Knowledge 8.4. Evaluate the impact of different factors, including gender, age, ethnicity, and class, on groups and individuals during this time period and the impact these groups and individuals have on events of the time.
  • Historical Thinking 8.6. Use and interpret documents and other relevant primary and secondary sources pertaining to U.S. history from multiple perspectives.
  • Historical Thinking 8.7. Analyze evidence from multiple sources, including those with conflicting accounts about specific events in U.S. history.
  • Historical Thinking 8.8. Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
  • Historical Thinking 8.9. Construct or evaluate a written historical argument demonstrating an understanding of primary and secondary sources.
  • Geography 8.10. Interpret maps to identify growth and development of the United States.
  • Civics and Government 8.14. Explain rights and responsibilities of citizens.
  • Civics and Government 8.15. Contrast the impact of Articles of Confederation as a form of government to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Civics and Government 8.18. Examine and analyze important U.S. documents, including (but not limited to) the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and 13th through 15th Amendments.
  • Civics and Government 8.21. Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality, and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.


  • Construction paper for name cards
  • Tools to decorate name cards
  • Copy of roles, enough for each student
  • Copy of President Jackson’s speech, enough for each student
  • Large open space
  • Notecards (for presentation to Congress)
  • Costumes (optional)
  • Vocabulary activity sheet (optional) 

Key Vocabulary

A list of key vocabulary and an activity sheet are provided below.


  • Vocabulary activity: A list of key vocabulary for this lesson has been provided below, along with an activity sheet.
  • Introduction: Together, read the “Removal Proposition.” Explore just how far it is from Florida and Georgia to Oklahoma.
  • Describe role-play: Each student will be given a role to play—Cherokee, Seminole, missionary, plantation owner, or the Andrew Jackson administration. These groups have been asked to discuss the Indian Removal Bill before Congress (teacher). As a group, they are going to discuss and write out answers to the questions on the “Removal Proposition.”
  • Activity preparation: Divide students into five groups. Give students a copy of their roles to read and research.
    • To add more authenticity, have students create a biography for their characters, coming up with names, place of birth, family, friends, etc.
    • To elicit depth, students should write a short biography presentation so that the class can get a feel for each character.
  • Pose question and write-ups: Pose the question “How will you react if the bill passes or fails?” for the students. Each group discusses and writes out answers to the questions on the “Removal Proposition.” Give students an appropriate amount of time to research, discuss, and prepare for the role-playing.
    • The question may possibly be the first time that they will be presented with the idea that just because a law is passed doesn’t mean it will be accepted.
  • Create place cards: Have students create place cards for their roles, and if necessary, change into costume.
  • Role-play activity: Once students are finished with write-ups, half of their group should leave to speak to other groups in order to negotiate allies. Traveling students may only talk to seated students. This keeps everyone participating in the activity.
    • Give students an appropriate amount of time to discuss alliances and negotiations.
    • Monitor groups, raise questions, and disrupt contradictions.
    • Remind students of the importance of staying in character for their roles; i.e. the Cherokee are not going to be buddies with the Jackson administration.
    • Prior to letting students travel, have a student from the Jackson administration group play the part of President Jackson and read his speech to congress.
    • Regroup students to collaborate for a written, personalized presentation to Congress and peers.
  • Presentation: Use a large room for the presentations, such the auditorium or outside if available.
    • Each group will present their findings to Congress (teacher) and peers.
    • The audience and Congress may pose questions for debate.
    • Allow for rebuttal questions from Congress and other groups.
  • Debrief: Bring students together to debrief their experiences. This may be in the form of a class discussion, essay topic, or both.
    • It is helpful to have students stay in character, but also to get feedback on the impact this information might have had on them and their experiences through role-play.
  • Some debrief questions to consider:
    • What bothered, or maybe even angered you, the most? Why?
    • What was the most satisfying about the negotiations? Why?
    • What do you think actually happened to the Cherokee and the Seminoles? Why?
    • Do you think there was tension between the Cherokee and the Seminoles? Why?
    • Who do you think had the better possibility to resist removal? Why?
    • What reasons were used to remove the indigenous nations? Do these reasons seem reasonable, or do you think there were other motives? Why? What?
    • What was the main threat to the southern plantation owners? Was it the Seminoles? What laws were in affect to keep division of Indians and blacks?
    • What do you think was the biggest persuasion that tipped the ever so slight majority that won the election of the Indian removal?
    • What might have been some reasons, other than caring about the Indians, why some voted against Indian removal?
    • Why might northern states not want southern states to expand into Indian Territory?
    • Do you think the missionaries would have been as sympathetic toward the Seminoles as they were toward the Cherokee? Why?
    • Is there any correlation here to any other groups in U.S. history? In our current society? Around the world?
  • Outcomes: Provide students with the aftereffects of the Indian Removal Act. Explore various websites to put the implications of this act into perspective.
    • Trail of Tears: Provide students with a visual about what the Indian Removal Act entailed with this interactive map of the Trail of Tears on the National Park Service website.
    • Stories: These are family stories from the Trail of Tears taken by the Sequoyah Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. These stories will give students some background on how the Indian people were feeling and what they experienced as they traveled the Trail of Tears.
    • Video: This video is a short segment from American Experience: “We Shall Remain,” and it paints a picture of how the Indian people were forcibly removed from their lands.

Extension Activity Ideas

Activities can be modified several different ways depending on grade level and focus of study. Listed are activity ideas that can be adapted and extended to and for any grade level.

  • Critique/Letter: Have students critique President Jackson’s speech or write a letter to President Jackson in response to his speech. This extension activity can be a great companion to a language arts lesson about point of view by assigning students roles to play as they critique or write. It can also provide an opportunity for students to learn how to critique by pulling out a quote and analyzing it rather than slamming the author of the piece.
    • Some of these roles include Seminole, Cherokee traveling the Trail of Tears in 1838, enslaved African American who was uprooted by his/her owner to move West, or even the U.S. government.

A lesson plan called “Andrew Jackson, Part 2” has been created for this extension activity idea.

Posted in Common Core: English Language Arts Grades 6-8, Common Core: Social Sciences Grades 6-8, K-12 Lesson Plans

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