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8th - 11th
1800 - 1900
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Academic Standards (1)

CCSS English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHIST.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience.

NCSS C3 Framework

  • D2.His. 7.9-12. Explain how the perspectives of people in the present shape interpretations of the past.
Tom Torlino
Tom Torlino, Navajo student at Carlisle, 1882 (left) and 1885 (right)
Courtesy of Dickinson College, Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center and National National Archives and Records Administration

Key Terms and Concepts

  • Westward Expansion
  • assimilation
  • reservations

Essential Questions

How do the unique dynamics surrounding borderlands shape our identities?
What is it like to live across borders and in more than one space?


Indian Boarding Schools and Assimilation

Create clear and coherent writing from an imaginative first-person perspective to describe and explain individual experiences using primary and secondary sources to complete Exit Ticket.


Warm Up (1)

  • This Text Graffiti strategy exposes students to short pieces of a text before they read it in its entirety. Students read and comment on selected quotes and on other students’ comments. Text Graffiti eases students into reading longer selections by familiarizing them with the text, activating prior knowledge, and enabling them to make predictions.
  • Using the four central texts listed below, identify short text excerpts that speak to the larger themes of this unit and to the essential questions for this lesson. Choose sections or sentences and then write or type each one onto a strip of paper.
  • Prepare as many strips as you have students. Tape each strip to a larger piece of paper and the larger pieces to student desks.
  • Have students read the strip at their desk and then write their comments and reactions on the surrounding paper. Provide enough time for students to read and respond to the text. Provide these examples of how to “graffiti” a text, if needed:
    • Write what you think the line means.
    • Sketch what you see when you read the words.
    • Write what the words make you wonder about.
    • Write how this reminds you of something else you have studied.
    • Write how this reminds you of something from your own life.
    • Write a response to another comment on the paper.
  • Signal students to move to another desk. Consider using music to mark the transitions, pressing play/pause when it's time to switch seats. Remind students they can also respond to each other's comments. Repeat step four multiple times before having students return to their own desks.

Debrief (1)

Facilitate a brief discussion in which students react and respond to the quotes they read. What, if any, significance is there to the fact that these texts are first-person accounts or narratives?

Mini Lesson (1)

  • Introduce students to key official documents related to the incorporation of Native land by the U.S. government, such as the Indian Removal Act (1830), the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), the Navajo Treaty (1868), and the Dawes Act (1887). Highlight that these aggressive actions by the government—removal, relocation, reservations, and allotment—effectively created and re-created new borders. In many ways, the survival of Native peoples would be determined by their ability to negotiate these borders, which were both physical and cultural in nature.
  • Explain that with the taking of Native land and the breaking up of reservations through allotment, many American Indian tribes lost control of their schools and were forced to send their children to boarding schools run by white government officials. These boarding schools became an explicit tool of those who sought assimilation to “civilize” Native youth by stripping them of their indigenous identities. Provide an overview of Indian boarding schools. Use this map to illustrate the distance some Native students had to travel to attend Indian boarding schools.
  • Facilitate a discussion about cultural and social borders by asking students about the borders they cross every day when they come to school.
    • What changes do you observe as you cross “borders” on the way to school each day?
    • How does the environment around you change?
    • How do you change?
    • What do those changes feel like?
    • What is it like when you move across those borders again to return home to your family and community each day?

Primary Source Stations (1)

  • The experience of Native youth in Indian boarding schools required them to navigate and live across a number of physical, social, and cultural borders. Create a station activity in which students circulate the room examining primary source images in the Learning Lab collection and text that reflect the student experience of Indian boarding schools.
  • Facilitate a whole class discussion around the essential questions. What did students observe from the primary sources about the impact of boarding schools on Native identity? What did they learn about what it was like for Native youth to travel from their homes and then live in the white space of an Indian boarding school?

Exit Ticket (1)

  • Ask your students what is it like to lose your language and not be able to speak or communicate with your family? This will require them to use a combination of knowledge (things they learned in previous lessons) and empathy—personal connections they make when they put themselves in another person’s shoes.
  • Assign them to write a letter home to their family, documenting an experience or encounter they had at school and describing how it made them feel. The letter should rely on the primary and secondary sources from the lesson for key information. Someone reading this letter should learn something about how the student’s identity has been shaped by living across a border that divides their indigenous home culture and the English-speaking European culture they have been forced into.  
  • Optional: Make the task more authentic by giving students real stationary or post cards. Once completed, compile, publish, and share student work.