Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Surviving Assimilation

American Indian Boarding Schools

Daniel Schwarz, Keiana Cross | Published: August 19th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course Oklahoma History, U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 90-100 minutes
  • Duration More 2 periods


Students will understand the events and ideologies that led to the establishment of federally funded and religious boarding schools for American Indians. Students will examine the boarding school experiences of American Indians from Oklahoma and other states and territories, and they will identify the ways in which American Indians resisted assimilation and preserved their cultural and individual identities during and after the time they spent at school.

Essential Question(s)

How were American Indians assimilated in the past? What effect did assimilation have on their identity and culture?



Students compare and contrast two photos of a student at a boarding school and acquire an understanding of the term assimilate.


Students use the S-I-T strategy in groups to analyze quotes relating to American Indian boarding schools and reflect on how those quotes make them feel.


Students examine an infographic and use the Window Notes strategy to organize the information they find to be interesting and important.


Students use a modified version of the Paired Texts H-Chart strategy to summarize two videos from a Resource Choice Board. Students think critically about how those videos demonstrate how boarding school students responded to attempts to assimilate them.


As an Exit Ticket, students write a paragraph that summarizes their understanding of the experiences of American Indian students at boarding schools.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • S-I-T (Surprising, Interesting, Troubling) handout (attached; one per student)

  • Window Notes handout (attached; one per student)

  • Paired Videos H-Chart handout (attached; one per student)

  • Resource Choice Board (attached; one per student group)

  • Boarding Schools Infographic (linked)

  • Teacher’s Guide (attached; optional)

  • K20 Center lesson: "Word Warriors" (linked; optional)

  • Computers with internet access

  • Paper

  • Pens or pencils


15 Minute(s)

Begin the lesson by displaying slide 2 of the attached Lesson Slides. Give students a moment to examine the before-and-after photos. Ask students the following questions, which are included in the notes at the bottom of the slide:

  • What do you notice about these two photos? How are they similar? How do they differ?

  • Where do you think these two photos were taken?

  • When do you think they were taken?

  • Why do you think they were taken?

  • Who do you think took them?

After you have allowed about 5 minutes for students to share their observations regarding the photos, explain to them that both are photographs of Tom Torlino, a citizen of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The first photo was taken in 1882 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The second photo was taken three or four years later. Explain that the purpose of Carlisle and other boarding schools was to assimilate American Indians from around the country.

Display both definitions of assimilate on slide 3. Make sure that students know that to assimilate means to adopt the behaviors and traditions of a cultural group that is different from their own.

Show students slide 4, which identifies the title of the lesson. Next, take a couple of minutes to go over the essential questions on slide 5 and lesson objectives on slide 6.


25 Minute(s)

Arrange students into groups of four.

Display slide 7. Pass out the attached S-I-T (Surprising, Interesting, Troubling) handout. This handout contains a list of quotations that are taken from oral history interviews and other sources. Give students at least 10 minutes to read through the quotations with their groups. Next, ask student groups to use the S-I-T strategy to choose one thing they learned while reading that strikes them as surprising, interesting, and/or troubling.

After groups have had another 10 minutes or so to make their decisions, call on a volunteer from each group to talk about the thing that they found surprising, interesting, and/or troubling. Invite student groups to share their reasoning with the class.


20 Minute(s)

Keep students in groups of four and direct them to a link for the Boarding Schools Infographic. Tell students that they will be spending approximately 10 minutes examining the infographic, which contains a timeline, statistics about the boarding schools, and a yearbook showing images that were taken at several boarding schools over the years.

Display slide 8. Pass out the Window Notes handout. As you go over the Window Notes strategy with students, point out that the quadrants are labeled as follows: Facts, Feelings, Questions, and Connections.

Display slide 9. Instruct students to use the Window Notes handout to capture their responses to the Boarding Schools Infographic. Ask them to consider the following questions:

  • Facts Quadrant: Which facts do you find interesting?

  • Feelings Quadrant: What are you feeling as you learn these facts? (Sad? Angry? Embarrassed? Disappointed?)

  • Questions Quadrant: What questions do you have now?

  • Connections Quadrant: Can you relate what you have just read to prior experiences or things you have learned before today?

Make sure that students have an additional 10 minutes after looking through the Infographic to complete their Window Notes.


20 Minute(s)

Display slide 10. Tell students that they will be watching a couple of videos about boarding schools. Pass out copies of the attached Paired Videos H-Chart handout to the students. Make sure that each group of four students has access to at least one computer. Use slides 10-11 to explain how the H-Chart strategy works.

The activity is an adaptation of the Paired Texts H-Chart strategy. Instead of texts, however, students will be working with videos. Direct student groups to the attached Resource Choice Board. Ask them to watch one video from each column of the Choice Board. The videos in the left column are primarily informational and tell the stories of some of the people who attended the boarding schools. These videos examine efforts being made today to remember what happened at the schools. The videos in the right column are interviews with people who attended the schools.

Instruct students to follow the steps listed below:

  • After student groups have picked a video from the left column, give them 5-10 minutes to watch and answer the prompt on the left side of the H-Chart: Summarize the video about American Indian boarding schools.

  • Next, have students pick one video from the right column and give them another 5-10 minutes to watch and answer the prompt on the right side of the H-Chart: Describe what you learned from the person who attended a boarding school.

  • Finally, give student groups an additional 10 minutes to answer the question in the center of the H-Chart: How did the boarding schools attempt to make American Indian students assimilate and how did students keep their traditions despite those attempts?


10 Minute(s)

Display slide 12. Ask students to take out a piece of paper in order to complete a brief writing assignment as an Exit Ticket. Ask students to answer the following question: If you were writing a book about the experiences of American Indian students at boarding schools, what is one thing you would want your readers to know? Why?

After students have had about 10 minutes to write, collect their responses, which will serve as a summative assessment.