Finding Central Ideas in "Life on the Plains"

3 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT identify central ideas and give reasoning for their choices by reading and discussing "Life on the Plains."

Big Idea

"Cowboys and Indians" in real life--identifying central ideas in historical text.

Do Now: Sketch the West

5 minutes

As an introduction to today's text (an account of a frontier battle told by General Custer), I ask students to access their prior "knowledge" of the old west via visualization. Each students draws what comes to mind when they think of the west.

Reading and Discussing "Life on the Plains"

45 minutes

With our conceptions of the west fresh in mind, we shift our focus to an excerpt of Custer's "My Life on the Plains." This text connects to our unit theme of equality and will partner nicely with our upcoming text by Chief Joseph; as an added bonus, it's a highly engaging account of a frontier battle (if not exaggerated--but hey, that will lend itself perfectly to a discussion of purpose).

We read the text with our read-write-share protocol. First, we read aloud a section of the text (several paragraphs typically, though we pause at what makes sense in the action). After each section, I ask students to identify what they believe to be most important and give reasoning. Then, we share our ideas.

As we read, students make note of many important ideas:

  • The men selected to hunt the Native Americans were "intent" on their purpose, perhaps making them ruthless.
  • The troop camped on an island, making them sitting ducks.
  • Custer described the Native Americans as savages who committed "depredations," making them seem inhuman (and therefore justifying hunting them down).
  • Exaggeration ran rampant; would such few soldiers really remain calm against a war party of 900? The exaggeration makes the soldiers looks like heroes when they really weren't.

In our final discussion segment for the day, I ask students to look at the central ideas they pulled from each section and analyze how they developed in relation to one another, which helps students practice RI.2. Students conclude the text claims that the troops, as representative of white Americans, are brave and will succeed no matter what dangers they face while Native Americans are only savages who cannot win. (Of course, students are hot to contend this claim; I think they would go back in time to fight with Custer if they could.)