Content-Area Literacy

Document-Based Question: How Just or Unjust was Indian Removal and Land Acquisition?

Using DBQ to study, question, and debate Indigenous land seizure

Overview and Context

This lesson uses document-based question, or DBQ, to analyze historical documents through debate.  This particular lesson was created for students in Humboldt County, Northern California to determine if the acquisition of Native land in Humboldt county was just or unjust based upon their study of four documents and class discussion.  This lesson could be used for grades 8th-12th, and could be adapted for a variety of historical contexts, particularly local historical events involving seizure of indigenous land.

Black and white drawing picturing many indigenous people lying on ground, killed, with white men standing over them.

Related California Standards

CA CCSS for ELA /Literacy: Broaden students’ range of experience with informational texts (RH10)

Grade 8 Common Core Standards addressed:

  1. Apply and use a range of academic and history specific words and phrases that can be applied in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. (L6)
  2. Delineation and evaluation of argument in a given text/document. (RH8)
  3. Prepare and participate in a range of conversations and collaborations. (SL 1a,1b,1c,1d)
  4. Close reading of informational texts (RH1)
  5. Interpretation of words and phrases as they are used in the text. (RH4)

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to make and support a claim regarding land and Indian removal (in Humboldt County, California, where the lesson was designed, or in another local area of your choosing).


  • Informal: By observation and pacing the classroom while students are working and asking questions.
  • Formal: Assess the final two paragraphs to determine if students met the curricular standards.


  1. Online access
  2. Copy of DBQ: Google Doc; PDF

Step-by-Step Instructional Plan

1. Accessing Prior Knowledge and Preparation

Prepare by having students access prior knowledge.  Begin and lead a discussion on the topic of what students already know about the Native population pre- and post- European contact.  Discuss Native views of land use and the white settlers’ perspective on the land.  Tailor your conversation to your area or region by asking your students what they know about the local tribes of your community and places that are important to them.

Review the essential question – How just/unjust were Indian Removal and land acquisitions in Humboldt County? – for 15 minutes.  Using the DBQ document, read the background together as a class.  Spend a few more minutes answering questions in the background. Allow students to look up the definitions of vocabulary words.

2. Analyzing the Document(s) in the DBQ

For the first document allow students to analyze the map. Review questions, and ensure students are writing in complete sentences and using academic language. Provide sentence stems if needed.

Read the following documents aloud to students, and review any language. Have students summarize verbally through a think-pair-share, then have two or three students share what their group has interpreted. Review questions. Allow students to work with their teammates. Circulate the classroom to ensure students are on task and to provide any assistance.

For the final document, share the video and project.  This will take about 40 minutes.  Spend an additional ten minutes reviewing questions and documents.

3. Responding Through Writing

Students will construct a paragraph response to the final questions. Use this as a form of assessment. Ensure to provide sentence stems and clear expectations of language use.  This takes approximately 20 minutes.


ELL/Below Grade Level: Pace the classroom and allow extra time and assistance to my EB students and students with IEPs. In addition, provide sentence stems.

Accelerated Learners: Encourage students who need the challenge to ensure they are using their documents and direct evidence and are allowed to produce more than two paragraphs.

Extensions and/or Enrichment

  1. The DBQ Project
  2. Removing Native Americans from their Land (Library of Congress)
  3. Interactive Map of Native Land Seizure in the US (Open Culture)

Screenshot of website showing interactive map of the US with blue showing sites of Indian land removal.

This post is part of the Indigenous Funds of Knowledge collection.