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Buffalo SoldiersBuffalo-Soldiers

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. African American soldiers played a major role in the American military in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were known as buffalo soldiers.
2. Researchers are bringing more and more information about buffalo soldiers to light.


For this lesson, you will need:
Internet access
Printed sources about buffalo soldiers
Examples of 19th-century American folk songs—preferably, recordings
Index cards for note taking


1. Introduce the activity on buffalo soldiers by telling students it will be both an academic research project and also a creative writing project. That is, students will have to gather facts about the African Americans who served as buffalo soldiers—their backgrounds, their contributions—as well as use those facts as the basis for an original folk song.
2. Introduce students to the following Web sites, encouraging them to responsibly track links to other pages and to share compelling sites with classmates:
3. If necessary, review with students the basics of reading sources and taking notes:
  • Keeping track of what information comes from which source (Tell students that they should be able to identify the source for any information that they include in their finished songs.)
  • Knowing the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing on note cards
  • Avoiding plagiarism
4. Discuss with students what kinds of facts and impressions given on Web sites they should take notes on so that they have a collection of data to cull from in writing their original folk songs. Encourage students to pay attention to the following kinds of data:
  • Where the buffalo soldiers came from
  • Where they served
  • When they served
  • What their duties consisted of
  • Who stood out (names of individual buffalo soldiers, if they're known)
  • Who commanded them (whites or blacks?)
  • Problems the buffalo soldiers faced
  • Contributions they made
  • Symbols—what did the term buffalo soldiers suggest?
5. After students have taken notes from Web sites (and, perhaps, other sources), give them a chance to go over their notes and perhaps to freewrite for a while so that they can focus on a narrow enough topic or theme for their piece of creative writing.
6. Play for students recordings of American folk songs from the late 19th century, especially songs dealing with moving Indians off their land, the changing American landscape, and any aspect of life on the frontier. Suggest that students use tunes they listen to as the music for their original words, or they may, of course, create both music and lyrics themselves.
7. As if you were teaching a lesson on writing poetry, remind students of the techniques and effects they can use in their songs:
  • Concrete, sensory language rather than abstract or general words
  • Metaphors, similes, personification
  • Alliteration and other forms of repetition (including choruses)
  • Onomatopoeia and other sound effects
  • Stanzas of a set number of lines
  • Lines of a set number of beats
8. After students have written first drafts of their songs (and, perhaps, music), let them work in small groups to improve each effort and to select one to prepare for performance for the class.

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Depending on what poetic forms older students are examining in their English classes, you may want to specify that their original songs take a specific form—say, a sonnet or a villanelle.

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Discussion Questions

1. Despite the discrimination prevalent in military life in the late 1800s, African Americans enlisted by the thousands. What explanations does the program give to account for this phenomenon?
2. Analyze how political events in the East affected the lives of the Buffalo Soldiers in the West.
3. The Buffalo Soldier had to overcome great obstacles, against great odds, to gain recognition in the U.S. military. Explain why you agree or disagree with this statement posed by the documentary.
4. Explain how the army chaplain managed to serve the missions of the church, the government, and the Buffalo Soldiers.
5. What is the legacy of the Buffalo Soldier?
6. Several individuals in the program attempt to define the word "hero". Develop your own definition for the term. Do the Buffalo Soldiers meet your standards for heroism?

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Since students will be producing original songs in different forms, discuss with the class what overall criteria you can apply to the writing experience (e.g., originality, effort, perseverance, revision) and whether you should rate each song on a pass/fail scale or on an unacceptable/acceptable/good/excellent continuum.

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Diary of War
Ask students to create a pictorial or verbal diary of several entries that, taken together, capture the daily life of a typical buffalo soldier serving in the Indian wars or in one of the two world wars.

An Application to West Point
Tell students to take the role of a young African American male seeking admission to West Point in the second half of the 19th century. Have them write essays that persuade the director of admissions to accept their application to the school.

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Suggested Readings

"The Forgotten Pioneers"
Scott Minerbrook, U.S. News and World Report, August 8, 1994

"The Forgotten Heroes: The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers"
Clinton Cox, Scholastic Books, 1993
This book was highly reviewed by many publications, including "Publishers Weekly," "Kirkus" and "School Library Journal," and was chosen as a CBS/NCSS Notable Children's Trade Book in the field of Social Studies.

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Lest We Forget
This page is dedicated to "researching, publishing, and disseminating historical and current documents that focus on the history and culture of African-Americans and other groups, their relationships, interactions, and contributions to the development and growth of this country." It includes links to information about African-Americans on the frontier, as cowboys, and as Buffalo Soldiers. Text, bibliographical information, and pictures are available, as well as schedules of special events and reenactments.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    folklore
Definition: The traditional beliefs and legends of a culture, often handed down orally.
Context: They (the Buffalo Soldiers) are a part of our folklore and the heroic and sometimes tragic stories of the American West.

speaker    precarious
Definition: Perilous, uncertain or risky.
Context: The possibilities for survival - for progress in the south - were precarious at best.

speaker    privation
Definition: The lack of basic necessities or comforts.
Context: The labor and privations of the troops are severe; of all warfare, service in the Indian wars is the most dangerous and the most thankless.

speaker    reconstruction
Definition: The period after the Civil War during which the southern states were governed and administered by the federal government.
Context: After the Civil War, the military, like reconstruction, offered opportunities to black Americans.

speaker    segregation
Definition: The policy of separating a group by race or ethnicity, requiring separate housing, employment, schools, etc.
Context: In 1948, President Truman ended segregation in our military forces.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.
Knows the reasons why various groups (e.g. freed African Americans, Mexican and Puerto Rican migrant workers, Dust Bowl farm families) migrated to different parts of the U.S.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.
Understands the experiences of diverse groups and minorities in different regions of the country (e.g., the experiences of African Americans, and Hispanic Americans; Jim Crow laws and the impact on African Americans).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.
Understands the expressions and opposition to discrimination in the late 19th century (e.g., racial and ethnic discrimination after 1870, how minority groups worked to obtain equal rights, leadership roles of those who spoke out against discrimination).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.
Understands the diverse people encountered in the late 19th Century American society (e.g., political, social, and economic discrimination against African, Asian, and Hispanic Americans: arguments and methods by which various minority groups sought to acquire equal rights and opportunities).

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Summer Productions, Inc.

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