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Lesson Plan

Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh's and Patrick Henry's Language of Resistance

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Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh's and Patrick Henry's Language of Resistance

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death!" has become such a part of American culture that students may not know where the phrase came from, though many will have heard it before. Yet how many know Tecumseh's equally persuasive "Sell a country? Why not sell the air?" This lesson extends the study of Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech to demonstrate the ways Native Americans also resisted oppression through rhetoric. By examining two speeches by Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee alongside Henry's speech, students develop a new respect for the Native Americans' politically effective and poetic use of language.

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Stereotypically, depictions of Native American resistance to settlers focus only on battles or treaty-making. By exploring the rhetorical features of these speeches, students will become more aware of the ways that Native Americans used language to resist oppression just like the colonists. Through Native American oral literatures, students can develop a sincere appreciation for the artistic expression and for the validity and the complexity of these literatures. Further, by teaching Native American pieces with the more canonical "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, language arts teachers can increase students' awareness of the Native American contribution to our national literary history while establishing that these texts should be as much a part of the canon as the more traditional texts.

Further Reading

This lesson is adapted from: Susag, Dorothea M. 1998. "Oratory of Resistance and Revolution in American Literature." Roots and Branches: A Resource of Native American Literature. Urbana, IL: NCTE. Pp. 67-68.

For more information on why it is important to explore Native American culture and literature with students, see the Introduction to Roots and Branches.


Goebel, Bruce A. "Teaching Early Native American Poetry." English Journal 91.3 (January 2002): 38-43.

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