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Texas Missions

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 
School District: 
School or Organization: 

GRADE: 7th Grade Social Studies
GENERAL TOPIC: The relationship between Catholic Missions and Native Americans/The mistreatment of Native Americans by the Missions

  • How did the Catholic Missions treat the Native Americans?/What did the friars/others do? 
  • How did that impact the Native Americans' experience in/opinion of the mission? 

§113.19. Social Studies, Grade 7 

  • (2) History. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues through the Mexican National Era shaped the history of Texas. The student is expected to: 
    • ​(C) identify important events and issues related to European colonization of Texas, including the establishment of Catholic missions, towns, and ranches, and individuals such as Fray Damián Massanet, José de Escandón, Antonio Margil de Jesús, and Francisco Hidalgo;
  • 7.2 History. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues through the Mexican National Era shaped the history of Texas
  • 7.2C identify important events and issues relation to European colonization of Texas, including the establishment of Catholic missions, towns, and ranches such as Fray Damián Massanet, José de Escandón, Antonio Margil de Jesús and Francisco Hidalgo
  • 7.2F contrast Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo purposes for and methods of settlement in Texas
  • 7.19 Culture. The student understands the concept of diversity within unity in Texas.
  • 7.19C identify examples of Spanish influence and the influence of other cultures on Texas such as place names, vocabulary, religion, architecture, food, and the arts


  • Torn note
  • Paper for secret letter writing
  • Costume elements for teacher/teachers in role 

1. ARTIFACT - The Secret Letter
"Today we will be exploring some of the problems present in Catholic Missions, specifically concerning the poor treatment of Native Americans. In a moment, we’re going to step into role as individuals who lived during the time of the Missions, but before we begin, we’re going to take a look at a note that we’re going to imagine was found at one of these Missions."
Introduce a note that reads: "Unhappy with the new Missions? Meet tonight behind the stables at 10pm."
Reflecting on the Note:

  • Describe this note, what do you see?
  • What are some of the physical characteristics of this note?


  • Why do you think someone wrote this note?
  • Who do you think saw this note?
  • How do you think this note was shared?


  • Who might be unhappy with the new missions?
  • Why might they be unhappy? (What did the friars do to the Native Americans?)

"In a moment I’m going to ask you to either look down or close your eyes. I’m then going to ask you a series of questions that will help you think about the character you’re going to play in the next sequence. I will also be stepping into role aa a character. You will know we are in role when we have put on these (scarf or whatever prop is used to show the character). As you create your character in your head, think about making respectful choices. We will stop the scene if anyone is being disrespectful. Any questions?"


2. GUIDED IMAGERY (Character Creation)
Ask students to look down/close their eyes through the following.
"Imagine that you are an individual who lives in a Catholic Mission. For some time now, you have been unhappy about your life in the Mission. Perhaps you are a friar who does not like the way his brothers are treating the Native people, a friar who has never raised his (or her) hand against a Native American. Or perhaps you are a Native American living in the Mission, a Native American who has watched their friends and family suffer under the friars’ abuse. Either way, you are not happy. As you think about this character, this Native American or sympathetic friar, consider what their life is like in the Mission? What is this character’s name? How old is this character? What might they do every day? What are their responsibilities, in their work, in their families? How does that character hold themselves? How might sit in their chair? Transform your body so you begin to sit like this character. One day your character is walking through the mission. As they walk, someone walks up next to you and passes them a note, and whispers “Read it secretly, and pass it on”. You duck behind some barrels and read the note. It says “Unhappy with the new Missions? Meet tonight behind the stables at 10pm.” You think about all of the reasons you are unhappy with the current state of the missions. Perhaps you think of a story that you might tell someone, a story that illustrates why you are unhappy. You decide that you will attend the meeting tonight. You crumple the note in your hand, and come out of your hiding spot. Tonight will be your chance to share what you see wrong with the mission.
In a moment I’m going to count down from five, and ask you to open your eyes/look up. When you look up we will begin the meeting. Count down from five, and begin the meeting.
Native American Leader: "Hello all and thank you for coming tonight. We know you are risking much to be here, but we knew that we needed to meet. We have called you here tonight because we know many of you are not happy here in the Mission. While there is not much we can do to change our situation at the moment, I have a plan to help other Native Americans about the Missions so they do not suffer as we have. But before the plan, let us introduce ourselves."
Go around the room and ask students to introduce their characters - who they are and what they do on the Mission. Once everyone introduces themselves, explain that the plan is to compile a letter of warning to other Native Americans about what has happened on the mission - and in order to do that, they want testimonials. Go around and collect testimonials from the students. As students share, create a list of the grievances on the board. Once the list is complete:
Native American Leader: "Thank you all so much for coming. We must disperse now before someone finds us, but I ask that over the next few days you write a letter of warning, telling others of your own experience, so that we may send it out and share it with others. Again, I thank you."
Possible side coaching/adaptations:
If short on time, skip the initial character introductions, and just have students introduce their characters when they share their testimonials. It also may be good to see how many friars and how many Native Americans you have in the room (if you skip the introduction part).
"Everyone close your eyes or look down. As you leave the meeting, you think of all you have heard. You know now that you must warn others - this is no way to live. You think about what you will write, about all of the stories, and when you get back to your bed, you find a scrap of paper, and you begin to write. I’m going to count down from five, and when you look up we will transition out of the drama and into the letter writing." Count down
Students have time to write their letters of warning. In their letters, they must address three key abuses/grievances brainstormed during the meeting. 


5. REFLECTING ON THE LESSON: (Final reflection questions for students on lesson)

  • What did we just do in that lesson?
  • What did you notice about yourself during the lesson?


  • What were some of the stories we heard during the lesson?
  • Were they realistic? Why/why not? 


  • While the characters we played today wanted to warn others, what do you think they might do about their own situation in the missions?
  • What do you think might happen next?