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The Truth About the Boll Weevil Lesson Plan


During the late 1890s and early 1900s, an insect called the boll weevil made its way from Texas to the rich cotton plantations of the Mississippi Delta. This insect, roughly the size of a pea, was already responsible for causing millions of dollars (billions of dollars in today’s currency values) of damage to crops throughout the cotton producing regions of five other southern states.

The distinctiveness of the economic and social system of the Mississippi Delta greatly influenced the method of the region’s preparation for the arrival of this destructive pest. As James Giesen stresses in his article, “For planters, beating the boll weevil didn’t mean killing it.” Instead, the defense chosen by elite Mississippi planters to combat the boll weevil was deeply rooted in interconnected beliefs about race, labor, agriculture, and society held by citizens in the Mississippi Delta.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competency 5

Common Core Standards: RI.1- 6; W.2-6; SL. 1-5

Teaching Level

Grades 7 through 12



  1. Utilize close reading strategies to understand a text
  2. Examine the main points and supporting details of a text through small group and large group discussions
  3. Compose a summary using a formal style
  4. Analyze a historical event through a narrative or visual project

Opening the Lesson

The teacher will locate online a copy of the lyrics and/or a video of the song, “Boll Weevil” or “Boll Weevil Blues.” [There are multiple versions of this song and each version is unique to the respective artist (e.g., Charley Patton; Brook Benton; and “Lead Belly” Huddie William Ledbetter)]. The teacher should play an online video of the song and/or distribute copies of the lyrics to the students of the version of the song chosen song chosen. If the video is not used, the teacher should ask student volunteer(s) to read the lyrics to the song aloud to the class. Once the students have listened to the song and/or lyrics, the teacher will ask the students what they know about the boll weevil based upon the lyrics of the song. The teacher may want to show the students the pictures of a cotton stalk and cotton squares infected by a boll weevil, which are included in the Mississippi History NOW article, as the class discusses the lyrics of the song about the boll weevil. After the brief class discussion, the teacher will tell the class that they will study the impact of the boll weevil on different aspects of life in the Mississippi Delta.

Developing the Lesson

  1. The teacher will distribute to the students a copy of the Mississippi History NOW article, “The Truth About the Boll Weevil.” Students should be encouraged to annotate the article as they read. After reading the article, students will be instructed to complete the article worksheet, which is attached to his lesson plan. Independently, students should complete all sections of the worksheet, except the summary section.
  2. Once the students have completed the chart on the worksheet, the teacher will allow students to work with a partner in order to share information. The students will trade papers. Each student should respond to what the other student has written, adding comments, corrections, connections, additions, etc. Papers are then returned to the original writers.
  3. Once the papers are returned, the teacher will clarify the understanding of unfamiliar words and main ideas from the article (e.g., sharecropper, tenant farmer, elite landowner, cotton square, hierarchy, white supremacy, etc.).
  4. The students will then write a summary of the article in the space provided on the worksheet.
  5. Once the students have completed the summary of the article, they will be assigned a partner for the next portion of the lesson. The student pairs will be instructed to select one of the activities listed below to complete as a class assignment on the Mississippi History NOW article. Students may need to conduct additional research on the boll weevil threat in Mississippi in order to complete this assignment.
    • Illustrate a political cartoon about one of the main points in the Mississippi History NOW article.
    • Compose journal entries that span several days in the life of a sharecropper, tenant farmer, or elite landowner during the threat of the boll weevil.
    • Compose a song or poem about the boll weevil threat.

Closing the Lesson

The teacher will ask students to present group projects to the class.

Assessing Student Learning

  • Class participation
  • Worksheets
  • Summaries
  • Journal entries
  • Political cartoons
  • Songs or poems
  • Presentations


Karla Smith is the Social Studies Department Chair at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.



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