November is Native American Heritage Month, and it is also the month when most schools in the U.S. study Thanksgiving, often including Native Americans in the study. Get a broad view of Native Americans with a Who-What-Where-Why-When study.
Who are or were the Native Americans in your area? Often, young students have an image of Native Americans that is based on Thanksgiving clip art.
In fact, there are many different languages and cultures included under the general term “Native Americans.” All the people living in the United States before Europeans came here are called Native Americans, but there were about 250 different languages spoken by the various people living here at that time.
There are nearly three million Native Americans in the U.S. now, or 5.2 million people claiming Native American heritage, according to the census. This is about 1.7% of the population, though some states have higher populations — such as Oklahoma with 12.9% Native Americans — and some have lower percentages.
Native Americans in the U.S. are sometimes members of an official tribe or nation with its own government and laws. There are more than 500 recognized nations of this kind, including the Cherokee, Navajo, and Iroquois Nations.
These tribal groups are known as “dependent governments” and are still subject to the laws of the United States, but Congress rarely takes actions against the tribal governments. For example, the Cherokee nation recently removed from their rolls all the descendents of slaves of the Cherokee who were displaced during the Trail of Tears, making them ineligible for various federal programs. While the U.S. government tried to change the minds of the Cherokee government on this point, they were not able to do so, and they did not overrule the tribal leaders.
Have students compare the constitution of the Cherokee Nation and of the Iroquois Nation with that of the United States. Make sure that students understand that Native American cultures, language, and governments are equivalent to other cultural groups studied.
Map Native Americans with a great interactive resource from NativeLanguages.org. Click on your state on the interactive map and find the Native American groups that live or lived in your state. Research the groups nearest to you, or divide the class and create reports for each state.
The elements of the report will depend on grade level and time available, but students should at least learn the names (with correct pronunciation) of the local Native Americans, where they came from, and where they went to if they have moved on.
Step the project up by transforming reports into Google Earth tours. Watch some tours dealing with Native Americans:
- Enjoy a Google Earth tour showing several Native American groups, created by a 6th grade class.
- Take a virtual tour of the Cahokia Mounds.
- See Norton’s Google Earth tours of Pre-Columbian sites and of Indian Removal.
Ready to create your own Google Earth tours? Here’s a tutorial.
Why do we call this wide range of cultural groups “Native Americans”? Most anthropologists believe that Native Americans came to what is now the United States from Asia long ago. Scientists are not sure how long ago, but by the time Europeans came to the United States, there were about a million Native Americans. Europeans believed that they had a right to take over the lands even though there were already people living here. National Geographic has a brief video that presents the basic information simply but clearly.
One of the things we’ve noticed among K-12 students is that many have the idea that the Native Americans used to live in the United States and are now gone. It’s important to recognize that there are still Native Americans, and that their way of life has changed just as most other peoples’ ways of life have changed.
This year, make sure that your students have a chance to get a more accurate understanding of Native Americans.
When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and settled Pilmoth, they entered the territory of the indigenous peoples who had lived there for centuries, the Wampanoag. Although their relationship with the Pilgrims wasn’t always amicable, the Wampanoag people taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate three important New World plants: corn, beans, and squash. Learning about the relationship among these different plants can help students understand agriculture and nutrition.
Many Native American tribes used companion planting techniques to raise these three crops together. Although each crop could grow on its own, growing them together provides better results.
Corn needs a lot of nitrogen to grow tall, strong stalks and produce large ears of corn. Often there isn’t enough nitrogen in the soil to provide the necessary nutrients for the plants. Corn also loves the sun and provides shade.
Legumes put a lot of nitrogen into the soil while they’re growing but they need something to grow up on. Often, farmers use bean poles to train beans on to grow.
Squash plants have very deep roots and can access water further down than other plants. With their wide leaves, they shade the ground and prevent sun-loving weeds from growing. Their stalks also have hairy spines that insects avoid. They are designed to protect the plant.
- Show pictures of the different features of the three plants to students and explain the special characteristics of each type of plant.
- Explain what a symbiotic relationship is to students.
- Ask students how they think the plants can benefit one another. Guide students towards ideas of a companionship planting of the three plants.
- Tell students the myth of the three sisters. Explain to students that this is a myth and ask questions about reality and imaginary.
- PBS lesson plan using videos on symbiotic relationships
- Types of symbiosis lesson plan
- Investigative Reporter lesson plan
- Symbiosis in the Ocean
- Symbiosis matching game
- Three Sisters: Comparing Native Americans to Colonists Activity
- The “How” of the Three Sisters: The Origins of Agriculture in MesoAmerica and the Human Niche
Your younger students’ study of Pilgrims isn’t complete without making hats! Dressing up in 17th century clothing would be a challenge, but you can make your own versions of their hats with construction paper.
- one 18″ by 12″ piece of white paper
- Stapler and staples or tape
- Ribbon or string
- Measure and mark with your ruler 6 1/4 inches and 7 1/4 inches from the edge on the long side of the paper on each side.
- Measure and mark 3 inches straight towards the middle of the paper from the 6 1/4 inch marks.
- Using a pair of scissors, cut straight from the 6 1/4 inch mark to the 3 inch mark above. Then cut from the 7 1/4 inch mark diagonally to the 3 inch mark.
- Turn the paper so the uncut edge is now facing you. Fold up two inches of the paper towards the cuts to form the front of the bonnet.
- To finish the bonnet shape, bring the two 6 1/4 marks together so the middle piece between the cuts folds downwards. The bonnet will create a U-shape with the folded edge. Secure with staples or tape.
- Cut two lengths of ribbon or string long enough to tie the bonnet together under the wearer’s chin and attach them to the bonnet under the folded front of the bonnet.
- Your bonnet is complete!
- Black, yellow, and white construction paper
- Cut out a hat shape from black construction paper, a two inch stripe long enough to go around the wearer’s head, a strip of white paper as wide as the top of the hat shape, a square of yellow, and a smaller square of white.
- Glue the white strip of paper to the hat on the front just above the brim.
- Glue the yellow square in the middle of the white strip.
- Glue the white square in the middle of the yellow square.
- Make a ring with the black strip of paper using the tape.
- Tape the hat to the ring.
- Your hat is complete!
You can easily add a white yoke over your shoulders out of white paper for the complete Pilgrim ensemble. It’s perfect for reenactment activities, like our Voyage of the Mayflower lesson plan.
Learning about the Pilgrims and their journey to America is important to understanding the founding of our country and the history of the United States. The Pilgrims’ voyage on the Mayflower was full of hardships. Today, a replica named the Mayflower II sits in Plymouth Bay, where the Pilgrims eventually landed and settled in Plimoth. Plimoth Plantation is also a great field trip if you’re in the New England area — it’s a great opportunity teach your students first hand what living as a Pilgrim was like.
One way to understand the Pilgrims and the trials they went through to get to America is to experience a little bit of those trials through reenactment.
The Mayflower Voyage Reenactment Activity
To experience the Mayflower as best we can, we can take students on an imaginary journey from England to Plimoth. Young children can reenact the voyage together as Pilgrims and older students can read first hand accounts and documents from the events of the voyage to get in-depth knowledge of the history of the Mayflower.
Life Before the Voyage and Preparations
First, discuss with your students what the Pilgrim’s lives were like living in England. The Pilgrims were originally called Separatists because they were dissatisfied with the Anglican Church but because the king, King James I, was the head of the church, it was treason not to practice Anglicanism. The Pilgrims were prosecuted for their religious beliefs and fled to Holland where they could practice freely.
Explain to students that in England, they are not welcome because of what they believe. Have younger students pretend that others are picking on them for their beliefs. Older students can read a passage from the journal of William Bradford about the Separatists and their beliefs.
While in Holland, the Pilgrims had to work hard at menial jobs and life was difficult. They decided that settling in the New World was the only way they could live the way they wanted, free from prosecution. But Jamestown, the only English colony at the time, was full of Anglicans and they feared they would experience the same troubles as in England. So they decided to settle and start their own colony. Since England owned America, they had to return to England to get permission to go to America. They signed a land patent with the Virginia Company in London that granted them an area of land in Virginia on which to settle. They chartered the Mayflower to take them and joined up with more Separatists in England.
For younger students, you can print out a copy of a land patent and give it to your group of Pilgrims. Older students can read a passage from the journal of William Bradford about the decision to go to America.
The next step is to prepare for the voyage. The Pilgrims couldn’t take everything they needed and had to pick and choose what to take. While the Mayflower was one of the largest ships at the time, it is tiny by today’s standards. They prepared stores of food, chose which furniture to take, and packed the ship for the voyage.
Young students can best learn about the choices the Pilgrims had to make by having to choose between items. Print out different items, like clothing, tools, furniture, food, and other items. Ask students to pack a box together and decide what to take with them. Older students can read through documents of provisions and recommendations from settlers on what to bring with them.
The Voyage to Plimoth
The Mayflower itself was a small ship and the Pilgrims spent 66 days traveling from England to Plimoth, although that wasn’t their original intended destination. They lived in between decks in a small, cramped space with no fresh air and little to do and terrible food to eat. Soon after they left, a storm hit the Mayflower and blew her off course.
Build a “Mayflower” with your younger students but outlining a ship on the floor in tape just big enough for all the students to sit in together. Explain to them what life was like in the ship and ask them to sway back and forth. Ask them to pretend they’re smelly, that there’s little air to breathe, and that the food is bad to eat and has bugs in it. When the storm comes, ask students to pretend they are seasick, ask one to fall overboard and the others to save the student, and have students imagine the ship is being tossed in the angry ocean. Older students can use this interactive timeline.
After the storm, the Mayflower continued to America but first spotted land in Newfoundland, far north of where they intended to settle. They stopped for provisions and then attempted to navigate to the area they had signed the patent for but the waters around New England were treacherous so they made land on Cape Cod. After giving up and deciding to settle in the area, they went to the area now known as Plimoth.
Take younger students on the journey by using a map to explain how far the Pilgrims were off course and the path they took down the coast to Plimoth (named Plymouth today on maps). Asks students to pretend to get provisions in Newfoundland but decide not to stay there. Have one student spot land and ask all the students to exit the Mayflower and return to their seats. Older students can read first hand accounts of the last legs of the voyage and read the Mayflower Compact.
After taking the journey with the Pilgrims, ask your students to reflect on what the journey was like and how it formed our ideas of America today. Highlight that later when the United States was founded, religious freedom and tolerance were important parts of our decisions on how to govern our country, which we still use today. You can also connect this lesson to other lessons about bullying and tolerance in your classroom.
Ask students to write a journal entry about what they learned from experiencing the voyage of the Mayflower and what it was like to be a Pilgrim. Older students can write analysis of primary sources and reflect on how the Pilgrim’s voyage affected our country’s history.
- Pilgrim Hall Museum
- Primary Sources from the Mayflower
- Eyewitness to History on the Mayflower
- Scholastic’s Interactive First Thanksgiving and Mayflower website
- Online resources for If You Sailed on the Mayflower book
- Resources from Plimoth Plantation
- On the Mayflower: Voyage of the Ship’s Apprentice & a Passenger Girl by Kate Waters
- If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern
- Mayflower 1620: A New Look at a Pilgrim Voyage by Plimoth Plantation
- American Documents: The Mayflower Compact by Judith Lloyd Yero
- Across the Wide Dark Sea: The Mayflower Journey by Jean Van Leeuwen
- Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford
In it, a penguin who has always wanted to be cool and his counselors, who are very proud of how cool they are, are taken in by a couple of tricksters. The idea of wanting to be cool may have more immediacy for today’s students than the idea of wanting to be thought wise.
Enjoy the book as a read aloud for your younger students, or use it as a lesson starter for older students.
Here are some cross-curricular activities for the book:
- Use a Venn diagram to compare this book with The Emperor’s New Clothes.
- Click through to the less plans for the traditional story for more activity ideas.
- The story begins with an emperor penguin who was teased about his clothes when he was a kid. Specifically, they made fun of his bow tie and his checked pants, but his “before” picture also include horn rimmed glasses and an old-fashioned Dad-type belt and sweater vest. Discuss the idea of whether clothes affect how people are thought of or treated. If your school has a dress code or uniforms, this is a good time to talk about it. It’s also a good time to talk about teasing and bullying. How about wearing bow ties or Bow Tie Stickers for a week to promote awareness of bullying?
- The cool clothes in the book have patterns such as paisley, chevrons, and skulls as well as stripes and dots. Spot all the patterns, learn their names, and use them in art projects.
- The rogues in the story have “a special formula.” Have students find ads for “special formulas” and create a bulletin board. How many seem truly to be new technology and how many seem as though they might be trickery?
- The rogues shop online for themselves . This is a good chance to remind students never to share private information online without their parents’ permission, never to share passwords, and about any school rules regarding internet use on campus.
- Author Lee Harper explains, “I’ve set my story in an imaginary kingdom where emporer penguins, walruses, albatross, seals, and polar bears all live — and shop — together.” Have students identify the animals in the story and find where they actually live. Add the information to your classroom map. Use Google Earth to learn more about the animals.
- Check out our penguin classroom ideas.
There may not be many good local options for field trips when you’re studying Africa, but there are quite a few places you can go online. Check out our suggestions for virtual field trips.
Virtual Camera Tours
- Virtual South Africa
- Great Pyramids of Giza
- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (above — click for full screen option)
- The Castle of Good Hope in South Africa
- The National Museum of African Art has online exhibits to explore. There are also lots of interactive and printable resources in the Playtime section.
- African Voices at the National Museum of Natural History has an interactive timeline, exhibits, and more to explore.
- The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium has a fun kids section and interesting exhibits and information primarily about the Congo.
- The Arts of Africa at the Brooklyn Museum
- National Geographic’s Crittercam game provides plenty of basic keyboard practice as players help film lions.
- PBS has an African Exploration with a challenging question and answer game, lots of information, and lesson plans. The “For Kids” section is no longer available, but older students will find many learning opportunities.
- The Brookfield Zoo has an animated game called “In Search of the Ways of Knowing Trail.” Kids make decisions to get through the story, encountering facts and challenges along the way.
Taking a virtual field trip or two will enrich your study of Africa and help students get a more accurate mental picture.