Native American Lesson Plans and Learning Activities | Studying Native American Culture At Home Or Classroom

Native American Lesson Plans and Learning Activities | Studying Native American Culture At Home Or Classroom

Native American education should be essential learning for anyone growing up in the United States. One of the best ways to facilitate this learning is through Native American lesson plans.

Whether you are a teacher interested in expanding curriculum options, a parent who wants to share more accurate or in-depth information but their child, or a student seeking additional knowledge about the diverse cultures of this country, Native American lesson plans will help you reach your goals.

The importance of a quality Native American education can't be overstated. Most of us are well aware of the incident in Riverside, California, where a math teacher was filmed chanting and dancing in a fake paper-made Native American headdress. 

Take a look.

While this video is difficult to watch, it's unfortunately not an isolated incident. These sorts of displays degrade indigenous people and contribute to the erasure of indigenous people by perpetuating misinformation, and harmful stereotypes. Too often, indigenous people are portrayed as caricatures and the truth behind their struggles, history, culture and accomplishments are left out of the conversation, especially in schools.

For anyone growing up in the United States, an education on Native American history, culture, religion, struggles and triumphs should be part of any core curriculum. Though many people think using or creating lesson plans is something reserved for teachers in a school setting. The truth is, with Internet access and your local library, anyone can access opportunities to learn about Native American culture.

This article will share some ways to make quality indigenous lesson plans and refer you to some existing ones online that you can use anytime.

Why Choose Native American Lesson Plans

Before finding the ones that work for you, consider the reasons behind seeking out additional educational resources about Native Americans. Think back to when you were in school and try to remember how much you learned about different tribal nations. If you were like most students, you got some knowledge in the early grades about the tribes specifically intertwined with the earliest European settlers.

These are wrapped up with juvenile tales of the first Thanksgiving, Disney's Pocahontas, and even some long-held prejudices that Native Americans as “less than.” Many of these things provide a false or incomplete look at these cultures. Many students go through school not even understanding that Native Americans still exist today.

What Students Should Learn About Native Americans

Before diving into specific lesson plans and activities that can help students of all ages expand their knowledge about the unique cultural diversity in the United States, it makes sense to take a look at what students in different grades or age ranges are currently learning or should learn in school. It is also important to understand the misconceptions about Native Americans that many children have so you can override them for a more accurate understanding. This will help you determine the types of subjects to focus on as you move forward with your lesson plan-building efforts.

Kindergarten through Third Grade

Unless your community or family is already in touch with the Native American experience, most children only learn that they exist around these times. First experiences usually center around Thanksgiving, the story of Christopher Columbus, and depictions of Indians in cartoons and storybooks.

Unfortunately, many of these are inaccurate give a rather sensationalized look of what Native Americans are and how they behave. In these formative years, it is important to counter these impressions with accurate historical information. Some topics of interest may include the diversity of different tribes, everyday life, interaction with the natural world, and arts and crafts.

Some educational organizations and parents will not feel comfortable talking about things like the Trail of Tears or massacres with children this young. You do not have to share graphic information to give an accurate idea of events. It is sufficient to talk about conflicts and prejudices in more abstract terms.

Fourth through Sixth Grade

By the time a student reaches the fourth grade, or hopefully earlier, they will understand a lot more about the difficulties that Native Americans have faced throughout history. They should have strong knowledge of the major groups that lived all across the country, how they lived, what they ate, the type of art and cultural activities that existed, and their interaction with European settlers.

Sheltering students in these grade ranges from the realities of what went on in the past and the prejudices that still exist today makes little sense. Again, details are not necessary to give an accurate picture. It is vitally important to balance the information so students can explore the interesting aspects of Native American culture, art, music, food, and everyday life with the challenges that it made it so difficult for them to continue enjoying these things.

Junior High and High School

In these grade ranges, students are usually focused on either American history or European history in most schools across the United States. Although Native American lesson plans are still used, most are intertwined tightly with things like westward expansion, the American Revolution, and similar European-centric events.

Although Native Americans make up such a small part of the population statistically speaking, they are an integral part of the nation's history and our modern world. No matter what activities are lesson plans you share with your students or children, make sure that both sides are represented accurately and fairly. For example, lessons in westward expansion should neither be only about massacring and displacing tribal people nor only about the wonderful opportunities for Europeans who wanted more land.

Incorporating Native American Studies Across All Subjects

If you want to create a comprehensive educational opportunity for learning about American Indians beyond Native American Heritage Month or specific social studies classes, use stories and facts about them in all subjects. Most focus on history, but you can also teach about these topics in language arts or English classes, art and music lessons, and even science and math. The best free lesson plans include multidisciplinary foci to make the topics sink in more clearly.

It is obvious how Native American lesson plans work with a history curriculum. In English classes, reading indigenous peoples' literature from a language arts perspective makes sense. Students can diagram a sentence, study legends, or learn how to create an effective essay with Native American topics as easily as they can with others. The diverse range of Native American cultures across the United States gives us everything from simple childhood tales and folklore from the oral tradition to modern articles and speeches made by prominent personalities seeking justice or fair treatment from the government.

When it comes to science and math, however, some people may not be able to understand how to incorporate Native American activities as easily. In science, some topics may include geology that has to do with metals and semiprecious gemstones like turquoise that were used in Native American jewelry and other crafts, the environment and how native people use natural resources efficiently, and the farming techniques that were used to ensure enough food for the early people. In math, incorporate Native American statistics into word problems, reading charts and graphs, and more.

In fact, when you set out to create a Native American lesson plan or develop an activity that will engage your students in a more interesting pursuit of truth and understanding, focus on mixing up the subjects within one project. For example, when reading a legend about the Thunderbird from Arapahoe mythology, students can explore science related to flight or weather patterns, use math to measure the supposed dimensions of this majestic bird, and explore symbology, similar tales in other cultures, and even study the structure of the writing itself for more understanding.

Creating Native American Lesson Plans

The process of building a lesson plan for any subject differs whether you are a professional teacher working in a school or a parent who simply wants to add extra information or engagement for your children at home. Despite the differences, adding more Native American activities to the experience is a great way to help children and teenagers understand more about the world they live in.

Any lesson plans should include:

  • Age-appropriate information and presentation while maintaining accuracy
  • Trustworthy resource materials and sources of information
  • Ways to engage the students and increase interest and curiosity
  • Auditory, visual, and kinesthetic materials for different types of learners
  • An opportunity for working together with others
  • Goal-oriented information and presentation

These may all sound like difficult things to achieve, especially if you are a parent with no advanced teaching education. However, as long as you focus on accuracy and engagement, you cannot go far wrong.

Native American Lesson Plans Available Online

You'll find a bevy of free lesson plans online, suitable for both classroom and at-home use. When choosing which to use, always focus on quality sources so you know you are getting accurate information. Most of these are divided up by age or grade range so you can choose something that will be easy for the kids of any age to understand.

Pow Wow Lesson Plan

Help students of any age understand the traditional Native American gatherings called powwows. This unique lesson plan combines in-depth information about the Gathering of Nations three-day event and other powwows that occur all across the country. It helps students understand the meaning behind these special gatherings. They are more than just opportunities to get together and dance and make music.

To help you educate your students or children, it includes a teacher's guide, goal and reference chart, worksheets, and plenty of optional and entertaining information.

Scholastic Native American History, Culture, and Present Times

The Scholastic organization has long been trusted by educational facilities and parents to give accurate information and engaging help to teachers and parents. They offer quite a few lesson plan options for different grades.

Some of these lesson plans include:

National Education Association (NEA) Lesson Plans

These Native American activities are suggested for November, which is Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month. They offer a host of options for students in kindergarten through grade 5 with few reaching into the high school years.

Some of these free Native American lesson plans include:

  • Every Native Vote Counts
  • Create Your Own Native American Board Game
  • Pourquoi Stories to Tell Why
  • Native Americans Today

‘Teachnology' Native American Lesson Plans

All of the usual information about the history, culture, and diversity of tribal nations are covered in these lesson plans. Unlike some other sites that have activities specifically described or printable worksheets, the site focuses more on the goals, development, and practical instruction about how to create the lesson plan and what should be included in it

Some of these free lesson plans include:

National Endowment for the Humanities

This website has grade ranges from kindergarten all the way through high school, which makes it one of the more comprehensive options on the list. The lesson plans, student activities, and teachers guides span many different topics and interests, but there are a lot of Native American resources here, too. They give in-depth instructions for educators and much of the necessary content directly on the site.

Some of these free lesson plans include:

  • Traditions and Languages of Three Native Cultures
  • Native Americans and the American Revolution
  • Native American Cultures Across the US
  • Language of Place: Hopi Place Names, Poetry, and Song

Native American Heritage Month Resources

 Although teachers and parents should not limit educating children and teens about Native American history and culture during November alone, it does provide a more pointed opportunity to explore. When you are searching for Native American lesson plans, it is sometimes easier to find them by looking for things specifically created for this month. This website offers a wide variety of principles and reading opportunities to teach about a variety of topics.

Some of these Native American lesson plans include:

  • Indian Symbols and Meanings
  • Biography of Sacajawea
  • Describing Drum Beats in Native American Music
  • Children of Native America Today

The Library of Congress

While educational honesty and accuracy is important, most schools and parents shy away from exposing the worst historical events to young children. The Native American lesson plans offered here are directed at high school students.

They include:

  • Indian Boarding Schools
  • American Indian Reservation Controversies

Additional American Indian Activities to Boost Interest

No one engages with children on a regular basis fails to understand that they would rather do things than simply hear about them. Listening to you give a report about a Native American topic of interest or sitting down and reading an article or book is generally not as engaging is actually working on activity alone or with others.

Many of the lesson plans available online that are listed above have suggested activities attached to them. However, you can create your own or find extra ones to try out with your students, kids, or on your own.

Native American Games

Like every culture since the dawn of time, different Native American nations played a variety of games for entertainment and competition. Although you probably will not be able to set up a full-scale lacrosse game in your backyard, for example, you can still try out some options. Some American Indian games and activities were popular for the long winter months when more people stayed inside.

Also, helping students create games together can be a great part of a lesson plan. Get a large piece of poster board and some markers to create a board game that tracks a Plains Indian tribe through their yearly hunting migration. Come up with trivia questions and prizes to win.

Native American Music

Check out an authentic Spotify playlist or head to YouTube to explore songs both traditional and modern by Native American artists. In fact, you can select an entire lesson plan around music if you want. Otherwise, use it as an addition to the overall project. Music can also create ambiance in the background as you study other facts and cultural tidbits.

Native American Crafts

Far too many “Indian style” crafts done in schools across the country are culturally insensitive to some degree. Sitting down with your children and taping feathers to a paper headband is not a way to explore the truth about Native American culture. The best sources for learning about crafts can try at home is authentic tribal crafts people themselves. Of course, you are not going to bring authentic turquoise to the classroom and teach students how to make jewelry. However, you can still work within reasonable bounds to stay as authentic as possible.

Visit our Craft Tutorials!

Native American Food

What makes a Native American lesson plan more interesting than eating a meal or snack that includes foods enjoyed in the past and still today? Every culture around the globe has unique eating habits and foods they enjoy from recipes they created that a become part of their identity. Besides giving accurate historical information, cooking with your kids is just plain fun.

Visit our recipes!

When designing new Native American lesson plans for the students at your school, your children at home, or for your own advanced education, turn to online resources that focus on historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity. If you start from scratch on your own, always seek out original sources and authentic experiences so you can share the truth in an age-appropriate way.

So much about the Native American experience in this country is diluted, ignored, or twisted to present a more positive and forgettable impression. Help students understand the diversity of the first nation's cultures, what they went through in the past, and how they still exist with many of the same prejudices and challenges that they face throughout the history of the United States.

Last Updated on December 1, 2021 by Jared McKiernan

About Paul G

Paul G is the founder, who wears many hats as a business coach, photographer, and collector of quirky shirts. Paul started in 1996 while pursuing his graduate degree. With a passion for travel, he and his family hav  traveled the world, capturing unforgettable memories and photos. When he's not coaching or clicking, he's indulging in the magic of Disney.

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