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Trails Of Understanding: The Earliest ImmigrantsTrails-Of-Understanding-The-Earliest-Immigrants

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
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  • Duration: Two to three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. The traditional and modern theories about the origins of the first inhabitants of North America.
2. The lifestyles and survival strategies of Native Americans who lived long ago in the students' own geographical area.
3. The manner in which evolving modern theories of human migration are changing the way we look at history and cultivating awareness of racial and cultural stereotypes.


For this lesson, you will need:
Books and magazines about Native Americans from your school or local public library
Primary resources (treaties, correspondence, artifacts, contacts for local speakers) and other related materials from your local historical society or the National Park
Large map of North America
Current and historical maps of your geographic region
Materials for making posters, models, dioramas
Optional, but helpful: computer(s) with Internet access; word processing software; creativity software such as Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft PowerPoint, and HyperStudio (see procedure number four, Presentations, for additional suggestions)


1. KWL Chart
Divide a piece of large chart paper into three sections: What I Know; What I Want to Know; What I've Learned. The last column will be filled in later. Ask students what facts they know about Native American tribes that lived in their geographic area, and enter their responses in the first column. As you proceed to the second column, explain to the students that they are going to perform some detective work by investigating the lives of the Native American peoples who lived in your area long ago. In addition, they are going to attempt to discover how those people may have migrated to your area. The amount of information available to your students may vary according to the region in which they live, but clues to the past can be found if they look carefully. Have the students brainstorm possible resources that might be useful in their search. Keep your KWL chart posted in the classroom so students can add what they learn from their research to the third column.
2. Cooperative Grouping
Divide the students into groups. Each group will investigate a different aspect of the tribes that lived nearest to you, including lifestyle, clothing, food acquisition, social relationships, religious beliefs and practices, and shelter. At least one group should investigate the traditional and current theories about the migration of people to North America. To ensure equal participation by all group members, have each member pick a job, such as reader, note taker, computer keyboarder, Internet searcher, or reporter to class.
3. Research
Using the print, online, and primary resources available, the students will gather information to share with their classmates about their particular topic. Make sure students take notes with documentation of each resource used so that appropriate citations can be made later. If specific information on tribes in your immediate area is not available, direct students to the best available sources for tribes in your greater region.
4. Presentations
Once information is gathered, students can select a project to present their findings. Here are some suggestions:
  • Build housing/village models, dioramas, or three-dimensional relief maps.
  • Write and illustrate informative posters.
  • Create a pamphlet that describes and illustrates each aspect of the life of Native Americans in your area.
  • Mark and label the migratory routes of Native American tribes and dates for various migration theories on a large map of North America or create an informative poster or annotated time line. If there are contradictory theories, students can present both sides and discuss which seems the most likely. Have students attempt to determine when the first Native Americans settled in your area. Was there one group or several waves?
  • Create a "museum" of artifacts that relate to the research. Depending on what students can find, the museum can be an actual shelf or table set up in the classroom or a virtual museum composed of relevant visuals found on the Internet and CD-ROMs combined with student annotation.
To add a technology component to the student projects, students can undertake one of the following:
  • Make an illustrated PowerPoint or HyperStudio presentation.
  • Write and produce a one-act play that showcases the research findings.
  • Write a storybook to teach younger students about Native American life or migration using creativity software (KidPix, KidWorks Studio, or Ultimate Writing and Creativity Center for younger students; ClarisWorks or Microsoft Publisher for older students).
  • Publish a mock historical newspaper that reports on Native American migration on the North American continent. (Any of the software mentioned above would be useful for setting up the newspaper.)
Make sure to provide plenty of time for students to present their research and projects to the rest of the class. You may wish to extend their audience by inviting other classes to visit your classroom or by planning a night for families to visit.
5. Follow-up Discussion
The questions that follow will help students understand the issues underlying their research and examine ways in which American culture's assumptions about and stereotypes of Native American life have had an impact in the past and the present. Students can discuss or debate some of the conflicting theories about the earliest North American migrations as well as the political and social issues involving Native Americans. Subjects such as treaty disputes, discrimination against Native Americans, insensitive treatment of Native American burial grounds, and the practice of using tribal names for sports teams can provide stimulating discussions. If they had the opportunity to rewrite history, how might your students have treated the Indians differently? Ask them to predict what the outcome today might have been if we could rewrite history. Perhaps your students' newfound understanding from their research and discussion will help them to have an impact on the future.

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As a class, examine ways in which the American culture's assumptions and stereotypes about Native American life have impacted the past and the present. List some if the issues that arise in your discussion, which may include:
  • Conflicting theories about the earliest North American migrations
  • Disputes about Native American treaties
  • Discrimination against Native Americans
  • Insensitive treatment of Native American burial grounds
  • The practice of using tribal names for sports teams
After your initial discussion, ask students to choose one issue to research further. Have them write a brief summary of the issue, considering the impact it has on the Native Americans. How would they solve the issue?

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Discussion Questions

1. How did the Native Americans in your area adapt to the local environment? Compare and contrast their adaptations in the past with the adaptations citizens in your environment might have to make today. Discuss ways in which each culture has adapted the most to nature and ways in which each has tried to make nature adapt to it. Which is the best course? What evidence can you supply to support your evaluation? On what cultural values are you basing your assessment?
2. If there were no electricity or other sources of power, how prepared would you be to survive? How could you find food? Build shelter? Survive the winter? What are the five most important resources you would like to have at home if you were to have an extended power outage? Justify your choices.
3. Why do you think the practice of naming sports teams after Native American tribes persists in American society, even though many Native Americans have expressed their displeasure about it? Why do you think they object to the practice? Should society change, or should the Native American minority accept the wishes of the majority?
4. On occasion, archaeologists have dug up the remains of ancient Native Americans. Should scientists be allowed to study these remains? Native Americans feel such remains should be immediately reburied according to Native American customs. Scientists worry that if reburied, the remains will deteriorate and lose their value for present and future scientific study. Are there other options for treatment of these remains? Would it make a difference to you if these were the remains of your ancestors? Why? Defend your point of view.
5. Given the treaties the U.S. government has made with Native Americans, should they as a people have some rights that are different from those of other Americans? Defend your point of view with facts.
6. Decide whether Native American tribes should be compensated for the broken treaties, damage, and disruption they have suffered since Europeans arrived in America. Defend why your view is the fair thing to do.

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You can evaluate the overall project by using a rubric that assesses the quality of work based on the details of your original assignment. Have students participate in the creation of the rubric. Discuss the criteria to be used to assess the process and presentations. What are the minimum standards they should be expected to accomplish?Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educatorsoffers a comprehensive page of assessment rubrics for group presentations, cooperative learning processes and products, time lines, oral presentations, and more.

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Fleshing It Out
Recent archaeological discoveries of ancient human remains in North America such as the "Kennewick Man" do not seem to be Native American in origin. These discoveries have reopened the question of how the Americas were populated, by whom, and when. Significant to these discoveries is the collaboration between forensic anthropologists, artists, and sculptors, who together have succeeded in "fleshing out" piles of bones into models of what such persons may have looked like. (The Discovery Magazine video The Earliest Immigrants provides a fascinating look at this collaboration of science and art in the reconstruction of the Kennewick Man's skeleton.)
After researching this topic, have your class evaluate the plausibility of different theories by creating their own models:
  • Obtain several identical, inexpensive sets of plastic human skeleton kits from a hobby store. Divide the class into groups of four or five and give each group one skeleton. To accompany each skeleton, write a brief scenario of where the bones might have been found, and under what conditions. Note any distinguishing characteristics of the skeleton. For example, "These bones were found along the coast of the state of Washington. The size of the pelvic bones indicates the person was a female. There is evidence of numerous broken bones that did not heal properly, affecting the woman's posture."
  • Using homemade play dough or purchased modeling clay, challenge groups of students to literally build their concept of what that person might have looked like, by adding "flesh" to its bones. Provide plastic knives or wooden Popsicle sticks as carving tools to add details.
  • Have each group present its model and explain the environmental factors and other reasons why their "human" has certain features. Have students hypothesize about other living conditions this person may have experienced. Ask students to speculate on why the different groups of "forensic archaeologists" in your class may have arrived at different concepts and theories.

Native Americans in the Mass Media
For many Americans, attitudes about Native Americans come mainly from movies and television. Have students conduct research on the present-day lifestyles and economic and social problems of Native Americans. Ask them to compare this information with traditional stereotypes portrayed by the television and film industry. Students can combine their analyses of movies and television shows into a database, a PowerPoint presentation, a review for the school newspaper, or a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

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Suggested Readings

"The First Americans"
Sharon Begley and Andrew Murr. Newsweek, April 26, 1999
This article discusses the varied and changing theories about who the first Americans were and where they came from. Long-established theories are discussed along with new archaeological evidence that indicates some of these theories may need to be radically changed.

Adventures in Stone Artifacts: A Family Guide to Arrowheads & Other Artifacts
Sandy Livoti with Jon Kiesa, Adventure Publications, 1997.
If you've ever found an arrowhead, or wanted to, this book is a great guide that will help you understand the uses of various stone artifacts, how they were made, and where they are found. Also included is information about how amateur and professional archaeologists discover artifacts and how they care for them.

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Tri-City Herald's Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center
Read as the story unfolds of how the Kennewick Man is discovered and information is revealed.

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Trace the story of the Kennewick man through the virtual exhibit at the University of Washington.

National Park Service: The Kennewick Man
Reports from the National Park service about the Kennewick Man.

Links to Archaeology articles dealing with Kennewick Man.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    anthropologist
Definition: One who studies the science of human beings and especially of their physical characteristics, their origin and the distribution of races, their environment and social relations, and their culture.
Context: An anthropologist studies the characteristics and customs of different people around the world.

speaker    archaeology
Definition: The science that deals with past human life as shown by fossil relics and the monuments and tools left by ancient peoples.
Context: The discovery of a 9,000-year-old skeleton that does not appear to be Native American may forever change archaeology and its theories, dating the arrival of Native Americans on the North American continent.

speaker    evolution
Definition: The history of the development of a biological group (as a race or species).
Context: It is fascinating to observe changes in the human body's structure that have occurred after thousands of years of evolution.

speaker    forensic
Definition: Relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems.
Context: Forensic science has solved many mysteries about human origins through examination of skeletal remains.

speaker    isotope
Definition: Any of the forms of an element that differ in the number of neutrons in an atom.
Context: The isotope carbon 14, found in all living organisms, is measured during radiocarbon dating.

speaker    repatriation
Definition: The act of returning to the country of origin or citizenship.
Context: Under the Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation Act, many ancient Native American skeletons being studied by scientists must be returned to the tribe.

speaker    sternum
Definition: A flat, narrow piece of bone or cartilage in the chest that connects the ribs; also called the "breastbone."
Context: Because the skeleton's broken sternum had never healed, scientists concluded that it had caved in and out when the person breathed.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: World History
Understands the biological and cultural processes that shaped the earliest human communities.
Understands how different human communities expressed their beliefs (e.g., theories regarding the relationship between linguistic and cultural development; possible social, cultural, and/or religious meanings inferred from late-Paleolithic cave paintings found in Spain and France; theories about the ways in which hunter-gatherers may have communicated, maintained memory of past events, and expressed religious feelings).
Benchmark: Understands environmental, biological, and cultural influences on early human communities (e.g., how language helped early humans hunt and establish roles, rules, and structure within communities; the proposition that Mesolithic peoples were the first to take advantage of a changing climate; biological and cultural relationships between Neanderthal and Homo sapiens ).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: U.S. History
Understands the characteristics of societies in the Americas, western Europe, and western Africa that increasingly interacted after 1450.
Understands the similarities and differences among Native American societies (e.g., gender roles, patterns of social organization, cultural traditions, economic organization, and political culture among Hopi, Zuni, Algonkian, Iroquoian, Moundbuilder, and Mississippian cultures).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: U.S. History
Understands why the Americas attracted Europeans, why they brought enslaved Africans to their colonies, and how Europeans struggled for control of North America and the Caribbean.
Understands the cultural and environmental impacts of European settlement in North America (e.g., friendly and conflictory relations between English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers and Native Americans; how various Native American societies changed as a result of the expanding European settlements and how they influenced European societies; the impact of the fur trade on the environment).
Benchmark: Understands the nature of the interaction between Native Americans and various settlers (e.g., Native American involvement in the European wars for control between 1675 and 1763, how Native American societies responded to European land hunger and expansion).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: U.S. History
Understands federal Indian policy and U.S. foreign policy after the Civil War.
Understands interaction between Native Americans and white society (e.g., the attitudes and policies of government officials, the U.S. Army, missionaries, and settlers toward Native Americans; the provisions and effects of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 on tribal identity, landownership, and assimilation; the legacy of the 19th-century federal Indian policy; Native American responses to increased white settlement, mining activities, and railroad construction).
Benchmark: Understands influences on and perspectives of Native American life in the late 19th century (e.g., how the admission of new western states affected relations between the United States and Native American societies; leadership and values of Native American leaders; depiction of Native Americans and whites by 19th-century artists).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: U.S. History
Understands the U.S. territorial expansion between 1801 and 1861 and how it affected relations with external powers and Native Americans.
Understands how early state and federal policy influenced various Native American tribes (e.g., survival strategies of Native Americans, environmental differences between Native American homelands and resettlement areas, the Black Hawk War, and removal policies in the Old Northwest).
Benchmark: Understands the impact of territorial expansion on Native American tribes (e.g., the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole removals, the significance of the Trail of Tears, the original lands held by various tribes of the Southeast and those held in the Old Northwest territory).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: U.S. History
Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.
Understands how diverse groups united during the civil rights movement (e.g., the escalation from civil disobedience to more radical protest, issues that led to the development of the Asian civil rights movement and the Native American civil rights movement, the issues and goals of the farm labor movement and La Raza Unida).

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Jay Lamb, world history and philosophy teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.; Sandra Murray Lamb, U.S. history and civics teacher, Washington Irving Middle School in Springfield, Va.

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