Native American Heritage Month
ESL Activities & Lesson Plans
It all began when the English teacher I team-taught with insisted that I plan a “fun” activity for Columbus Day. After all, what’s more fun than genocide 🙄?
This guy was already not on my list of favorite humans, so I wasn’t completely surprised with the way the situation went down. I (politely) explained to him that “Don Colón” wasn’t a good guy and I don’t do Columbus Day. Long story short, 20 minutes later this dude’s still defending Columbus as a shining star of pure
Spanish stolen gold, and refusing to refer to his victims as anything but “Indians”.
En fin 🙄
Long story short, that pesado provided the inspiration to create a couple of meaningful and enjoyable activities, introducing just a little taste of Native American culture to my students here in Spain. What began as a (not so) silent protest the week I was meant to be teaching about Colón, has become an important part of my November repertoire for Native American Heritage Month every year, and I hope it becomes a part of yours!
Below you can find a few different activities and resources:
- A fun, kinesthetic introduction to Native American culture for younger teens, and
- Debate topics for older students.
- Arts & crafts activities, like making dream catchers
Native American Heritage Month Introduction:
Who Are the Native Americans?
Best for: 11-16 years (1º – 4º ESO)
You Need: Map (with Native American territories) printed and laminated clues, printed and laminated images
Native American Heritage Month Lesson Objective
The goal here is not to present an in-depth history lesson, but rather to present a glimpse of new information using context and vocabulary that students are already familiar with. I´ve found that my students know next to nothing about Native Americans aside from Pocahontus, so this has become a way to share a bit about their art, culture and achievements.
Native American Heritage Month Lesson Vocabulary
When presenting completely new information in L2 (the second language), it’s important to use low-level vocabulary to avoid overwhelming the students (new info + advanced vocab/grammar = too much input). For the clues in this activity, I focus on vocabulary related to:
- compass directions
- basic North American geography
- materials used for clothes and the home (wood, grass, leather)
- animals, plants, food and transportation
Native American Heritage Month Lesson Preparation
I’m usually a no-prep kinda girl, but this activity definitely takes some legwork to get going.
- Prepare Native American map (I traced this map on poster paper using the projector in my classroom)
- Print and cut out clues. You can download my clues here, or scroll to the bottom of this post to find them
- Print and cut out corresponding pictures (in color, if possible!) I gathered most of the photos from my go-to free photo site, freepik.com. Check out these links:
Arctic and Subarctic pictures: here and here
Assorted clipart: These icons, and the images found here, here, here, here and here
What I couldn’t find on freepik, I found google searching clipart.
- If you have access to a laminator, use it! There´s a lot of touching in this activity and they won´t last long.
I start the lesson with this intro clip from Pocahontas (basic, I know) to assess prior knowledge and encourage interest by using something that they know and enjoy. After the clip, I ask students to provide any context they can – Who, what, where, when, why.
Most classes will have some idea about Native Americans and some understanding of the connection between Native Americans and the Thanksgiving season. Go with it.
Option 1: For chilled out classes that like to participate:
- Each group begins with about 5-10 images on their group table
- Students pick clues out of a hat and read them aloud. Each clue corresponds to one of the images and indicates location or compass directions
- The students listen to see if any of their images correspond to the clue that is read.
- A representative from the group with the corresponding picture attaches the picture to the correct place on the map.
Option 2: For classes that need to be competitive to participate:
- Set up all the pictures on a table at the front of the room
- Split the class into 2-4 groups and have one person from each group at a time come up
- Read a clue aloud and the first to slap the corresponding picture gets a point
- Read the clue again and the first to slap the appropriate part of the map get a point
Native American History Month Class Debate
Best for: 16 -18 years (bachillerato)
You need: Wifi or downloaded videoclips, speakers
For an advanced class that already has some knowledge about Native Americans, this is a great activity to have a class debate.
This word association video series is an incredible resource, and I highly recommend watching them even if you’re not planning to use them for a class.
- Word Association: Thanksgiving
- Word Association: Reservation
- Word Association: Language
- Word Association: Christopher Columbus
Have the class watch one or two of the videos, and then give each group a topic to discuss for 5 – 10 minutes:
- Was Columbus a good guy?
- What is cultural appropriation? Use examples.
- Is it a big deal to say “Indians” rather than “Native Americans”?
Once they’ve had some time to gather their thoughts, have the class come back together and discuss.
Additional Resources for Native American History Month
- I’ve always wanted to make dreamcatchers, but haven’t yet had the time or resources to do so. If this is up your alley, there are plenty of “How to’s” available online
- TeacherVision has some awesome resources like traditional games, stories, crafts and more
- Youtube offers plenty of Native American music to use as background tunes during this activity
How have you shared Native American History month at your school?
I’d love to hear about the activities you’ve used to introduce Native American history and culture to your class! Please share with us in the comments, and click here for ideas on how to celebrate Thanksgiving in you ESL classroom! 😊 And don’t forget to follow me for more ESL Lesson Plans 📚 and adventures ✈️ in the Canary Islands, Spain and the world 🌍!
In case the PDF document doesn’t open, you can find the clues here. Feel free to pick and choose or make your own!
Arctic/Subarctic Native Americans
Homes: In the winter, these Native Americans lived in houses made of snow and ice. These homes are called igloos.
Clothes: These people needed warm clothes like boots and coats to survive the cold weather. They used animal skins and furs from sea lions and polar bears to stay warm.
Food: They couldn´t grow food in the snow, so they mostly fished or ate meat. They hunted seals and walruses and went fishing to catch whales and fish.
Food: When lakes were frozen solid, these people would make holes in the ice and go fishing for food.
Transportation: These Native Americans travelled over land and ice using dog sleds. These dogs are now called “huskies”.
Californian Native Americans
Homes: These natives lived near the Pacific in dome-shaped houses made of dried, yellow grass.
Food: These people went fishing in the Pacific Ocean, hunted animals, and ate nuts, berries and mushrooms.
Transportation: These people used kayaks to travel and go fishing in the Pacific Ocean.
Art and Culture: These people made jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, earrings, etc.) from colorful shellfish shells that they collected from the Pacific Ocean.
Art and Culture: Tribes from this region along the Pacific coast made cave paintings.
Great Basin & Plateau
Homes: These people often lived in homes called lean-to´s. Lean-to´s had 3 walls and were made of natural materials like yellow grass. They lived east of California and north of the southwest.
Clothes: During the hot summer months, these people often didn’t wear shoes and walked barefoot. They lived east of California and north of the southwest.
Food: These Native Americans hunted for deer, squirrels and rabbits using a bow and arrow. They lived east of California and north of the southwest.
Great Plains Native Americans
Homes: These nomadic people lived in teepees. Teepee were built using long wooden poles tied together at the top to make an upside-down cone shape. The outside was covered with buffalo skin. They lived in the center of the US.
Food: These nomadic people from the middle of the US were known for following and hunting buffalo. Buffalo look like big, furry cows.
Art and Culture: The natives from the middle of the US used buffalo skin to create percussion instruments.
Art and Culture: Have you ever seen a feathered headdress? These were made famous by the Native Americans who lived in the center of the USA.
Northeastern Woodlands Natives
Homes: These people lived in villages of longhouses near present day New York. These houses were long and rectangular and sometimes 20 people or more lived together in one longhouse.
Art and Culture: Dreamcatchers were originally created by these Native people who lived near the Great Lakes in the north east. They were often decorated with feathers and shells.
Art and Culture: Tomahawk is a word from a northeastern tribe to describe a weapon made with a metal axe and a wooden handle.
Art and Culture: This Disney character is based on a real Native American girl from the northeast, where English sailors and explorers first arrived in America.
Northwest Native Americans
Art and Culture: These northwestern people used wood from large Redwood trees to make totem poles by carving images of local animals like bears, wolves and eagles. They lived near the north Pacific.
Food: These Native Americans went fishing for salmon in the cold waters of the Pacific between the USA and Canada.
Art and Culture: Some people in the North West believed that medicine men could change into California grizzly bears.
Southeast Native Americans
Clothes: These Native Americans are known for weaving colorful clothes using sheep’s hair (wool). They lived near present-day Florida.
Food: These people were not nomadic. They built farms and grew vegetable like corn, beans and pumpkins.
Southwest Native Americans
Homes: These people lived in adobe homes just north of Mexico. Adobe bricks are made of clay, sand and grass mixed together, and often had blue painted doors.
Art and Culture: These people made beautiful, blue jewelry (earrings, necklaces, etc.) from the turquoise stones in the South West.
Special thanks to freepik.com for the feature image background and the Boho Element icons:
Background vector created by 0melapics – Freepik.com
Abstract vector created by Freepik