Hot Tips & Topics

We are dedicated to providing you with a comprehensive collection of relevant and up-to-date K-12 education news and editorials. For teachers, by teachers.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Janelle Cox

November is Native American Heritage Month. You can help students recognize the significant contributions Native Americans made to the establishment of the United States by having students partake in a variety of inspiring activities and classroom games.

Here are a few fun facts, classroom activities, classroom games, and books to help you teach your students about Native American cultures.

10 Fun Facts about Native Americans

  1. There are 2 million Native Americans in the United States.
  2. The word "Cherokee" means “speakers of another language.”
  3. The Choctaw Nation is one of the largest Native American tribes in the U.S.
  4. In most tribes, Native American men wore breechclouts or breechcloths.
  5. Nearly all Native Americans wore some form of moccasin for shoes.
  6. Most tribes wore cloaks or fur parkas in cold weather.
  7. Every tribe wore some sort of headgear on their head.
  8. Some Native American tribes were agricultural, while others were semi-nomadic.
  9. Native Americans hunted, fished, and farmed for their food.
  10. The most important Native American food crop was Indian corn.

Native American Contributions

Help students discover the many contributions that Native Americans have made by listing the following facts on the front board. Then, as an extension activity, ask students to imagine what the world would be like now without the contributions of the Native Americans. Have students write a brief description explaining what life would be like. You can prompt students by saying, "What would Thanksgiving dinner be like without a turkey or pumpkin pie?

Related Articles
Red toolbox with the words word toolbox on it.
Here are 5 teaching strategies for instructing vocabulary words to elementary...
Person drawing a brain on a wall. The brain has the words leadership written on it.
Students need to be taught critical thinking skills, which they will need to...
3 kids sitting in front of a table.
8 transformative technology in the classroom skills required of the digitally...
Teacher talking to a young student at a table in class.
7 essential whole brain teaching steps that teachers must incorporate into...
Teacher reading to students, who sit in a circle.
We examine why classroom management procedures are important and how to teach...

Contributions from the Native Americans

  • Corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocados.
  • Indians were the first to raise turkeys for food.
  • In the 1500s, Indian labor produced gold and fur.
  • Indians discovered the medicinal use for quinine.
  • Tobacco, rubber and cotton were developed from Indians.

Become a Native American Expert

Help students become a Native American history expert by having them research important facts about Native American culture. Divide students into small groups and assign each group a specific tribe to research. Kidsinfo.com and Bigorrin.org are great sites that have a lot of information on Native American tribes. Ask students to find information to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the name of tribe you are researching?
  2. What does your tribe’s name mean?
  3. Where are they from?
  4. What were their homes like?
  5. What language did they speak?
  6. What kind of food did they eat?

If You Lived with the Indians

For this classroom game you need to read the story "If You Lived with the Indians of the Northwest Coast" by Anne Kamma. Before reading it, ask students to think about what life would be like if they lived with the Indians. How would it be different then their life today? While reading the story to the students, encourage them to take notes about important facts that they hear you read.

After the story, encourage students to share some of the facts they wrote down. Then, ask students to choose two facts and research a little more about them. For example, if a student learned about a specific food Native Americans ate in the story, they would research other foods that they ate. After students gathered their information, allow them to share their new facts with the class.

Exploring Native Americans through Literature

Keep the following five stories in your classroom library so students to can explore Native American culture even further. 

  • “The Legend of the Bluebonnet” by Tomie dePaola (grades K-3). A folktale about a young girl who sacrifices her doll to the spirits.
  • “Dancing with the Indians” by Angela Shelf Medearis (grades 2-4). This story is about a young girl who attends an Indian powwow and dances with the Seminoles.
  • “American Indian Foods” by Jay Miller (grades 3-4). This book give students an idea of the foods American Indians eat.
  • “If You Lived with the Cherokee” by Connie & Roop (grades 3-4). This story give students insight on what it was like to grow up over 200 years ago in a Cherokee family.
  • “If You Lived With The Indians Of The Northwest Coast” by Anne Kamma (grade 3-5). This story centers on a child's view of the Native American culture.

Source: Native-AmericanLanguage.org

How do you honor and celebrate Native American Heritage Month in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers around the Globe.