ALEX Lesson Plan


Native Americans: How Their Environment Affected Their Culture

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Rhonda (Gaye) Knight
System: Elmore County
School: Elmore County Board Of Education
Author:Lori Keel
System: Elmore County
School: Elmore County Board Of Education
Author:Erika Shockley
System: Elmore County
School: Eclectic Middle School
Author:Joanne Wells
System: Elmore County
School: Elmore County Board Of Education
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 35353


Native Americans: How Their Environment Affected Their Culture


In this lesson, students will research one Native American group from each of the six main biomes in North America. Students will use their developing technology and language arts skills to find reliable sources on the internet, evaluate and integrate information from these texts, select a suitable digital platform to share their findings, and create a cohesive presentation showcasing their mastery of the learning outcomes. Students will discover the climate, landforms, water, and other natural resources available within each region and how they were used by the natives living there. Students will explore the relationships between the cultures found within each region and its resources. 

This unit was created as part of the ALEX Interdisciplinary Resource Development Summit.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Technology Education
TC2 (2009)
Grade: 3-5
10 ) Use digital environments to collaborate and communicate.

Examples: publishing online journals, sharing presentations, contributing to online discussions, communicating with experts

•  Producing digital works collaboratively
Examples: developing shared writing projects and group multimedia projects

Technology Education
TC2 (2009)
Grade: 3-5
12 ) Create a product using digital tools.

Examples: products—digital story, podcast, digital artwork

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
16 ) Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. [RI.5.7]

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
18 ) Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably. [RI.5.9]

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
28 ) Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. [W.5.7]

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
36 ) Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes. [SL.5.5]

Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 5
United States Studies: Beginnings to the Industrial Revolution
3 ) Distinguish differences among major American Indian cultures in North America according to geographic region, natural resources, community organization, economy, and belief systems.

•  Locating on a map American Indian nations according to geographic region
Insight Unpacked Content
Strand: Economics, Geography, History, Civics and Government
Course Title: United States Studies: Beginnings to the Industrial Revolution
Evidence of Student Attainment:
  • Describe major American Indian cultures in North America according to:
    • geographic region
    • natural resources
    • community organization
    • economy
    • belief systems
  • Locate American Indian nations on a map according to geographic region.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • belief system
  • community organization
  • distinguish
  • economy
Students know:
  • The description of major American Indian cultures including geographic regions, the use of natural resources, community organization, economy and belief systems and locate these nations on a map.
Students are able to:
  • Locate major American Indian nations on a map.
  • Distinguish American Indian cultural groups by examining the geographic region, natural resources, community organization, economy, and belief systems.
Students understand that:
  • The major American Indian cultures can be distinguished from one another based on geographic region, natural resources, community organization, economy, and belief systems.
Alabama Archives Resources:
Click below to access all Alabama Archives resources aligned to this standard.
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
14 ) Use a model to represent how any two systems, specifically the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and/or hydrosphere, interact and support life (e.g., influence of the ocean on ecosystems, landform shape, and climate; influence of the atmosphere on landforms and ecosystems through weather and climate; influence of mountain ranges on winds and clouds in the atmosphere).

Insight Unpacked Content
Scientific and Engineering Practices:
Developing and Using Models
Crosscutting Concepts: Systems and System Models
Disciplinary Core Idea: Earth's Systems
Evidence of Student Attainment:
  • Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Atmosphere
  • Hydrosphere
  • Geosphere
  • Biosphere
  • Model
  • Phenomenon
  • System
  • Earth
Students know:
  • Earth's major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere, and the biosphere (living things, including humans).
  • These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's surface materials and processes.
  • The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate.
  • Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather.
Students are able to:
  • Develop a model, using a specific given example of a phenomenon, to describe ways that the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact. In the model, identify the relevant components of their example, including features of two of the following systems that are relevant for the given example:
    • Geosphere (i.e., solid and molten rock, soil, sediment, continents, mountains).
    • Hydrosphere (i.e., water and ice in the form of rivers, lakes, glaciers).
    • Atmosphere (i.e., wind, oxygen).
    • Biosphere [i.e., plants, animals (including humans)].
  • Identify and describe relationships (interactions) within and between the parts of the Earth systems identified in the model that are relevant to the example (e.g., the atmosphere and the hydrosphere interact by exchanging water through evaporation and precipitation; the hydrosphere and atmosphere interact through air temperature changes, which lead to the formation or melting of ice).
  • Use the model to describe a variety of ways in which the parts of two major Earth systems in the specific given example interact to affect the Earth's surface materials and processes in that context. Use the model to describe how parts of an individual Earth system:
    • Work together to affect the functioning of that Earth system.
    • Contribute to the functioning of the other relevant Earth system.
Students understand that:
  • Systems, like the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere, can be described in terms of their components and their interactions.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Dynamics of Ecosystems

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Social Studies Primary Learning Objective: Students will be able to research the availability and use of natural resources by native peoples in each major cultural region in North America, analyze this data to find the relationships between environment/resources and the way of life of the people in that region, create a digital product to reconstruct this analysis, and present/defend their findings.

Science Primary Learning Objective: Students will create and publish a digital media project to illustrate their understanding of the interrelationships between the environment (landforms, climate, weather, oceans and other water resources), the natural resources they support, and the way of life of the Native Americans residing in each environment.

ELA Primary Learning Objective: Students will evaluate and integrate texts from several internet sources to create and publish digital products collaboratively with team members.

Technology Primary Learning Objective: Students will create and publish a digital product showcasing their command of the interrelationships between the environment (landforms, climate, weather, oceans and other water resources), the natural resources they support, and the way of life of the Native Americans residing in each environment.

Objectives are also stated as essential questions. See unit question and content (lesson) questions below.

Unit Questions: How did environments influence the foods, shelters, clothing, tools, and cultures of Native American groups?

Content Questions:

English: How do we identify, evaluate, select, and analyze information from several sources on the internet?

Technology: How can we search, evaluate, and validate sources on the internet?  How can we create a digital product and share our ideas using technology?

Science: How do the landforms, climate, weather, and water sources work together to determine the natural resources available in an area?

Additional Learning Objective(s):

CREATE   Student originates, integrates, and combines ideas into a product, plan or proposal that is new to him or her.

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

Greater than 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

  • Student textbooks (We currently use Building a Nation by Scott Foresman. Any Alabama approved fifth-grade social studies textbook with information regarding Native Americans and their cultures should provide a foundation for this lesson.)
  • Student notes and handouts from previous technology lessons – Since this is not an introductory technology project unit, students should have notes from previous lessons and practice using technology. These notes are dependent upon the strategies utilized by the individual teacher. They may include handouts, handwritten notes, or selected resources shared by the teacher electronically utilizing teacher website, blog, or a learning management system like Canvas.
  • Pens, pencils, & paper (if needed)
  • Map of Cultural Regions - Our textbook, Building a Nation by Scott Foresman, has maps of the Native American Cultural Regions.  This link has an excellent map if your textbooks are not helpful.
  • Video of Rain Shadow Effect -

Each student will need a copy of each of the following handouts. Teachers may review the rubrics attached and make any changes they would like to make before copying them. 

Technology Resources Needed:

  • Desktop Computers, Laptops, iPads, or other internet enabled devices and internet access
  • Microsoft Office or Office 365 for students - Most students will either select PowerPoint or SWAY (an easy to use digital storytelling application within the Office 365 suite) to create their presentation. They are not limited to using either of these applications within the suite.  (Teachers may select other formats like Prezi if Office 365 is not available.)


This lesson is designed to be the main learning activity for this social studies standard. Students will already have sufficient knowledge and practice using the internet, keyword searches, evaluating Internet resources, using resources ethically, and the Office 365 Suite (or the other platform you have selected to use).

To prepare for this unit, teachers should evaluate the technology resources available at their site. Internet connectivity and devices (computers, tablets, or smartphones) are necessary for this unit. Microsft Office 365, Microsoft Office, iWork, Prezi, and Google Slides are just a few of the platforms that may be available for teachers and students. If your system does not provide the Office or iWorks suite, Prezi and Google Slides are both free. A quick Google search will provide tutorials for each of these platforms if you are not familiar with how they work. 

In order to maintain CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) compliance, the Internet access provided for your students should be filtered to provide a safe on-line environment for your students. Before beginning this lesson, please have a student access each website from a school device utilizing the system provided internet connection. At our school, teachers and students have different levels of filtering. A site available for a teacher may not be available for a student.  

*Suggested Native American groups for this project:

  • Northeast – Powhatan, Algonquian
  • Southeast – Creek, Choctaw
  • Great Plains – Sioux, Cheyenne
  • Southwest – Navajo, Pueblo
  • Great Basin – Shoshone, Ute
  • Northwest Coast – Kwakiutl, Tlingit

Teachers should be familiar with these Native American groups and their regions.



Class Discussion - Begin this lesson by engaging the students in a discussion about natural resources. You can use almost any picture from your last vacation, playing outside with your pet, or a trip to the store to jump-start this discussion. Have students list the natural resources they see in the picture. Broaden the discussion by asking these or similar questions:

  • What is your favorite activity at the lake (beach, pond, pool, etc.)?  swimming, boating, picnicking, sunbathing, etc.
  • Now some absurd questions – Have you ever been water skiing in the desert? Have you ever been mountain climbing in Florida? We are hoping to find students’ answers that help illustrate the resources available in each area relate to the activities we enjoy in that area. Feel free to make up your own absurd questions. 
  • What is your favorite fruit?  apples, oranges, bananas, etc.
  • Have you ever picked your favorite fruit and eaten it fresh? Some students will say yes and others will say no. 
  • Dig deeper. Why? Hopefully, a child will share a fruit that isn’t native to their region. Explore why we enjoy so many foods today that are not native to our region. 
  • What was it like in the past? What did the native people of our area eat before European exploration?


Step 1: Project Introduction

  • Groups should be preselected by the teacher and each group should be assigned a select region and or Native American group to research. This is the perfect time to place students in need of peer support with supportive teammates. (3-4 students per group would be optimal. If you have a very limited number of devices, group size may be determined by the number of devices available.)
  • The teacher will share maps of North America illustrating the major biomes and the major Native American cultural regions. 
  • Whole group discussion should highlight major landforms and water systems within and surrounding North America. (Introduce or review the rain shadow effect that often occurs on the leeward side of mountain ranges or other topographic barriers.)

Web Links:  If the following links become inactive, please do a simple Google search for the suggested topics.

National Geographic Native Americans by Cultural Region – Map - Rain Shadow Video

Step 2: Research

Print and copy the Native American Project Info page (attached), Digital Presentation Rubric (linked), and Oral Presentation Rubric (linked). Each student should receive a copy of each of these documents.

Individual or Small Group (The number of students per group will depend upon the number of technology devices. 3 or 4 students per group is optimal.)

Estimated Duration: One 50 - 60 minute class period

Research Guidelines –Assign each group one of the listed Native American groups. 

*Suggested Native American groups for this project:

  • Northeast – Powhatan or Algonquian
  • Southeast – Creek or Choctaw
  • Great Plains – Sioux or Cheyenne
  • Southwest – Navajo or Pueblo
  • Great Basin – Shoshone or Ute
  • Northwest Coast – Kwakiutl or Tlingit

Be sure to assign at least one tribe from each cultural region listed above. (Extension - If you have more than one class, it is interesting to assign different tribes to each class. You can allow each class to view the presentations from their sister class.)

Students should search for the following information about their assigned Native American Group:

• Tribe (Cultural Group)

• Climate/Environment (Biome/Ecosystem, Landforms, Water Resources)

• Cultural Region

• Nomadic or Settled

• Native animals

• Native plants

• Food

• Shelter

• Clothing

• Transportation

• Beliefs

  • Art, music, dance, etc.

Students should record their answers electronically. They may utilize any appropriate tool within the Microsoft Office Suite for this task. A class discussion may be necessary to evaluate the tools available and their suitability for this task. (Teachers and students without access to this resources may select a resource that is available to them.) See uploaded handout for students.

Step 3: Presentation

Planning and additional research time - Review original directions and discuss time management. 

If students only have Internet access at school, they must complete their research during this class period.

Estimated Duration: One 50 – 60 minute class period

Step 4: Presentation Creation

Students will create their digital presentations. They are required to work collectively within their group to accomplish this task. The presentation should include a title, public domain (non-copyrighted) images/pictures, informational text, and credits. Each item on their research list should be addressed in their presentation.  Plagiarism will result in a score of “0”, so remember to review this before students begin to create their presentations. (Students may also use more advanced presentation elements to demonstrate their growing expertise utilizing technology.)

Estimated Duration: Two 50 - 60 minute class periods


Student Presentations

Students will present and explain their findings to their classmates. They should be prepared to answer questions from fellow students and/or the teacher and defend their analysis/conclusions. Each student in the group is required to participate in this presentation. Teachers may help them break the presentation into equitable parts.  Teachers may also decide to capture these presentations on video to share with parents, other students, or publish them as allowed by your school system.

Provide access to all of the digital presentations for every student utilizing the school website, teacher page, Office 365 sharing feature, etc.

**Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download.

Assessment Strategies

Formative Assessment

The teacher should check in with each group frequently throughout this process. Set meeting times with each group to check their progress, understanding, and help them plan for their next steps. I often provide links during this process as fellow classmates find good resources. This is not a competition. If you are using Office 365, have students share their presentation with you as soon as they create their title slide or page. This will allow you to monitor their progress in real time from your device.

Summative Assessment

The digital product created by the students is the main assessment from this lesson. Rubistar has digital project rubrics available at this link.

The oral presentation may also be used for assessment. The following site requires you to create a free account before downloading the document. All you need is an email address.  The rubric is CCRS aligned and created for grades 3-5.


Students in advanced placement classes or with advanced skills should utilize more complicated technology and include extra layers to their presentation. 

Examples - PowerPoint/SWAY - add appropriate sounds or music, provide links for additional resources within their presentation, etc.


Resource and other struggling students should be grouped with students able and willing to provide peer support and encouragement.

If Available - Resource students may be placed with a paraprofessional or special education teacher during inclusion time for extra support throughout this process.

Check for IEP accommodations

Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

Presentation of Material Environment
Time Demands Materials
Attention Using Groups and Peers
Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior
Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.