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Create Your Own Native American Board GameCreate-Your-Own-Native-American-Board-Game

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
  • |
  • Duration: One to two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will:
1. discuss how games reflect a culture's beliefs, priorities, and aspects of everyday life;
2. learn about a few games and toys of Native American children; and
3. analyze basic elements of a selected Native American tribe in order to apply them to the creation of an original board game that can be played by today's children.


For this lesson, you will need:
Reference materials, including print and Internet resources, about Native American tribes or nations
Materials for creating a board game, such as construction paper, scissors, markers, rulers, and tag board
Planning Sheet 1: Research
Planning Sheet 2: Game Design
Evaluation Sheet (for teachers)


1. Open the Monopoly board, and ask your students to identify different parts of the game. Talk about the different tokens (such as the race car and top hat), the play money, the houses, and the different places. Ask them to hypothesize why the game's creator, Charles Darrow, might have chosen these items and places for the game. Discuss the goal of the game (to make money, obtain property). How do the items and goals of the game reflect life in America? (Consult theOfficial Monopoly Game Siteat for additional historical information.)
2. Explain that games and toys are a part of many cultures, both past and present. These games can reflect a culture's beliefs, priorities, or general aspects of everyday life. For example, most Native American play was focused on learning skills to prepare children for adult responsibilities. Toys were often miniature replicas of tools and implements, and play imitated adult tasks. However, some Native American games were strictly for fun and chance. To illustrate a Native American game, explain the moccasin game to your class: An object, such as a stone or bean, is hidden under one of two moccasins. The goal is to guess which moccasin is hiding the object. What do we learn about Native American culture from objects used in this game?
3. Introduce any other Native American games you choose as time allows. The resources available at NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art be useful.
4. Tell students that they will be studying a Native American tribe (Cherokee, Nez Perce, or the Athabascans of Alaska), then creating a board game highlighting aspects of life in that tribe. Be sure they understand they are not creating a game that may have been played by that tribe—since they did not play board games—but instead creating a board game for today's children that teaches about that tribe.
5. Next, discuss how a board game might be able to convey information about the culture they studied. Use the following questions and their current knowledge of Native American groups to spark discussion:
  • What could a game board show about life in a Native American tribe or nation?
  • What kinds of tokens might be used to reflect information or ideas about the tribe?
  • What would be an appropriate "reward" during the game—like the play money in Monopoly?
  • Your game might include positive events that move a player forward, or negative events that set a player back. Think of a few examples of positive and negative events that were common in Native American tribes. (Such events might be "catching many fish" or "bad draught.")
  • How could the game objective and rules tell something about life in this tribe?
6. Divide the class into groups of two or three, and assign each group a Native American tribe. Have them use the reference materials to learn about their assigned tribe and record what they learn onPlanning Sheet 1: Research.
7. Next, challenge your students to create a board game that reflects what they've learned about their assigned tribe. Have them usePlanning Sheet 2: Game Designto explain how their game will work. If there is enough time, you may want to have them design boxes, too, so that the games can become part of your classroom resources for indoor recess or center time.
8. When the games are completed, have teams exchange their games with two other teams and play each others' games.

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Adaptation for younger students:
Invite younger students to work in groups of two or three to create a mural accurately depicting some of the elements of life in a specific Native American tribe or nation. Use bulletin board paper, construction paper, paint, crayons, and other materials. Provide guidelines about what you want the students to draw and label, such as food, shelter, and customs. Display the murals in the classroom or hall when they are completed. Then have each group take the class on a "guided tour" of their mural.

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Discussion Questions

1. Before you began this lesson, what images came to mind when you hear the term Native American ? Now that you've learned about a few different tribes, what images come to mind? What are some common misperceptions of Native Americans?
2. Think of two Native American tribes you've learned about. How are they similar? How are they different?
3. What can games show about people, places, and cultures? What are some games that might show something about popular culture in the United States today? What do they show about life in the United States?
4. List 10 things you would want to learn about a group or culture to help you understand it better. How would you describe your own culture using those 10 things?
5. Why do you think many Native American games encouraged children to learn adult responsibilities? How is learning such as this beneficial? What would you enjoy learning in this way?
6. What is the purpose of reservations for Native Americans in the United States today?
7. What are some of the best ways of remembering, preserving, and appreciating Native American cultures?

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Use theEvaluation Sheetto assess each team's game.

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The Trail of Tears: Leaving Home
Invite your students to learn more about the Trail of Tears. Then challenge them to imagine they were forced to leave their homes in Georgia to begin the long trek westward to Oklahoma. Have them write a story or journal describing their experiences and feelings along the way.

The First Alaskans: Who, Where, and How?
Many Native American groups lived in what is now Alaska. Encourage students to learn about several groups of indigenous Alaskans. Form groups to map the locations, describe the foods, create clothing, and build model shelters to form a class display of these indigenous groups.

Nez Perce: What's in a Name?
The Nez Perce remains an important Northwest Indian tribe. Challenge your students to research and learn more about the origin of the Nez Perce name. Then begin a class list of other Native American tribal names and their origins.

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Suggested Readings

Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and Trail of Tears
Alex W. Bealer, Kristina Rodanas (Illustrator). Little, Brown & Company, 1996.
A thorough description of the history of the Cherokee Nation and their removal from their homeland in Georgia to Arkansas \ Oklahoma on what became known as the "Trail of Tears." Includes information on the Cherokee language, customs and the journey itself. Black and white illustrations.

Chief Joseph: Nez Perce Leader (North American Indians of Achievement Series)
Marian W. Taylor, W. David Baird, Clifford E. Trafzer.
A sympathetic portrayal of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce leader and spokesman who spent his life defending the rights of his people to retain traditional lands encroached upon by whites. Black and white archival photos and illustrations add to this clearly written biography.

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Native American Nations
This site contains links to pages that have either been set up by the nations themselves, or are pages devoted to a particular nation. Listings are in alphabetical order by tribal name.

NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art
Focusing primarily on the Eastern woodlands Indians, this site offers information on arts, crafts, games, and toys, as well as a number of articles, pictures, and information dealing with food, clothing, and tools.

Encyclopedia Smithsonian: Native American Resources
The home page offers a list of links to all the resources offered by the Smithsonian Museums for both adults and children.

Alaska Native Knowledge Network
The Alaska Native Knowledge Network is devoted to compiling and exchanging information related to knowledge systems and bases of the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

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

speaker    custom
Definition: A usage or practice common to a particular group of people.
Context: The customs and behaviors of some of the American frontier people were foreign to the Cherokee.

speaker    indigenouspeople
Definition: Some of the indigenous peoples of Alaska were the Athabascans, who had made many adaptations to their native environment.
Context: Native; living naturally in a particular region.

speaker    nation
Definition: A tribe or federation of tribes (of American Indians).
Context: The Cherokee nation consists of a number of tribes situated throughout the southern United States.

speaker    reservation
Definition: A tract of public land set aside for use by American Indians.
Context: Although land was set aside solely for Native American tribes, these reservations did not often prove sufficient to support the Indian lifestyle.

speaker    tribe
Definition: A social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations that share the same language, customs, and beliefs.
Context: The Nez Perce tribe of Idaho originally lived in a territory of over 17 million acres of what is now Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

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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: 3-4
Subject area: K-4 history
Understands the people, events, problems, and ideas that were significant in creating the history of their state.
Understands the interactions that occurred between the Native Americans or Hawaiians and the first European, African, and Asian-Pacific explorers and settlers in the state or region.

Grade level: 3-4
Subject area: K-4 history
Understands the history of a local community and how communities in North America varied long ago.
Knows geographical settings, economic activities, food, clothing, homes, crafts, and rituals of Native American societies long ago (e.g., Iroquois, Sioux, Hopi, Nez Perce, Inuit, Cherokee).

Grade level: 5-6
Subject area: United States history
Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
Understands contemporary issues concerning gender and ethnicity (e.g., the range of women's organizations, the changing goals of the women's movement, and the issues currently dividing women; issues involving justice and common welfare; how interest groups attempted to achieve their goals of equality and justice; how African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native Americans have shaped American life and retained their cultural heritage).

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: Geography
Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.
Understands how different people living in the same region maintain different ways of life (e.g., the cultural differences between Native Americans and Europeans living along the eastern seaboard in the 17th century; differences among Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims living in India today).

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Tish Raff, elementary assistant principal and instructor at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, educational consultant, and freelance writer.

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