American Indian Cultural Regions
in the Continental U.S.

Margaret Hill
History-Social Science Coordinator
San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools


History-Social Science Content Standards – Grade 5
5.1.0 Students describe the major pre-Columbian settlements, including the cliff dwellers and pueblo people of the desert Southwest, the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the nomadic nations of the Great Plains, and the woodland peoples east of the Mississippi River.
5.1.1 Describe how geography and climate influenced the way various nations lived and adjusted to the natural environment, including locations of villages, the distinct structures that they built, and how they obtained food, clothing, tools, and utensils.
5.1.2 Describe their varied customs and folklore traditions.
5.1.3 Explain their varied economies and systems of government.

History-Social Science Analysis Skills
Chronological and Spatial Thinking

5. – Students judge the significance of the relative location of a place (e.g., proximity to a harbor, on trade routes) and analyze how relative advantages or disadvantages can change over time.

Historical Interpretation
2. – Students identify the human and physical characteristics of the places they are studying and explain how those features form the unique character of those places.

English-Language Arts – Grade 5
Comprehension and Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
2.3 – Discern main ideas and concepts presented in texts, identifying and assessing evidence that supports those ideas.
2.4 – Draw inferences, conclusions, or generalizations about text and support them with textual evidence and prior knowledge.

Writing Strategies – Research & Technology
1.3 – Use organizational features of printed text to locate relevant information

Writing Applications
2.3 – Write research reports about important ideas, issues, or events by using the following guidelines:
a. Frame questions that direct the investigation.
b. Establish a controlling idea or topic.
c. Develop the topic with simple facts, details, examples, and explanations.

Organization and Delivery of Oral Communication
1.4 – Select a focus, organizational structure, and point of view for an oral
1.5 – Clarify and support spoken ideas with evidence and examples.
1.6 – Engage the audience with appropriate verbal cues, facial expressions, and

Big Idea/Question

How did the environment influence Native American cultures and economies?


Students will research and compare American Indian cultural regions of North America to investigate how these nations of Indians interacted with their environment in different ways. This lesson begins with a map activity to analyze student prior knowledge. Students will then work in cooperative-learning groups to conduct research on two American Indian cultural regions and compare how each interacted with the environment in different ways. The groups will complete the chart provided in Attachment C, and prepare to report their findings to the class on a poster or chart paper and through a 3-minute oral presentation.

Time Needed

3-4 days, one hour per day

Pre-Assessing Background Knowledge

Project “American Indian Culture Regions” map on the overhead projector. Instruct students to organize the words on the Word Bank (Attachment B) into the cultural regions on a chart on the board or with Post It notes on the screen. Instruct them to add other terms that they already know related to the regions listed.

Use the activity to gauge the level of students’ prior knowledge in order to form heterogeneous groups for the lesson activity and to differentiate and guide instruction.

Assessment/Student Product

Preliminary – Accurate completion of the American Indian Culture Regions Chart
Final – Culture Region Poster names the Indian nations accurately and selects two for comparison, it includes pictorial representations of the environmental factors described on the chart, it has pictorial representations of and economic or cultural features that show interaction with that environment, and it features 4-5 clearly written and descriptive sentences comparing and contrasting the human environmental interactions of the two native nations, one in each region.
Extension – Students in the group make a 3-minute oral presentation to the class that clearly and accurately explains the environmental characteristics of the regions selected and describes and explains the information on the chart. All students take part in the presentation.

Instructional Procedures

Day One
1. Provide students with a physical map of North America. Have students identify approximately where they live on the map. Ask them to describe the environment where they live. Is it mountainous and rocky? A desert? Forest or woodlands?
2. Ask them to imagine trying to survive in this environment without any modern technologies. What resources might be available? What would you use for shelter? What animals or plants could serve as a source of food?
3. Have students identify another location on the map that has a different environment than the one just discussed. What is this environment like? What resources might be available there to help people survive?
4. Challenge students to infer or guess how American Indians might have used the available resources to survive in the long period before European contact. What might they have eaten? What materials might they have used to build shelter? What types of clothing might they have worn? How might these needs have been met in different environments? In the mountains? In the desert?
5. Explain that as groups of people migrated into and within North America and settled in different regions, they developed different ways of life. Ask students to think about why they developed different ways of life. Help students understand that different regions provided different resources, leading to the development of different ways of life.
6. Divide the class into nine heterogeneous groups. Explain that each group will research and report on two different American Indian cultural regions. Assign each group to research two American Indian cultural regions, preferably regions representing very different environments. See Attachment B for suggested regions.
7. Instruct students to focus their research on the following points (you may want to post these on the board or chart paper):

  • Which Indian nations settled in this region?
  • What is the environment like in this region?
  • What resources did the people in this region use to meet their daily needs including food, shelter, clothing and tools?
  • How did the people in this region interact with their environment?

8. Provide varied resources for student research, including nonfiction books, Internet access, artifacts and pictures of artifacts.
9. Encourage students to draw conclusions connecting the clothing, tools, housing and other ways of life to the resources available in that region, showing an understanding of human interaction with the environment. For example, the Tlingit made cedar plank houses because red cedar was abundant in the Northwest. Similarly, the Seminoles of the Southeast made palm leaf chickees to provide protection from the swampy land in this region.

Day Two
10. Continue research and recording information on Attachment C.
11. Instruct students to create posters to share their information with the class. Encourage them to include color illustrations and maps in their work.

Day Three
12. Have student groups present their information to the class. As each student group presents its information, have a recorder write the keywords (types of homes, transportation, food, etc.) on a classroom map or chart similar to Attachment A, Native American Culture Regions. After each presentation, add information that students may have missed.
13. At the end of the presentations, review key points about how native people interacted with their environment.

Differentiated Instructional Support

  • Have students work independently, in pairs or heterogeneous groups.
  • Provide students with an outline or graphic organizer to help with their research.
  • Provide a list of keywords for students to use as they search for information using the Internet.
  • Allow students to present information in a variety of modes such as a three-dimensional display or mock interviews.


  • Have students investigate the importance of different foods in American Indian diets such as corn and buffalo. Plan to have students sample some traditional foods from different regions.
  • Instruct students to research and compare art created in the different American Indian cultural regions.
  • Encourage students to read children’s literature about the American Indian cultural regions. If possible, plan a time for students to read American Indian stories to younger children.
  • This lesson can be adjusted to focus on one American Indian cultural region at a time. Student groups can be assigned to research different aspects such as food, clothing, shelter or art of the same cultural region. This would allow more in-depth research and may be expanded to include creating a model artifact. The post-assessment can be adjusted to have students compare the studied American Indian cultural region with modern Americans living in the same environment. As a class progresses through its study of North America, this lesson could be revisited to add information on subsequent American Indian cultural regions.

Materials and Resources, (including primary sources/children’s literature)

For the teacher:
Related artifacts or pictures of primary source artifacts, chart paper, related children’s literature and nonfiction books, North American map.

“North America Before Columbus” Map – National Geographic
Books from the following publisher series
Indians of North America - Chelsea House
If You Lived with the… - Scholastic Books
Native Nations of North America – Crabtree Publications
American Indian Nations – Bridgestone Books
First Peoples – Lerner Publishing

For the students:
Art supplies for creating posters, access to research materials, North American map.

American Indians and the Natural World
Native American Shelters
Native American Technology and Art
First Americans


Pre-teach the * words

  • migration
  • region*
  • culture*
  • environment*
  • interact/interaction*
  • climate
  • plateau
  • plains
  • basin
  • artifact


Attachment A, Native American Culture Regions in the U.S.
Attachment B, Word Bank of Native American Terms
Attachment C, Comparison Chart
Attachment D, Comparison Chart Rubric