Native American Heritage Month

An exploration of Native American culture can lead to art, literature, and poetry activities.

By Andrea Ferrero

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Indian Heritage Month. The days leading up to Thanksgiving, and those following the holiday, present a wonderful opportunity to explore the rich culture and traditions of America’s many tribes

Introducing and Exploring Native American Culture

I like to introduce this topic by having each student share his or her own prior knowledge about Native American tribes past and present to the classroom. There are a variety of ways to introduce the topic that include using media and literature. The Internet can provide an abundance of images, media clips and movies. National Geographic for Kids often features traditional ceremonies and dances, as well as cultural information past and present. My class and I enjoyed watching traditional hoop dances. Students carefully observed the movements made by dancers and analyzed the style of each performer. We also looked at traditional housing structures and historical images and compared them to their modern day counterparts.

Nonfiction books, folktales, and myths are fun ways to explore both fact and fiction. My students were particularly fond of "Dibé Yázhí Táa'go Baa Hane': The Three Little Sheep" by Seraphine G. Yazzie and "The Girl Who Loved Horses" by Paul Goble. Each of these folktales feature colorful illustrations and relate to common themes. When I taught on a reservation, students enjoyed sharing and connecting to their heritage. As I have taught in other areas, this sharing has given students a broader multicultural view, while giving me the opportunity to share about the culture I grew up in.

Learning Native American Languages

For this next activity, I set up a language and vocabulary center for my students. The language center is set up at our class computer, and students can visit a list of bookmarked sites to hear and practice using Native American languages including Hopi, Navajo, and many more. The vocabulary centers include index card decks in plastic bags. Each bag contains 10-20 cards; half of the cards have a word written on them while the other half has corresponding images. The bags also have topics written on them such as houses, clothing, food, etc.

Weaving in the Native American Tradition

Weaving has been a classroom favorite for many years now. We practice the skill by first making a card or bookmark using paper-strips. We then begin with a solid color - folding the sheet in half (landscape) and then cutting from the folded center out towards the edge of the paper; we stopped an 1” from the open edge. Next, we unfold the paper; this sheet now served as the loom (frame for weaving) and the warp (threads running lengthwise on loom). Students then choose from a selection of pre-cut 1” wide strips of colored paper. These wefts (threads weaved through the warp) are to be carefully worked in and out of the student made cuts. For my students that wanted to advance in this process, a weaving center was set up with yarns and looms.

Bulletin Board Museum

As an ongoing project, I created one large museum display board using empty bookcases. As students researched a Native American tribe, or came across something in a center that they wanted to share, they could create an artifact catalog card. They would record their artifact or discovery title, pertinent details or facts, and include a drawing or printed image.

Native American Lessons:

Native American Activities 

This lesson is geared to second and third grades, but can be easily adapted for any age group. Students explore and reserach Native American tribes, then craft their reports to include a diorama representing the information they discovered. They also create a class quilt in which each paper square depicts a scene for the tribe they choose to research.  

Native American Acrostic Poems

Students create and share an acrostic poem detailing attributes of Native American culture. Through the creative process they build a slideshow to accompany their poem. The lesson includes a rubric and links to all the resources listed in the procedures.