Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Indians of the Plains

Laurie Ayers
Bay District Schools


This lesson is for Day 11 of the unit [Native Americans]. The students will learn about the physical surroundings and climate of the Plains region and how they affected the lives of the Plains Indians. Students work in centers to create related projects.


The student reads informational texts for specific purposes (including but not limited to performing a task, learning a new task, sequentially carrying out the steps of a procedure, locating information to answer a question).

The student knows similarities and differences among selected Native American cultures from different regions and times (for example, nomadic groups, agricultural groups, city building, relationship with the environment).

The student knows some works of art that reflect the cultural heritage of the community or country (for example, paintings, statues).

The student understands ways climate, location, and physical surroundings affect the way people live (for example, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, recreation).


-Timeline transparency
-Overhead projector
-Class bulletin board with map of Native American culture group regions displayed
-Map booklets and Map symbols for class bulletin board (previously downloaded and copied in Lesson Plan 2, [Whre, Oh Where], of this unit)
-Student Map Symbols, used previously on Day 2 of the unit (in associated file)
-Video [Children of the Plains Indians], #109618-3 Bay Media Center, CRM Films, CA
-Native American Picture Symbols chart, one each, for centers 1 & 3 and possibly a few extras for individual student use in those same centers (in associated file)
-Tepee, one per student (in associated file)
-Center directions, one copy per center (in associated file)
-Crayons or markers, a large container placed at centers 1 and 3, or students could be asked to bring their own to each center
-Scissors, one per student at centers 1 and 2
-Glue or glue sticks, several for each center
- 3-4 tape dispensers for Center 1 if glue is not being used
-Paper plates (10”), two per student
-Brightly colored crepe paper streamers 6” long, 6 per student
-Several large bags of dried large lima beans
-Staplers and staples (Note: If the teacher doesn’t feel comfortable letting students use staplers independently, masking tape can be used instead).
-Masking tape, one roll per student at Center 3 if staples are not being used
-Construction paper, one 12” x 18” piece per student
-Construction paper strips, 1” x 18”, 6-8 per student and a few extra
-Ziploc bags, one per student
-Center Checklist (downloaded and copied previously in the lesson [Different Tribes, Different Times])
-Student Web Lesson [Different Tribes, Different Times] (see Weblinks)


1. Download and make two copies of the Chart of Indian Picture Symbols (in associated file).
2. Post copies of the Chart of Indian Picture Symbols at centers 1 and 3.
3. Download and make copies of the Tepee Activity, one per student (in associated file).
4. Prepare weaving frames, one per student, by folding pieces of 12” x 18” construction paper in half along the 12” edges and cutting eight 2” slits from the fold to within 1” from each edge.
5. Cut construction paper strips, 2” x 18” from various colors of construction paper, 6-8 per student. Attach 6-8 paper strips to each weaving frame with a large paper clip. You may also want to cut a few extra strips to be placed in the center so students will have them if needed.
6. Download and make copies of center directions, one per center (in associated file).
7. Download and make a copy of the Center Checklist (in associated file).
8. Gather materials.
9. Set up centers.
10. Open, preview, and bookmark Student Web Lesson [Different Tribes, Different Times].


1. Review the Timeline transparency and what students learned on Day 7 by asking volunteers to share their responses on their Map Activity Sheet #3 from the previous day.

2. Point out that the Plains Indians lived after the Anasazi and before the Seminoles.

3. Explain that today the class will learn more about the Plains Indians.

4. Review the location of the Plains region on the class map.

5. Discuss the map symbols of physical surroundings, location, and climate of the Plains region:
· There were grassy plains, no forests.
· The Plains Indians had to hunt buffalo for food.
· Buffalo roamed the plains and fed off of the grasses on them.
· The Indians used the buffalo to meet their needs for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. They did not waste any of the buffalo.
· The winters were cold. The Plains Indians used buffalo hides for warm winter clothing and coverings.

6. Tell students you have a video for them to watch. It is about Indians of the Plains region. Ask them to watch the video and try to learn at least two new facts about the Plains Indians.

7. Show them the video entitled [Children of the Plains Indians].

8. Discuss the video.

9. Point out that all the center activities today will be about the Plains Indians.

10. Go over the directions for all centers. Remind students that the directions will also be posted at each center.

11. Review the criteria on the Center Checklist (downloaded and copied previously in the lesson [Different Tribes, Different Times]) with students and remind them you will use it to assess how well they follow directions at each center.

12. As students work at the centers, the teacher formatively assesses center work performance based on the criteria listed on the Center Checklist.

13. The teacher provides specific formative feedback to students during the center activities. Formative feedback should be both guiding (I’m sorry. I think you left out a step. Look at the directions again. What step did you leave out?) and positive (Wow, you followed all the steps. I like how you made your shaker!).

14. Additional instruction or guidance should be given to any student who has difficulty reading the informational texts and completing the center activities.

Note: Completed student artwork from center activities need to be kept at school each day and displayed in the classroom. Artwork to be kept in the classroom includes the pottery made on Day 10, shakers and weaving done on Day 11, and Wood Paintings done on Day 12. Students will need this artwork to complete the My Favorite Artwork form and the Artfully Speaking lesson plan.

Center #1 – Making tepees with picture symbols
Remind students that buffalo were very important to the Plains Indians. When the buffalo moved, they needed to be able to move, too. Plains Indians made tepees with poles and and buffalo hides. Often they decorated their tepees with picture symbols that told about events in their lives. The tepees were easy to take down and move. The teacher models for the students how to follow the directions below to make a tepee.
· Look at the chart with Indian symbols.
· Using your crayons, copy some symbols onto your tepee. Try to tell a story with the symbols.
· Color the rest of the tepee.
· Cut out the tepee.
· Fold it into a cone shape and glue or tape the edge.

Center #2 – Map Booklets
Students use the class map as an informational text to complete Activity Sheet #4 in their Map Booklets. Remind students that the physical surroundings and climate of a region affected how the people in that region lived.
· Use the class map to help you.
· Write the name of today’s region on the space at the top.
· Look at your map symbols.
· Cut out the symbols that go with the Plains region.
· Glue them in the three boxes in the middle of the page.
· Write one of the facts under “Fact”.
· Finish the “And so” part.

Center #3 – Shakers and Dancers
Plains Indians liked to have celebrations. An important celebration that took place in the summer was the Sun Dance. It lasted 4 days. The Indians danced the same movements for all four days. They had no food or drink during the dance. They looked at the sun as much as they could. They danced to the music of shakers and drums. Today we will make some shakers. Later we will dance and use our shakers to make music for our dance. The teacher reads the directions below and models how to follow them.
· Get two paper plates. (Students could also use toilet paper rolls, cover them in paper, tie one end, place the beans inside, tie the other end and then decorate.)
· Turn them so the side you would not eat on is facing up.
· Use markers or crayons and make Indian symbols on the plates.
· Put one plate on top of the other and staple half way around the edge.
· Drop a handful of dried beans down in the plates.
· Staple the rest of the edges together.
· Glue streamers around the edges of the plates.

Note: The teacher needs to plan a time for students to informally create dances and perform them. This could be done in a number of ways. Suggestions include: 1) Asking the music teacher to do this during music time 2) Asking the P.E. teacher to do this during P.E. time or 3) The classroom teacher scheduling a time within the regular day to do it within the classroom or on the playground.

Center #4 – Weaving
The Plains Indians used buffalo hair and plant fibers to weave blankets and rugs. They often wove beautiful designs in their blankets. Sometimes they repeated patterns in these designs. Show Sample Blankets (in associated file). Today at this center you will weave with paper. You will make a placemat. You can use your placemat at lunch today.
· First, get a paper frame and paper strips (the teacher shows the students what the paper frame and strips look like).
· Begin by putting the end of one paper strip over, then under through the strips on the frame (the teacher models this procedure for students).
· When you get the strip woven, put a dab of glue on the back of both ends and glue them to the frame.
· Weave the rest of your strips until the frame is filled up.

15. After center work is completed bring students back together as a whole group and allow time for them to share what they have learned about the Plains Indians. The teacher uses the discussion responses to formatively assess student understanding of the following concepts:
· The Plains Indians lived after the Anasazi and before the Seminoles.
· Ways the Plains Indians were similar and different to culture groups from other regions.
· Physical characteristics and climate of the Great Plains and how they affected the lives of the Indians who lived there. There were grassy plains, no forests. There were many buffalo. The winters were cold.
· They used the buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, and tools.
· The Plains Indians liked to dance and have celebrations. They did the Sun Dance in the summer. It lasted 4 days.
· The Plains Indians lived in tepees. The tepees were made by stretching buffalo hides around a pole frame. They were easy to take down and move so they could follow the buffalo.
· The Plains Indians used buffalo hair to weave blankets.

16. The teacher provides specific formative feedback throughout the discussion. Feedback should be guiding (I’m sorry. You must have forgotten that the Plains region was wide and open and had a lot of grasses.) and positive (That’s correct! You remembered that Plains Indians depended upon the buffalo to meet almost all of their needs.)

17. Students continue to work in pairs to complete the Student Web Lesson [Different Tribes, Different Times].


Use the class follow-up discussion as a means of formatively assessing student understanding of ways the physical surroundings and climate of the region affected the lives of the people, understanding of similarities and differences of Native American culture groups from different regions and times, and knowledge of some works of art that reflect the cultural heritage of each culture group community. Use this information to guide instruction and provide feedback.

Use a Center Checklist (in associated file) to formatively assess student ability to read informational texts to complete center projects. Use the Center Checklist to note students who follow all directions, follow most directions, and follow few directions at each center.


1. The Beacon Unit Plan associated with this lesson can be viewed by clicking on the link located at the top of this page or by using the following URL:
Once you select the unit’s link, scroll to the bottom of the unit plan page to find the section, “Associated Files.” This section contains links to the Unit Plan Overview, Diagnostic and Summative Assessments, and other associated files (if any).
2. Arrange time at another time of day for students to create dances and perform them in conjunction with the Center 4 activity. Possible options are to elicit the help of the music teacher or P.E. teacher with this activity.
3. To reinforce factual concepts about the various Native American culture groups being studied, the teacher is encouraged to chart the Indian information given at the beginning of each center. The teacher will read the charts when introducing each center and then post them at the centers for students to reread before they begin the center activities.
4. The teacher could make charts of other Native American symbols from available references.
5. The teacher could make cardboard templates of a larger tepee pattern and the students could trace and cut their tepees on a larger piece of construction paper.
6. Students work in pairs to complete the Student Web Lesson [Different Tribes, Different Times] (see Weblinks).
7. An additional Weblink: From the school's homepage, click Teacher Projects and go to the 3rd grade sections. Great reinforcement activity with plenty of graphics!

Web Links

This is an online Student Web Lesson that introduces various Native American culture groups.
Different Tribes, Different Times

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