Tips to Consider before Teaching Lessons about American Indians

Before teaching your next lesson about American Indians, read “Tips for Teachers: Developing Instructional Materials about American Indians” by Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) and Dr. Jean Mendoza (White). This one-page guide shares ten examples to help facilitate culturally sensitive content.

The lesson ideas below originated from Reese’s and Mendoza’s document. I added online resources and steps to guide learners as they notice and wonder about American Indians in present-day life.

Lesson 1

Did you know that there are more than 500 sovereign Native Nations in our country?  Tip number seven in the guide suggests researching a local Native Nation. This experience will help learners realize the uniqueness of each tribe.

  • Begin the lesson by asking learners what they know and wonder about local Native Nations. Record responses on an anchor chart.
  • Visit The Federal Register to search for recognized tribes near you. To locate your state, click the “Command/Control” “F” keys. Enter the name of your state in the search bar that pops up. You’ll see how many times your state is mentioned in the text. Use the arrows to help navigate to the highlighted text.
  • Divide the class into groups. Assign each group a Native Nation to research. Local museums are a great place to start.
  • Present new information to the entire class.
  • Reflect on new understandings and clarify misconceptions after researching and sharing information.

Lesson 2

The American Indians in Children’s Literature blog has a list of “Best Books.” The books are written or illustrated by Native Americans, and the tribes they affiliate with are mentioned next to their names on the webpage.

Choose a book from the “AICL’s Best Books of 2019” list. Engage readers by introducing the book cover. Ask learners what they notice and wonder about the title and the illustration. Read the names of the author and the illustrator along with their tribal affiliations. Discuss the author’s purpose for writing the book.

Invite learners to look closely at the text and illustrations as you read the story. Record responses on an anchor chart. Wrap up the reading by sharing new learning and noting lingering questions.

Lesson 3

Compare and contrast the two picture books below. Ask learners to notice similar threads in the stories. Discuss what makes the books different.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story. Do you know the history of fry bread? It is a symbol of survival and resilience. In his book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, author Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) poetically alludes to what fry bread symbolizes. The evocative illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal (Peruvian) will make readers want to know more about the history behind the bread.

Watch author Kevin Noble Maillard read his book on the PEN America YouTube channel. Viewers will appreciate the context Maillard adds to the illustrations by Martinez-Neal.

Learn what compelled Maillard to write his book by watching  “Talking Frybread with Author Kevin Maillard.”

Dr. Debbie Reese highly recommends Fry Bread on her American Indians on Children’s Literature blog. She appreciates the representation of American Indians with different hair color and skin tones. She points out that every Native Nation is listed on the endpapers, but mentions that some state-recognized groups “are sketchy.” One group allows anyone to join and has offices in a different state (2019).

We Are Grateful, Otsaliheliga. Would you like to learn how to name the seasons in Cherokee? If so, you’ll enjoy reading We Are Grateful, Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (Cherokee). Readers will connect with this story that describes family traditions and gatherings throughout the year. Colorful illustrations, by Frané Lessac, highlight the message that the Cherokee Nation is strong and vibrant. Watch Sorell discuss her book in an interview by StoryMakers.

Website: Everyday Native

Did you read the “Everyday Native American Voices” blog post by Mary Joanne Loecher on Knowledge Quest? In this post, Loecher describes the valuable content on the Everyday Native website. You’ll find first person-accounts from Native Americans who live on reservations. Viewers will make connections with the children in the videos as they describe their daily activities and share their hopes and dreams.

How are you sharing stories and information about Native Nations? Please share in the comment box below.

Works Cited:

American Indians in Children’s Literature. 2019. “AICL’s Best Books of 2019.” <> (accessed October 7, 2020).


Author: Maureen Schlosser

Author: Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades and Social and Emotional Learning for Picture Book Readers published by ALA Editions
Skillshare Teacher:

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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