7 Ways to Highlight Native American Heritage Month in Your Classroom
November is here. The leaves are changing, and pumpkin spice is in the air. Fall vibes are in full effect.
But that’s not all November has to offer. It’s also a time to learn about the roots of our country.
November is a time to honor the culture and heritage of Native Americans with Native American History Month.
Here are 7 ways you can celebrate Native American heritage in your classroom.
1. Explore the Cherokee Syllabary
You may have heard the name Sequoyah, but do you know how greatly he impacted the Cherokee people?
In the early 1800s, Sequoyah created the Cherokee Syllabary. He worked for over 12 years to create a written symbol for all the sounds of the Cherokee language.
Once the syllabary was created, Sequoyah was actually accused of using witchcraft to communicate. He was brought before the town chief and he and his daughter were placed in separate rooms. Sequoyah explained how the syllabary worked, and he and his daughter were able to send messages back and forth.
The chief determined that Sequoyah had invented a way to represent words on paper, and from there, the syllabary spread. Over the next few years, a great number of the Cherokee people attained literacy. The syllabary is still used today among the Cherokee people.
In your classroom, have your students learn about Sequoyah and his perseverance in creating the Cherokee syllabary. Together, students can examine the syllabary while learning some words in Cherokee.
2. Research, Research, Research
Students learn best when they’re finding information for themselves. Let students choose a Native American person or tribe and dive into research.
Although Native American History month celebrates all Native Americans, the languages and cultures vary greatly across tribes. Research is a great opportunity for students to learn about Native Americans and their diversity.
This is also a chance for students to use their research skills to learn about people like:
- Maria Tallchief - the first Native American prima ballerina
- Jim Thorpe - a gold medal Olympian from the Sac and Fox Nation
- Geronimo - leader of the Chiricahua Tribe
These are just a few of the many topics your students can choose to cover.
3. Learn the Ins and Outs of Lacrosse
Did you know Lacrosse was one of the many ball and stick games played by American Indians at the time of European contact?
Originally, Lacrosse games lasted for days and had as many as 100 players rotating in and out. These games were said to be played to give thanks to the Creator.¹
One way to celebrate Native American Heritage in your classroom is to learn about Lacrosse and watch a game in your classroom. Or better yet, go outside and play a game!
4. Crack Open the Books
Books are another engaging way to bring Native American Heritage into your classroom. From picture books to novels, there are books out there for every age.
Notable Native People, 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamer and Changemakers from Past and Present by Adrienne Keene is a great book for all ages. With beautiful illustrations, you can choose one person to highlight each day, or dive deeper and let students choose a person to create their own report about.
Some other great reads that give readers a glimpse of Native American Heritage include:
- There There by Tommy Organe
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
- Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
- The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
Books are an amazing tool for learning. Make sure to preview all books on this list to make sure they’re appropriate for your students’ ages and maturity levels.
5. Create an Epic Collection
Whether your school is 1:1 with student technology or you just have a few devices in your classroom, Epic Books is an amazing online tool.
Epic Books is a free reading site/app that gives you access to thousands of free online books. After you create a class, you’re able to assign your students virtual book collections to look through. Some books are read aloud to students, and there are even educational videos over many topics.
As a teacher, you can search for books about Native American tribes, cultures, history, and more to create a collection for your students to browse. This resource is great for independent reading, collaborative projects, or as a center at your classroom stations.
6. Listen to Songscapes
Songscape is the term used to describe traditional Native American musical pieces. The expressions typically include native languages and instruments like drums, flutes, and shakers.
Songscapes can be mellow and relaxing or more up-tempo. Depending on what type of activity you’re doing, a beautiful songscape can be the perfect background melody.
7. Savor the Taste of a Native American Dish
Looking for an engaging activity that your students will love? Cooking is always a classroom favorite. Not only does cooking incorporate math, but it encourages teamwork, communication, and community.
Here are a few dishes that you can make with your students or bring from home for your students to try:
- Pumpkin bread
- Fry bread
- Journey cake
Strengthen your classroom culture while learning about Native American culture as you and your class share a traditional native treat.
November is an excellent time to share about Native American diversity, traditions, and culture in your classroom. This gives students a deeper look into the roots of Native American history just before Thanksgiving. But remember, it’s important to learn about, and celebrate, your students’ diverse backgrounds every day. This will deepen your bond with them and strengthen your classroom community.