Pre-Columbian Americas

by Hanni Patterson-Smith

Students will use images of Clovis spear points taken from Dr. Richard Cooke’s office at STRI to analyze evidence of human movement.
Pre-Columbian America features these photographs and an exhibit at Biomuseo that discusses the early indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South America and how European exploration impacted them.

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Intended Audience

Middle School

Time Frame

1-2 weeks


Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

New Mexico
5-8 Benchmark 1-A. New Mexico: explore and explain how people and events have influenced the development of New Mexico up to the present day:

R1. Compare and contrast the settlement patterns of the American southwest with other regions of the United States


Power Point Presentation: Pre-Columbian America

Guiding questions

  1. What are some of the theories used to describe how the North American continent became populated?
  2. What do Diné believe about how the North American continent came to be populated?
  3. Describe the regional differences and similarities between indigenous tribes in the United States.
  4. Discuss how cultures may develop naturally in regions based on the materials available to them.
  5. Why were Europeans exploring the world’s seas at this time?
  6. What do these explorers have in common?
  7. Do you believe that Columbus ‘discovered’ America?
  8. How did these events effect native peoples?

Key Academic and/or Scientific Language

Academic Vocabulary: Indigenous, Clovis/Folsom, Big-game hunters, Pre-Columbian, Exploration, Discovery, Commission, Monarchy.

Scientific Vocabulary: Analysis, Assess , Compare/contrast, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources.


  1. Explain the major theories of populating the Americas
  2. Compare and contrast the different tribes (traditions/cultures) of the American southwest
  3. Analyze the causes for movement of different tribes
  4. Analyze the causes for European exploration: Assess the impacts of European contact on indigenous peoples, Northern, Eastern, and Southwestern tribes


Formative Assessment

  1. Article readings
  2. Notes on theories (5 W’s)
  3. Venn Diagram (3 theories)
  4. Summaries of each theory
  5. 5 paragraph essay
  6. Outline of board game (planning sheet)

Summative Assessment

  1. Board game: scored using a rubric: taught theory or origin story to other students

Teaching phase

Day 1
Discuss: Objectives & Diné creation story (use a resource from the Navajo Nation)
How did people come to live on North America? Clarify: *Important* Theories and beliefs are different ways to talk about ideas, we aren’t talking about right or wrong.  It is important that we always respect each other’s beliefs, thoughts, and ideas.  Students record 5 W’s into their journals.

Day 2
Review: Introduce 3-way Venn diagram.  Read about two other theories to find similarities and differences using online resources (WEBQuest)
Students will then complete 3 way Venn diagram with Creation Story, Land Bridge Theory, and Coastal Route Theory.  Remind students to use 5 W’s.

Day 3
Scaffold writing essays: Introduction, thesis, body paragraphs, and conclusion, don’t forget transitions.  Topic:   Compare and contrast the three narratives about people coming to live in North America.

Day 4
Distribute rubric for boardgame assignment, review, and plan boardgames.

Day 5
Work day for games

Day 6
Play day/work day for Migration Story/Theory games.

Day 7
Discuss: Objectives, List of Tribes, Map of Tribes.  Students work in small groups to research a region and the cultures within that region. Research some of the tribes that live or lived in that region, gather information in journals.  Students will create a PowerPoint slide to share findings and some visuals about their research.

Day 8
In student journals, they will draw a Venn diagram and compare/contrast two regions.  Complete one side of the Venn diagram for the region a student group researched then the find another group to present to and complete their diagrams.

Day 9
Students will use their Venn diagrams to create an essay.  Topic: Compare and contrast the tribes of two different regions of the North American continent.  Model the elements of an essay.

Day 10
Discuss: Objectives & Europe map.  Students will read about different explorers, focusing on their journals and the causes for European exploration.

Land Bridge Theory: Panama’s role, discuss fossil evidence of GABI animals

Coastal Route Theory: Panama’s role in early peoples migration by boat and walking coastlines.

Reading | Writing | Speaking | Listening Strategies

Reading: Students will analyze primary sources and secondary sources, folktales/myths, scientific readings, maps, and diagrams.
Writing: Students use interactive journals, graphic organizers, write essays and notes.
Speaking: Students present their research and work in small groups for research and playing their origin theory boardgames.
Listening: Students will listen to the Creation Story and daily reviews using a map.

Learning Progression

Prior Knowledge/Skills
Students have learned about European, primarily Spanish, exploration in 7th grade.  Students have also learned about Navajo history and contact with other regional tribes.

Current Knowledge/Skill
Discussion on how the land we live on and who has lived there is different from today, how this has changed over the past 400-500 years.  It is important to understand the peoples of the North American continent and their world before European contact.

Future Skill Connections
Connections can be made to the reservation and how we will be looking at how our society was shaped and formed by the events in history.


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