Lesson Plan

The People and the Land (On the Move)

Native Alaskan filleting a fish
Native Alaskans have long used the land and resources of the Denali area
NPS Photo / Neil Blake


In "People and the Land (On the Move)," students will learn the concept of meeting needs to survive; reasons for human migration; and the affects of geography on travel.

Our "People and the Land" unit is broken into five lesson plans, taking 30 - 180 minutes to complete, and targeted at varying grade levels. A class needn't complete every lesson in the unit - each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources. This is lesson 1 of the unit.


Guiding Question: Why did Alaska Natives in the Denali area move about? How does geography affect the movement of people?

Critical Content: Reasons for native moment in the Denali area. The affects of geography on travel routes.

Student Objectives: Students will ...

  • infer reasons for movement.
  • plot information on a map.
  • provide reasons to support decisions.



Our "The People and the Land" unit is broken into five lesson plans, each taking 45 - 120 minutes to complete, and targeted mainly at fifth and sixth grade students. A class needn't complete every lesson in the unit, though some lessons do refer to one another and are better done in sequence. However, each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources.

The final lesson, "The People and the Land (Team Research)" can be done independently, as a research project, or as a final assessment after having done some, or all, of the other lessons in the unit.

Check out the other lessons:

Lesson 1: On the Move
Lesson 2: What is Community?
Lesson 3: Coming Together
Lesson 4: Changing Times
Lesson 5: Team Research


Four different colors of construction paper, with enough of each color to make one 3x3 inch square for each student in your class. (If this is an activity that you will repeat in the future, you may want to laminate your paper or use poker chips or colored tongue depressors in place of the paper squares.)

Masking tape and marker.


Before you begin
For Round One:

1. Obtain colored paper to represent each basic need. Example: blue - water, green - food, brown - shelter, and red - clothing. Cut into 3"x3" squares. One square of each color for each student.

2. Make three piles of each color of square, e.g., three piles of the blue squares, three piles of the green squares, etc.

3. Randomly place the piles around your classroom, being sure to spread out the various "needs" so that students must travel a bit to get each item.

4. Set up activity rules for student movement around the room. (e.g., no running, no pushing, etc.) You may want to make it more challenging by having students crawl or hop around the room to travel.

For Round Two:

1. Repeat above activity with the addition of "geography". You will create geography by placing small strips of tape on the floor in various areas, making sure to place tape in at least one well traveled area. Label the tape with delays and detours, such as those listed below. Close off some areas completely so students will need to find another route to get to their piles.

2. Ideas for tape labels: Cross a river: Wait 10 seconds. Cross a mountain pass: wait 15 seconds. Through thick vegetation: 20 jumping jacks or wait 20 seconds. Avalanche: area closed. Find another route. Moose blocking trail: wait 5 seconds. River flooded: find another route.

For Concluding Activity:

Copy maps (one for each student) of the Denali relief map to be used to plot areas for seasonal camps. Copy subsistence use maps to use as resource.
Brainstorm with your class to identify the basic physical needs for human survival (food, water, shelter, clothing). Are these the same everywhere? How do we get our basic needs met where we live?

Round One:

Each color of paper represents a basic physical need that humans must have to survive. Students will need to collect items (colored squares) for survival. They are allowed to pick up only 1 item from each pile. They must obtain each physical need to survive.

Optional: Teacher will time how long it takes for everyone in the class to get what they need. Write time on board.

Round Two:

Put in place the strips of tape representing geography. Repeat procedure from Round One above.
Optional: Teacher times how long it takes the entire class to play and writes it on the board.

Discuss how students traveled throughout the room. What avenues did they tend to use the most? Why? What were some of the challenges?

You may want to repeat this round again and discuss with students if it was easier to collect their needs. Why? What did they do differently from the last round? Did they change their travel routes? What did they base their new routes on?

Round Three:

Repeat above round, but this time, students are allowed to pick up to 3 items from each pile (ex. 3 blue for water). Emphasize that they must end up with only one of each need at the end of the round. Allow the students to figure out how they will do this. This will represent the concept of bartering (trade) to get your needs met. Optional: Time the class.

You may want to repeat this round, but give students a few minutes to strategize how they might complete this round more quickly.

Concluding Activity:

Have students study the subsistence maps of the Denali area. Plot areas which would be good seasonal camps. Students must support their plots with reasons for choosing these areas.



To make the activity non-movement oriented: Begin activity with the same opening discussion about what humans must have for survival. Divide students into groups of 4. (If you have a group larger than four, you will need to add at least one more of each of the following cards to the group's card set: Food, Water, Shelter, Clothing.) Print out On the Move Game Cards(pdf), copy, cut them out, and give each group a set of the cards.

To play:

1. The object of the game is for the students to get one card of each survival need (Food, water, shelter, clothing) to win.

2. The dealer deals out five cards to each student and then places the remainder of the cards face down in a pile in the center of the group. Students must have five cards in their hands at all times until they are ready to go out of the game.

3. The student to the dealer's right begins the round by discarding one card face up in a second pile and drawing from the face down pile. Players may choose to draw from the face up pile or the face down pile, but must always draw one card and discard one card for every turn.

4. Players may receive cards that have "skip your turn" on it. They discard the "skip your turn" card into the face up pile and pass the play onto the next player. "Take another turn" cards may NOT be picked up from the face up pile after a player discards them.

5. To win, student must collect one card of each need (food, water, shelter, clothing) and will discard their 5th and final card to the face up pile. Teacher may choose to mark this as the ending of the game OR the game can continue until all participants have their needs met.


1. Limit the number of each color of squares available and repeat the game. After the round, discuss what happens when resources run out or aren't enough to support the population. How do humans respond? Make a prediction of what the natives in the Denali area did.

2. Have students break into small groups of four or five students. Each group must come up with an addition to the game that will include an item of trade found in their area.