Lesson Plan

Subsistence:  Women’s Influence

A hoe made from a bison scapula; a digging stick; a rake made out of a deer antler
A hoe made from a bison scapula; a digging stick; a rake made out of a deer antler
NPS Sketch

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History, Language Arts, Reading, Writing
45- 60 min
Group Size:
Up to 24
National/State Standards:
Social Studies:
Fourth Grade
Eighth Grade
8.1.1 ,8.1.2 

Language Arts: (writing)
Fourth Grade
Eighth Grade
trade, Economy, agriculture, bison, cache pit, food storage, food preparation, clay pots


Students will learn how women shaped the lives and livelihoods of the tribes living at Knife River Indian Villages through agricultural practices and trade by reading and discussion, graphic organization utilizing the KWL (Know/Want to Know/Learned) model and through experiential learning. 


At the end of this lesson, students will:
Discuss women's roles in family life and food production
Produce, preserve and appreciate nutritious food through use of the drying techniques.


The subsistence unit lesson plans each take approximately 45 minutes to complete, and targeted mainly at fourth and eighth grade students, however they may be adapted for other grades.

The first two lessons explore the roles that men and women took in family life and in food production, while the third lesson provides insight into the effects changes in diet has had on health in modern times.


In Subsistence: Women's Roles, the class will engage the text through use of the KWL model (Know/Want to Know/Learned). This graphic organizer can be used as a worksheet or displayed on a chalk board or whiteboard. Once students gain understanding of the background materials, they will learn through discussion and hands on activities including husking and drying corn to be used in making corn soup after a visit to Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.


KWL Chart
Fresh ears of corn (not included) forthe food preservation activity.
Corn soup recipe for making corn soup


Write the main topic (Subsistence: Women's Roles) at the top of the KWL grid. Ask students to contribute what they know or think they know about this topic and record their answers under the column K-what they know.


Record the student's questions as discussion continues under the W column - what they want to know.



Ask students to read the background information and to look for information that answers their questions. 



Once students have completed the reading, focus their attention on the L- What We Have Learned column of the chart. Ask students to offer new information they discovered in the reading and record this information on the grid.



After the K-W-L grid is complete, create a concept map that brings together all the information under each category.



Formative Assessment

Revisit the topics with students asking them the following questions:
1.   How did food affect trade with other groups? What was it that drew Europeans and nomadic tribes such great distances to trade with the people who lived at Knife River? The crops grown by the women.
2.   The people who lived at Knife River Villages didn't have refrigeration like they do today at Fort Berthold. Discuss how food was preserved and prepared by the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara. Drying,storing in cache pits, smoking meats.



Divide students into groups of 4 or 5 and tell them that they are going to have a chance to practice food preparation much the way it was done by the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara.


Pass out ears of corn to be dried by each group of students. Students should shuck the corn and lay the kernels on screens in direct sunlight. If there is no sunlight, you may put the corn on a table and turn a fan on the corn for a few days.


Continue to move the corn so that all the kernels dry. You can test to see if the corn is dried by tasting a kernel. If it is hard and without moisture, it is ready for storage. You may cook it whenever you like.   



Ask students to take out their journals and draw a sketch of a cache (sounds like "cash") pit as you would imagine it. Illustrate how you would store the corn, beans, squash, and sunflower seeds. Remember to save room for a ladder to use in the cache pit.


Tell the students that today they have learned about women's roles and responsibilities within the community and tomorrow they will be learning about men's roles.


Students will answer the questions during guided discussion.
Student drawings may be reviewed for any misconceptions. Focus should remain onthe concepts more than on style.
Students will make corn soup.

Park Connections

The Hidatsa sustained the villages for extended periods due to the abundance and diversity of natural resources at the confluence of the Knife and Missouri Rivers. These resources provided tribal prosperity evidenced by the village layout, circulation, and defined uses of space within the village proper and support areas beyond where agricultural, burial, and other activities took place.  

Women played a critical role in providing vegetables not only for subsistence, but also for inter-tribal trade early on and later trade with European and American traders. It was the agricultural practice that differentiated the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara from more nomadic tribes allowing the people to live at the site for hundreds of years.


Compare your sketch of a cache pit to the replica at Knife River. How did yours differ?



Follow the recipe in the kit to make corn soup and enjoy a nutritious snack.

Additional Resources

Book: Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden

Book: Story of Corn


Nomadic, trade, economy, bison, cache pit, clay pots