Lesson Plan

Territorial Ranges

Immigrants carrying luggage, Ellis Island, New York

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress; LC-B2-678-15)

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Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
American Indian History and Culture, Geography, Government, History, Social Studies, Westward Expansion
45-50 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4 through 6-8.8


In "Territorial Ranges" students will look at the first Americans and why they moved. 

The Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians unit is broken up into six lesson plans, taking 45-120 minutes to complete, targeting sixth through eighth grade students.  A class does not have to complete every lesson in the unit - each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources.  This is lesson 2 of the unit.


Guiding Question: 
Why do people move and who were the first Americans?

Critical Content:
Students will get a better understanding of American Indian tribes.

Student Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • discuss the fluidity of tribal ranges
  • lack of early maps of American Indian tribes


The first people living on the prairie were the ancestors of the various American Indian Tribes. Through archeology, we can surmise that the plains have been inhabited for centuries by groups of people who lived in semi-permanent villages and depended on planting crops and hunting animals. Many of the ideas we associate with American Indians such as the travois, various ceremonies, tipis, earth lodges, and controlled bison hunts, come from these first prairie people.

Horses were brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the 1600s. With the migration of the horse from Mexico in the 1700s, the culture of the plains people changed to one that was more mobile. Before the horse, the cultures hunted and traveled in relatively small restricted areas. With the introduction of the horse into American Indian society, greater distances could be covered. The horse became a status symbol to the American Indian and individuals amassed vast herds of these animals.

The first known historic tribe in the plains area was the Pawnee who lived in earth lodges part of the year and in tipis during the summer and fall hunts. The earth lodge tribes such as the Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, Omaha, Oto, Ponca, Pawnee, Wichita, Winnebago, among others, planted crops such as corn, squash, and beans and stored their food in underground storage caches. Their semi-subterranean lodges held from 10 to 40 people. Several lodges were grouped together to form fortified villages. Smaller groups ventured out with tipis for the bison hunts, returning to the earth lodge for winter. 

Other tribes associated with the Great Plains. were the Lakota-Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Comanche, Kiowa, Crow, among others. They lived mainly in tipis, traveling through the Plains region. These groups were the great hunters of the Plains following the bison or "buffalo" and foraging for berries, roots, and other plants. They lived in extended family relationship groups, traveling to familiar places and encampments. Often, they traded and warred with the earth lodge dwellers. When the prairie was changed by the coming of Euro-Americans, the culture of the prairie tribes was dramatically affected. The prairie tribes were moved off their traditional homelands onto reservations by the United States government to make way for the ever increasing settlement. They were forced into a foreign lifestyle that was in opposition to their own.




Have students map a road trip that goes through at least 4 states. They should
write a fictional story about the people they will encounter as well as what the land is
like. This could either be a fictional story that requires students to use their knowledge
of where tribes lived that allows them to make up a fictional lifestyle for each tribe or
students could do research on each of the tribes to make their story more accurate.

The Native Languages website (above) has good information that could be used
for this.

Additional Resources

This lesson plan is part of a larger curriculum unit on Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians for grades sixth through eighth. To view the entire curriculum or other individual lesson plans, please click the links below.

Homesteaders, Immigrants and American Indians (entire unit)

Lesson 1: Agriculture and Inventions
Lesson 2: Territorial Ranges
Lesson 3: Land Use
Lesson 4: American Indian Reservations
Lesson 5: Homestead Shelters
Lesson 6: Dawes Act

Last updated: April 10, 2015