Lesson Plan

Can You Solve It? A Scavenger Hunt

Diorama of Spruce Tree House with Ancestral Pueblo people going about their daily activities

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Math,Science,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
State Standards:

Essential Question

How does attention to detail help solve a mystery or problem?


Students will be able to:

Use information from a variety of sources to draw conclusions as they answer questions on their museum activity cards.
Identify at least two tools, three basic foods, two types of clothing, or two types of housing construction used by Ancestral Pueblo people.
Identify at least one cultural adaptation made in the development of Ancestral Pueblo people.
State at least one theory for the use of a kiva.


“Can You Solve It?” combines a scavenger hunt with in-depth examination of the displays. Finding answers requires different skills: reading the descriptive passages of an exhibit; observing an object closely to understand how it worked; gathering information from several sources; inferring a conclusion from evidence in a display. Many cards integrate students’ knowledge about the lifeways of Ancestral Pueblo people with new ideas from the exhibits. The activity focuses the students’ attention to the details of what is before them. “Can You Solve It?” directs students to consider both the functions of the artifacts and their artistry. Best of all, the activity engages students’ imaginations.
•The activity cards portray thirty-two fictional scenarios from the years A.D. 1200 to 1275.
•Each card presents a problem or describes an action from daily life. For example, there are cards about collecting firewood, hunting, collecting plants, coping with winter conditions, carrying an infant, and building a kiva.
•The characters are male and female, of different ages, all facing diverse challenges.
•Each card is keyed to at least one exhibit in Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. It is recommended that teachers plan at least 30 to 60 minutes in the museum to explore the exhibits, view the dioramas, and complete the activity cards. (If you wish to view the museum’s orientation film, add 25 minutes to your museum visit.)


  • Each student (or team of students) needs a Museum Activity Card Worksheet consisting of four cards. If you want the students to have a single card, simply cut the cards from the worksheet.
  • Each student (or team of students) needs a pencil and clipboard.
  • Copy of the Location Key (from lesson plan or worksheet)  that contains exhibit information.
1. Review both “Background Information for Teachers” and “Background Information for Students.”
2. Review the Museum Activity Cards (pp. 6 - 13) ahead of time so you are familiar with the different subjects. Some have more advanced reading and writing levels. Museum Activity Cards #1 - 16 are considered beginning level cards, and #17 - 36 are advanced level cards.
3. Consider making a few extra copies of the cards for those teams that finish quickly, or for chaperones who are especially interested. You can also organize cards by degree of difficulty or by subject matter. Depending on the class schedule, the cards may be completed entirely at the park, or notes may be taken, and final drafts completed in the classroom.
4. There are four cards on a page. You will want to decide in advance if the class will be doing this activity as individuals or as teams. If they are working alone, you may want to cut the worksheet into the four separate cards. If they are working in teams, you may want to provide an entire four card worksheet.
5. Spruce Tree House is open self-guided from March to October. A park ranger is stationed in the site, but you may wish to purchase or borrow a trail guide for additional information. If you plan to visit between November and February, you will want to call ahead to ask if Spruce Tree House is available for your group.


Download Lesson Plan for Teachers

Download Student Worksheet


Step-By-Step Guide
1. Decide ahead of time if you want students to work on this activity alone or in groups. Make sure that the chaperones are prepared.
2. Introduce the activity and answer questions before you enter the museum. There are sheltered areas along the side of the building where you can gather.
3. Hold up an activity card worksheet as you describe the activity. Explain that everyone (or every team) will receive an activity card or a worksheet of four cards to use while they are inside the museum. Each card contains a fictional story about an Ancestral Puebloan who lived in a cliff dwelling during the years A.D. 1200 to 1275. The cards describe a situation or problem that they faced. Imagining what it would be like to be that person, remind the students to explore the exhibits looking for information, tools, or materials in the displays to answer the question(s) on their cards. It may be helpful, especially for younger ages, to read aloud one of the cards as an example.
4. Review the instructions from “Background Information for Students,” pointing out the features of the card(s). On the front is space where answers are to be recorded. Be sure to point out the two short lines at the bottom of the card where students write their name, and the name of the exhibit where they got their information. The latter is important for you to be able to know where the information and answer came from.
5. Tell the group that you (and/or a designated chaperone) will remain in a central spot in the museum (such as by the front door or information desk) so that they will be able to find you with completed cards or for assistance. It is also highly recommended to ask chaperones to help supervise. For instance, if students are working in teams, have a chaperone assigned to each team, or if students are working individually, ask chaperones to roam through the museum to help students with the activity.
6. Pass out an activity card to each student, or give each team of students a worksheet of four cards to complete. Hand out pencils and clipboards too. Instruct the group to WALK slowly and QUIETLY into the museum. Remember, out of courtesy to other park visitors please be quiet and respectful!
7. Do not hesitate to contact the park ranger at the information desk if you have questions or need directions. An answer sheet accompanies this activity to help you locate exhibits for the correct answers.


mesa verde national park, field trip activity, Museum, Scavenger hunt, Ancestral Pueblo

Assessment Materials

Assess student achievement of stated objectives by classroom discussion of Ancestral Puebloan life and culture. Ask students to imagine themselves living during that time period at Mesa Verde. Discuss the hardships and ways of adapting to the challenges faced by the people then, and the ways that they succeeded.

Enrichment Activities

Back in class, review what was found. Students can make short presentations about one of their “Can You Solve It?” activity cards describing specific foods, tools, clothing, and construction features and techniques of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

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Last updated: March 8, 2019