Lesson Plan

Dawes Act

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.1, 6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10
State Standards:
State: Nebraska
Subject: History       
Grade Level:  8th 

State Standards:  8.1.2, 8.1.5, 8.4.2
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.


In "Dawes Act," students will look at the similarities and differences between the Homestead Act and the Dawes Act by analyzing primary sources.
In this lesson, students will answer the following essential question: What are the cause and effects of the Dawes Act? 


In "Dawes Act" students will look at the differences between the Homestead Act and the Dawes Act.  

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 6 of the unit.

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.


Print off per pair of students: “Transcript of the Dawes Act,” “Transcript of the Homestead Act,” “Map of Indian Territory Before and After Dawes Act”

Print off per student: “Venn Diagram” and “Remembering the Dawes Act”

Write on the board the following quotation: “The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation.” --William McKinley


Students will be completing these questions as they look at the primary sources

Download Homestead and Dawes Act Venn Diagram

Primary source for use with Venn diagram questions

Download Dawes and Homestead Act Transcript

Primary source for use with Venn diagram questions

Download Map of Indian Territory Before and After Dawes Act

Lesson Hook/Preview

1. Read the quotation you have written on the board: “The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation.” --William McKinley

2. Ask students to go to one wall of the classroom if they agree with that statement and to another wall if they disagree.

3. Ask the students that they think this quotation is saying about the United States.


1. Explain to students that today they will be learning about the purpose and legacy of the Dawes Act by looking at the act itself.

2. Ask students to find a partner. Give each partnership one copy the Homestead Act, one copy of the Dawes Act, one copy of the Homestead Act Maps, and two copies of the Venn diagram.

3. Ask students to look over the acts and maps to answer the research questions on the Venn diagram.

4. Then, ask the students to complete the Venn diagram on the back to compare the Homestead Act and Dawes Act.

5. Ask the students to describe the positive effects of the Homestead Act and Dawes Act. Also, ask the students to list the negative effects of the Homestead and Dawes Acts. Brainstorm a list on the board.

6. Hand out to each student a copy of “Remembering the Dawes Act.” Explain to students that they will be writing a eulogy for the Dawes Act. Remind students that this eulogy should be showing what they understand about the Dawes Act’s effects, both positive and negative.


Assimilation – To become a part of a different society, country including adopting that different society’s culture and means

Homestead – A house, land, or other buildings owned

Allotment – The amount given to a particular person

Register – To sign up

Assessment Materials

Remembering the Dawes Act

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

Choose mixed-ability partners for research.

Highlight transcripts of the Acts to emphasize important sections.

Enrichment Activities

Divide students into two groups. One group will be in support of the Dawes Act and one will oppose it. Give students time to do additional research and prepare arguments in defense of their positions. Assist students with incorporating the information they gather into their arguments.

Related Lessons or Education Materials

This lesson plan is part of a larger curriculum unit on Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians for grades sixth through eighth.

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Last updated: May 21, 2015