Student Activities

Our Common History

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies


Through this activity, students will understand through chronological problem-solving and reading skills a summarized account of the human history of Great Sand Dunes. This could also serve as a pre-field trip visit activity.

A great variety of archaeological and anthropological evidence of human presence has been discovered in and around the Great Sand Dunes, revealing parts of a rich story that has unfolded here over thousands of years. That story includes chapters added by many different cultures. It is interesting to note their unique perspectives and experiences in and around the sand dunes as well as the commonalities among their day-to-day experiences.

Large projectile points found near the dunes in association with mammoth and prehistoric bison bones indicate that Clovis people once hunted these animals here. Extensive scatters of manos andmetates suggest that pine nuts, small grains, and roots were gathered and processed throughout the area for thousands of years. Large scars on living ponderosa pines and stories from regional tribes point to the use of this tree's inner bark as food and medicine by early people. Written accounts of this high desert wilderness from 17th Century Spanish explorers are the first historical records of the San Luis Valley. Information from oral histories and the remnants of settlements and structures develop details of the homesteading years, when people made their livings from sheep, cattle, and to a lesser extent mining.

Although the story of humanity as individuals, generations, and nations never ceases to be unique, it is also interesting to examine the broad commonalities among people which are essential for the understanding of ourselves. What different cultures and societies have called this same landscape "home"? What do we have in common with the peoples of recent history and with those of the ancient past? Does history really repeat itself? This activity may help you and your students discover some answers as they investigate the chronology of diverse societies that have inhabited the region around Great Sand Dunes.

Explore Great Sand Dunes' web page on History and Culture to learn more about early peoples of the dunes area.


1. Print and cut out the ten History Story Segment cards. The class can either work together in ten small groups (one card per group), or, make multiple sets of cards, divide the class into groups of ten students (one card per student), and have them work in their groups of ten to complete the activity.

2. Explain the activity to students: A) each student (or group) will be given a card with part of a story written on it. During the activity, they may not let go of their card, B) students should read their cards to each other, C) students try to piece the story told on the cards together by finding the parts of the story that connect to their own card, D) when a student (or group) finds another student (or group) whose card is in chronological order with their own, they must lock arms with that person (or group) in the following manner: if the matching story segment occurred before their own card's event, that student should lock their left arm with the other's right; if the story segment occurred after the event on their own card, they should link their right arm with the other's left. The idea is to have students order themselves chronologically by putting the story segments in order.

3. Pass the ten cards to the ten groups-one card per group.

4. Students should now search for their right and left matches. They should do this by reading their story segments with the other groups to see which segments make sense together.

5. When all segments have been matched and all arms are locked, a circle of students will be formed. They may now unlock elbows.

6. Choose one student to begin reading and have students continue reading around the circle. When the story returns to the first student, have that student read their card again. You might want to try reading it again with another student starting.


Have each group research the period of history that was on their card and write a new story segment with expanded details. Read the new, expanded version of the story together.

Where does the story begin and where does it end? What did any of the people in the story have in common? Do you have anything in common with the people in the story? (Give an example from your life or your family.)



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Last updated: January 6, 2016