Student Activities

Territorial Ranges

Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies

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


The first people living on the prairie were the ancestors of the various Native American Tribes. Through archaeology, 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 Native Americans, 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. The migration of the horse from Mexico in the 1700s changed the culture of the Great Plains Tribes to one that was more mobile. Before the horse, the Tribes hunted and traveled in relatively small, restricted areas. The introduction of the horse into Native American society allowed people to cover greater distances. The horse became a status symobol to Native Americans 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, and 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, and 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 United States government moved Great Plains Tribes from their traditional homelands onto reservations to make way for 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.

Ask students to stand up if they were born in the town in which they now live; stand up if they were born in the state they now live in; stand up if their parents were also born there; etc. Then discuss why people move.

Listed below are some good questions to start off a discussion with your students to see what they know before you begin.

• Who were the first Americans?
• Where did they come from?
• How did they get here?
• Where in the Americas did they live?
• Are all Native Americans alike?
• What makes Native American Tribes unique from one another?
• How many Tribes were there? How many can you name?

Using a Smartboard or other device, go to the Native Languages website: Native American People (First Nations and American Indian Cultures) ( Have each student click on a state to reveal the names and locations of the Tribes that originally inhabited each state. Give each student a blank map of the United States. One is available in the Additional Resources section. Have students locate the homeland of the Tribes you investigate.


Last updated: January 13, 2024