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FNSS Curriculum Integration Project Click here to download this lesson.
Marguerite Piper (MS-Word format.)

Grade: 4
Lesson 2: The Plains Indians - Shelter
Time: 6 x 45 minutes

Topic: An observation of the way in which the Plains Indians protect themselves from the elements.

Rationale: Many people assume that the Plains Indians were unicultural, living in tipis and hunting buffalo from horseback. In studying two tribes, the children will recognize that while there were some similarities, there were also many differences between them. The type of shelter chosen by each tribe depended on their lifestyle. The Commanche were nomadic hunters who followed the buffalo and their shelters had to be portable, whereas the Mandan relied on the buffalo coming to them and their shelters were more permanent.

Materials and Resources

  • Chart paper and markers
  • Early Indian Cultures of North America (picture cards) Daniel Birch and Roy Carlson, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1973
  • Houses of Hide and Earth, Bonnie Shemie, Tundra, 1991
  • Native Peoples, Robert Livesey and A.G. Smith, Stoddard, 1994 (Rationale: Provides a picture of what the tipi poles looked like before the hide)
  • Models of tipi and earthlodge
  • Straws, plasticine, and white cloth for construction of miniature homes


  • Tipi
  • Earthlodge
  • Temporary
  • Permanent
  • Village
  • Shelter
  • Privacy
  • Decorations
  • Nomadic
  • Travois
  • Transportation

Main Concept
The main focus is to understand how their dwellings suited their lifestyles.

The Commache were nomadic buffalo hunters who lived in moveable tipis, whereas the Mandans were farmers who lived in permanent earthlodges.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Social Studies: Demonstrate an understanding of Aboriginal peoples' relationship with the land and resources.
  • Art: Demonstrate a willingness to experiment with a variety of materials, tools, equipment, and processes.

Planned Learning Activities

  1. Ask students: "Did all the Plains Indians live in tipis?"
  2. Brainstorm. Fill out "Know" and "Wonder" sections of KWL chart under the heading "Plains Indians' Houses"
  3. Hand out picture card 17 (from Early Indian Cultures of North America) and have the students work with a partner to complete the picture study activities 1 to 6 of Part A.
  4. Class discussion of the information gathered from picture card 17.
  5. Complete part of the "Learned" section of the KWL chart.
  6. Discuss with neighbour what it might be like to live inside either a Commache tipi or a Mandan lodge. Complete activity 1 in Part B.
  7. Show the class what a Mandan lodge is like inside by displaying an overhead of the picture on the back of picture card 20 (from Early Indian Cultures of North America). Students then complete activity 2 in Part B.
  8. As a class art project, students work with a partner to build a Mandan lodge with straws and plasticine. Refer to Houses of Hide and Earth p. 14-5 for details.
  9. Teacher reads the descriptions on pp. 10-1 of Houses of Hide and Earth about the inside of a tipi. Teacher shows the pictures on pages 10 and 12-3.
  10. Students complete questions 3, 4, and 5 in Part B.
  11. As a second class art project, students use straws, white cloth, and felt pens and plasticine, to create a tipi based on the outline provided. The teacher reads pages 10-11 of Houses of Hide and Earth and shows pages 58-59 in Native Peoples for examples of how to construct a tipi. The teacher will place a chart on the board containing information from the book, such as the meaning of a dark ring at the bottom and the circles within these rings, etc. When finished, the students should be able to explain the meaning of their decorations.
  12. Students can refer to the pictures shown on the picture cards and Houses of Hide and Earth concerning the positioning of the houses in relation to each other. Students complete the activities 1, 2, and 3 in section C.
  13. As a class, finish completing the "Learned" section of the KWL chart.

Assessment / Evaluation

  • Observation: Was the student engaged in the discussion, group activities, and individual activities? What knowledge did the student demonstrate? Does the student understand how the materials for the houses depended on the resources that were available?
  • Worksheets: How accurately did the student complete the worksheets? Use marking allotments to assess the worksheets based on the accuracy of the responses. Generally there is one mark per required response.
  • Effort: Was the student engaged in the activities? Is the student willing to work with the materials provided to construct the models of the houses?
  • Models of houses: The models will be assessed using a four-point scale. The rubric is provided.


  • Art: Have the students collectively create both a Mandan and a Commache village with their houses. Use other materials such as a painted backdrop, figurines, etc.

Integration Opportunities

  • Geometry: Tipis are cones, while earthlodges are hemispheres.

Resources and Supplementary Material

  1. Plains Indians and Mountain Man: Arts and Crafts, Charles W. Overstreet, Eagle View, 1993. (Contains directions for making Plains Indian crafts. The diagrams give students ideas for how the homes were decorated.)
  2. www.tolatsga.org This site has information on Commanche history.
  3. www.cln.org This provides links to a variety of First Nations sites.
  4. www.mcps.k12.md.us To find site, click on Native American lesson, under Social Studies. It provides a unit at a grade 6 level of Plains Indians
  5. www.libsci.sc.edu This provides a variety of links, from children's literature, to art. It is a primary unit, and is American, but many ideas can be adapted.
  6. www.germantown.k12.il.us This provides more information about how buffalo was hunted, how it was used, and religious practices.

Summative Criteria

Criteria Ratings Comments
Commanche tipi:
Quality of decorations 4 3 2 1  
Meaning of decorations explained 4 3 2 1  
Quality of structure 4 3 2 1  
Mandan earthlodge:
Quality of structure 4 3 2 1  
Cooperation with partner 4 3 2 1  

4 - Poweful (beyond expectations)
3 - Good (fully meets expectations)
2 - Basic (meets expectations)
1 - Beginning (does not meet expectations)