Lesson 1: The Very First Americans

Getting Started

Questions to Explore

  • How were people in the past dependent on plants and animals in the environment?
  • How do resources from the environment help meet people's needs?
  • How has people's dependence on the environment changed over time?

Facts and Definitions

  • Native Americans were the first people to live on the continent of North America.
  • The different regions of Native American tribes included the Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Plains.


  • Locate and describe Native Americans in North America, past and present. (SS)
  • Compare the ways of life of Native-American groups in the Western Hemisphere. (SS)
  • Use vocabulary related to chronology. (SS)
  • Use maps to locate communities. (SS)
  • Compare how people in different communities adapt to or modify the physical environment to meet their needs. (SS)


  • The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose
  • journal
  • markers, crayons, or colored pencils
  • plain paper


Materials: plain paper
Ask your child if he knows who the first people to live on our continent were. If he doesn't know, tell him that the American Indians, or Native Americans, were the first people who lived in North America.

Divide a sheet of paper into three parts length-wise to create a "KWL" chart. Write "Native Americans" at the top of the page. Write "Know" in the first column, write "Want to Know" in the second column, and write "Learned" in the last column. Ask your child what he already knows about Native Americans and record the information in the first column. Then, in the second column, record what he says he would like to learn about them. Tell him that, at the end of the unit, he will use the third column to record new information he has learned about the Native American people.

Usage Note
It is often difficult to know how to refer to the groups of indigenous peoples that populated the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in the fifteenth century. Much has been written about the merits of terms such as "American Indian," "Native American," "First Peoples," and others. Surveys of indigenous peoples in the United States have shown a preference for the terms "American Indian" and "Native American" by a vast majority of respondents.

Our goal when referring to people outside of our own cultural heritage is always to be both respectful and accurate. Through most of our curriculum, we use the terms "American Indian" and "Native American" interchangeably, and we view both of these terms as acceptable to and respectful of these groups. Our task is complicated, however, by our status as a literature-based curriculum. We use a number of books, reference materials, and novels that simply use the term "Indian." We realize that this term, when used by itself, is often viewed as a pejorative. In our curriculum, however, when we are using or referring to a resource that uses this term, we will sometimes use the same term. Our intention in doing this is to maintain accuracy and consistency in the usage, and is in no way intended to be disrespectful of these groups.
Reading and Questions
Materials: The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose
Give your child the book The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose. Ask your child the following questions when he finishes reading.
  1. How did the first Americans get the name "Indians"?
    When Columbus landed in America he thought he was in India, so he called the people Indians.
  2. What groups of Native Americans does the book talk about?
    The Northwest Coast, the Southwest, the Plains, and the Woodlands.
  3. What is something unique about each group?
    Answers will vary.
  4. Which group do you think is the most interesting? Why?
    Answers will vary.
  5. Were you surprised by anything you learned in the book? If so what?
    Answers will vary.