Article, Lesson Plans, Book Resources

Be An Explorer: Research a Native American Tribe

Six steps to help your students "dig" for information about a Native American tribe of their choosing.

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Did you know that the process you use to do research for a school project is very much like the process scientists use in the field? The "Big Six" is a step-by-step method for solving "information problems." If you follow these six important steps, when it comes time for you to write your report, you'll have all the pieces you need!

Task Definition

For starters, choose a Native American tribe that you would like to research. For your research, you'll need to "dig" for information just like an archaeologist! Before you can begin your research, you must first know what you are looking for. What are you trying to find out? What question do you want to answer?

Archaeologists digging in Utah are trying to learn what a site was used for. Was it more than just a regular village? Was it a ceremonial site? A place where people came to trade? What is the question you want to answer? Since you've been learning about ancient Native Americans, why not ask this question: How are Native Americans different today than they were before Europeans arrived here?

Information Seeking Strategies

Because the archaeologists know what they want to learn from the site, they will be able to recognize the clues that will help them answer their questions. But where should they begin digging? First they think about all the possible places to look; then they decide where would be the best place to dig.

Think of all the sources of information that might help you to answer your question. Then try the one that you think will help you the most first!

Here are some sources of information you might consider for your research:

  • Your local museum: Some museums have Native American exhibits, where you can see some of the actual artifacts found by archaeologists.
  • An Indian reservation: If you live close enough to an Indian reservation, you might want to take a field trip there.
  • Your library: The library is always a great resource for books, maps, atlases, magazines, and much more.
  • The Internet: There are many places on the Internet to find information on Native Americans. If you're interested in the Anasazi and Pueblo Indians, you could use this research starter to learn lots of great information.

Location and Access

So far, we've just been thinking about our research. Now it's time to get to work. Archaeologists have special tools they use to get to the information they are looking for — like trowels, brushes, dustpans, buckets, and screens — because their information is usually buried!

You may have to dig for your information, too — but don't bring your trowel to the media center! You'll be using different tools — books, video tapes, or even people who can answer your questions!  

Use of Information

To find the artifacts that will help them answer their questions, the archaeologists have to sift through a lot of dirt they've removed from the site. While you're doing your research you will also need to be looking, listening, and watching very carefully to find the facts that relate to your question — you'll need to "sift out" a lot of information that isn't relevant or that doesn't help you. This step is where you'll be reading the books or articles you found in step 3 above, or watching videotapes or interviewing people, and deciding which information you can actually use.

Don't forget to keep track of where you found your information! A good archaeologist always carefully records where each artifact was found. Make sure you collect that information, too — you'll need to name your sources.

Synthesis: Putting it All Together

Here's the important step where you piece together all the information you've found to see if it answers the question you asked back in step 1!

First you'll need to get your information organized. Archaeologists do this by keeping each type of artifact they find in separate bags that are organized according to what room they were found in and where in the room they were found. You might want to use an outline, or a "graphic organizer" (a drawing), or lists to organize the facts you find.

Once you're all organized, you can use your facts to answer the question you asked way back in step #1. Then, you'll need to think about how to present your information so that others can learn from it too. Research can be presented in many ways, in a report, a model, or a demonstration. For this project, you'll write a report. (Click here to learn step by step how to write a research report.)

Before you finish your paper, make sure you've named your sources. This lets people who read your report know where you got your information. That way, if they'd like to learn more about your topic, they could go to the same resources you used and read more about it! Archaeologists need to do this too. They label and catalog each artifact they find, so that other scientists will know where each one was found if they want to learn more about it.

Evaluation

Our last step is a "thinking" step! Sit back and admire your work and think about what you've done. Are you happy with what you found?

Think about whether you were able to answer the question you asked back in step 1. What things did you do that were very helpful in finding the answer? Are there things you would do differently the next time you have a research project to do?

If you take the time to evaluate your work, you will become a better researcher (or maybe even... someday... an archaeologist)!

  • Subjects:
    Research Skills, Archaeology, Cities and States, Prehistory, Native American
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