Be An Explorer: Research a Native American Tribal Nation
Six steps to help your students "dig" for information about a Native American tribal nation of their choosing
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!
Step 1: Task Definition
For starters, choose a Native American tribal nation 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 at a dig ask questions and look for clues to try 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 historic Native Americans, why not ask this question: How are Native Americans different today than they were before Europeans arrived here?
Step 2: 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. Contact the local tribal office to see if they have tour options for schools or visitor centers that are open to tourists. Since reservations are recognized as sovereign nations, be sure that you are familiar with the laws, regulations, and etiquette before visiting.
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. Look for the official tribal government website of the nation you are researching or start your research with one of these websites:
- Smithsonian Institution: National Museum of the American Indian
The Smithsonian's NMAI site provides an in-depth overview of their collection, including teaching resources, materials, and links to other sites.
- Native Languages of the Americas
A collection of online materials about the cultures and languages of indigenous American tribes
- The Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado
Provides video resources on the Ancestral Puebloan (or Anasazi) culture and other Native cultures in the Four Corners region.
- The Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art
Features an online database and other resources on Native American art of the Pacific Northwest region
- Internet Public Library
Includes lessons on Pueblo pottery
- Native American Toys and Games
Interactive games from Native American cultures
- Native American Book List (PDF)
Reading list on present-day Native Americans developed by the International Reading Association
- American Indians in Children's Literature
Recommended books by or about American Indians and First Nations people
- Indian Country Media Network
Online version of leading Native American publication in the United States. Includes topics of current interest or concern to Native peoples.
- Oyate Article: Teaching Respect for Native Peoples
Includes guidelines for evaluating books, activities, materials on Native Americans
- Map of American Indian Reservations (PDF)
Map from the U.S. Census Bureau
- Pics4Learning: Native Americans
This site makes over 400 images of Native American culture available for students and teachers. Including images of Native American regalia, art, artifacts, and more, the site has given teachers and students permission to use all of the images in their work.
Step 3: 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, videos, or even people who can answer your questions!
Step 4: Use of Information
To find the artifacts that will help them answer their questions, 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 videos 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.
Step 5: 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. (You can check out Scholastic's online activity Research Papers: A Writing Workshop 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.
Step 6: 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)!