Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Road Trip to the Future: Exploring Tribal Colleges and Universities

Mariana DeLoera, Laura Halstied | Published: February 21st, 2023 by K20 Center


In this lesson, students learn about the history of assimilation in the education system and how it led to the rise of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). Students begin by becoming familiar with some of the many famous and successful people who attended TCUs. Then, after reading a short article about the history of TCUs, they conduct their own research on an institution of their choice. Students then create an Anchor Chart that they will share with the rest of the class. This lesson is designed to work in tandem with a campus visit to a TCU, but it can also work well as a standalone lesson.

Essential Questions

  • How is equity supported in higher education?

  • Why is there a greater need for Tribal Colleges and Universities today?

Learning Goals

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze the historical background of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).

  • Collaborate to research TCUs to identify which school best meets their personal and academic goals.

Materials List

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • The Rise of Tribal Colleges and Universities handout (attached)

  • Research Project handout (attached)

  • Devices with internet access 

  • Markers/colored pencils 

  • Big sticky note pad or butcher paper 

  • Sticky notes 

  • Pens/pencils

  • Scissors (optional)


Introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Display slide 3 with the first essential question: How is equity supported in higher education?

Invite students to reflect on ways that colleges and universities advocate for fairness. If students struggle to respond, as a class, break down the term equity.

Once students have responded to the essential question, transition to the next activity. Explain to students that you will show them different individuals, giving them a brief background of each one. As you walk students through each slide, ask students to brainstorm about what these individuals might have in common.

Go through slides 4–9. For each slide, give a brief overview of the individuals shown in the slides.

Display slide 10 and pose the following question to the class: From politicians to entertainers to athletes, what might all of these successful individuals have in common?

Encourage a few students to share their responses and then move to slide 11. Tell students that all of the individuals mentioned on the slides have graduated from an institution that is classified as a TCU (Tribal Colleges and Universities). Explain that the concept of TCUs originated from the intention of creating equity in higher education.

Display slide 12 and review the lesson objectives with the class.


Display slide 13 and play the “Stand with Native Students” video. Following the video, ask students what stood out the most to them from the video.

Once students have shared responses, display slide 14. Distribute the attached handout titled The Rise of Tribal Colleges and Universities. Using the Stop and Jot strategy, instruct students to pause after each section and summarize what they have learned in the appropriate section of the handout.

After students have completed the reading and have filled out the handout, ask them to discuss their summaries with their Elbow Partner.

Display slide 15 and pose the second essential question: Why is there becoming a greater need for Tribal Colleges and Universities?

Have students use their knowledge from the video, the handout, and their personal thoughts to respond and discuss. 


Divide students into groups of three and distribute a copy of the attached Research Project handout to each student. Have students work together to conduct their research but emphasize that each should fill out the information on their own handout.

Display slide 16, and share the instructions for the next steps. Explain to students that they will be researching a Tribal College.  Have students follow the Wakelet link on the slide to see the list of Tribal Colleges and Universities. Give them some time to explore the site independently as they prepare to conduct their research.

Have each group choose one school they would like to research. Encourage groups to look first at the schools by state to help them decide which school to research.

Once groups have chosen a school, instruct them to find the school’s official website to conduct their research. If they use any other resources in addition to the school’s website, they should cite those in the Source column of their handout.

Instruct students to focus in the beginning on the research portion of the handout. They will work on the Anchor Chart in the next part of the lesson.


As students near the end of their research, display slide 17 and share the instructions for completing the Anchor Chart. Students can follow along at the bottom of the first page of their TCU’s Research Project handout. 

The Anchor Chart should be a visual representation of the research that students have already conducted. Walk them through all of the expectations listed on the handout.

Emphasize that they have plenty of freedom in how they choose to present information in the chart, but they are expected to create well-organized and easy-to-read charts with correct spelling and grammar. They are also expected to include all the required elements outlined in the instructions.

After sharing the instructions, provide students with time to work with their groups to complete their Anchor Charts.


Display slide 18. After students have finished their Anchor Charts, they will engage in a Gallery Walk. Have students hang their posters on the walls of the classroom and distribute a sticky note to each student. 

Have each group elect a spokesperson to stay behind with their poster as the representative for their group. They will be responsible for explaining what is included on the chart and why it is important information for them to know. When the rest of the group returns, they can share information with the spokesperson or take turns presenting, so everyone gets to view the information.

Instruct the rest of the class to rotate to each poster and use their sticky note to leave a question on an Anchor Chart that interests them. When coming up with the question, have students choose the school they are most interested in. If students wish to ask multiple questions, provide extra sticky notes.