Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

How Did We Get Here?

Native Americans in the U.S.

Chelsee Wilson | Published: May 26th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 11th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1-2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 100 minutes


This lesson utilizes a current events video that allows students to investigate federal policies towards Native Americans. This lesson pairs well with discussions over the transformation of the West during the nineteenth century. To ensure success of this lesson, students will need to have some background information about Native American removal and respective federal policies.

Essential Question(s)

How does power or the lack of power affect minority groups? 



Students watch "The Water Lady: A savior among the Navajo" from the CBS Sunday Morning show while completing an I Notice, I Wonder assignment.


As a class, students brainstorm a list of key vocabulary words regarding Native Americans, federal government, and the United States.


Working in small groups, students narrow down the list to ten key terms, then justify and explain each selection.


Continuing in small groups, students create a timeline of these events using the Navajo water issue as the end point.


Students present their timelines to the class and explain their selections and chronological process. Students also submit their timelines for a grade.


  • Internet access

  • Video link

  • Scratch paper

  • Pens, pencils, colored pencils, or markers

  • Butcher paper

  • Project rubric


At the beginning of class, students will watch "The Water Lady" from the CBS Sunday Morning Show while completing an I Notice, I Wonder activity. At the end of the video, have students share some of their observations with the class. After class discussion, ask students "How did we get here?" in reference to the video.

Some probing questions could include:

  • Could you go a month without immediate access to clean water?

  • What adjustments would you have to make to your daily life if you did not have access to clean, running water?

  • What countries or regions do you normally think of in regards to lack of water resources?

  • Who has the right to clean water?


Following the video, tell students they will be acting as historical forensic scientists, and they will be building a timeline. It is their job to determine how Americans in the twenty-first century live without running water. To begin, give students the Native American terms handout.

Place students in small groups of 3-4, and have each group work on creating definitions for each term.

Once groups have created definitions, groups will participate in a Strike Out and remove the least important terms from the list. By the end of the activity, groups should be left with ten total terms.

After groups get their original lists back, have them read through the final list and discuss if they would like to change out two of the terms for two terms removed that were "struck out."

Then, for each term left, groups should write down one other term it relates to and why. This should help them make connections for the extend activity.


Have a class share-out. Each group will share out one term, its definition, and another term it relates to and why.

Groups cannot repeat terms shared by another group.

The teacher should take this time as an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions and add extra information as needed.


Using their ten terms, groups will construct a timeline on butcher paper to show the progression of Native American policies towards the Navajo water restrictions. For each event on their timeline, students need to place their definitions underneath the term. The end point must be the Navajo issue discussed in the Sunday Morning video. Remind students that there should be a logical connection from one event to the other.

For many groups, the connections may read like a narrative. For example, a group may choose to connect Trail of Tears to boarding schools. However, they would be missing key steps in between the terms that ultimately links them. A proper connection might be "The transcontinental railroad went through many tribal territories. As a result, the federal government passed the Dawes General Allotment Act in order to push tribes onto a set amount of land. Around the same time as the passage of the Dawes Act, Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools far away from their parents."


Students will present their timelines to the class while also explaining why they selected certain events over others. For example, some groups may choose to use the transcontinental railroad and its physical impact on Native American tribes, while other groups may choose to use boarding schools and its cultural impact on Native American norms, mores, and ways of life.

To keep students engaged in the activity, have students take notes over group presentations. This can allow students the opportunity to keep track of the presentations they have heard and to formulate questions they may want to ask the presenters. These notes may then be turned in for a participation grade. After each group has presented their timeline, allow a few minutes for students to pose questions to the presenting group for clarification, justification, and/or discussion.

To evaluate student understanding, use the provided rubric to review the group timelines. If groups consistently miss a term or connection, it might be an element that needs reteaching or review.

To close out the lesson, ask students the following question: How did these policies and events lead to the water shortage in the "The Water Lady?"