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How to Teach the History of Native American Assimilation

Assimilation of Native Americans Stations Activity

Did you know that a recent report found that 87% of state history standards make no mention of Native American history after 1900? This is a problem. Native American history is American history. I've found that some textbooks will simply have one sidebar with a quick gloss over of the assimilation of Native Americans, yet there is so much to this history that we can't overlook. A few years ago, I set out to create a resource to use with my students, and I want to share that with you.

Use Primary Sources

Through these primary source analysis stations, my students gained an understanding of the assimilation of Native Americans in the United States following the Civil War, due to the use of Indian boarding schools.

Through readings, photographs, and interviews, I had my students analyze primary sources to learn the laws and history surrounding the schools in the United States, as well understand the negative impact these government instituted school experiences had on Native American children and their families.

Building Background Information

I needed to build some background knowledge, because simply reading a textbook sidebar is not enough. So before sending my students out to the stations, we went through an introductory reading passage together. You could assign this as nightly reading, but it was helpful to begin with this passage and have a chance to discuss and allow students to ask questions. The reality is that the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978, but most boarding schools didn't close until the 1980's and early 1990's.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School

In this station, students learn about the first federally funded boarding school, will look at specific statements made by General Richard Harry Pratt. Students will answer analysis questions based on his statements and will be asked to call out why his thinking is wrong.

Quick Assimilation

In this station, students will better understand assimilation through the use of primary source photographs. Assimilation included not only changing hair and style of clothing, but giving children English names and punishing those that spoke in their native tongue. In this stations, students will make observations, but also look at the meaning of ethnocentrism.

Assimilation of Native Americans Primary Source Stations

Boarding School Life

Boarding schools were overcrowded, and with only basic medical care provided, the spread of disease was rampant. Schools were run in military style fashion with the focus not just on academics but on manual skills as well. In this station, students will analyze photographs and will look at the perceptions that people had about American Indians.

Native American Assimilation Activity


Through first-hand accounts, students will learn from those that experienced the difficulties both physically and emotionally of boarding school life. Students will look at how the separation for family impacts a person's childhood and family relationships.

The Laws

In this station, students will look at the laws that made Indian Boarding Schools mandatory. As well, students will look at the findings from the Meriam Report of 1928. It is important for students to understand how these schools were built into our system and the long term detrimental impacts.

Assimilation of American Indians Stations Activity

What Educators Are Saying:

This resource is just excellent! My students were very interested in this and really engaged! Thank you! -Erin B.

Awesome and engaging lesson. I used this with my U.S. History classes which has a mix of students who are ESL 4 and ESL 5. It was a perfect level of challenging for them. Loved how this focused on vocabulary words also. Thank you!!! -Mary W.

Grab this resource fir your class by following the link here


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