Aug 29

Civilizing the Natives 5-2.5

In this lesson students will analyze and explain one of the social effects of expansion on Native Americans.

Click here to download the full lesson with attached handouts. Civilizing the Natives 

Historical Background

“Reformers of the late 19th century were concerned about the plight of the Native Americans and the unfairness of the many treaties broken by the United States government. These reformers believed that if Native Americans would give up their tribal traditions and adopt the ways of the white man they would prosper. A new federal policy took the tribal lands of the reservation and divided it up into farms for individual Native American families [Dawes Severalty Act, 1887]. However, Native Americans had different ideas of land ownership than whites. They believed that the land belonged to the group, not individuals. This policy violated those beliefs and the traditions of hunting that had sustained Native American culture for centuries. Many of the farms belonging to Native Americans failed (as did many farms in the late 19th century that belonged to whites) and the Native Americans lost their land. In addition, reformers believed that Native American children should learn the ways of the white man. Children were taken away from their families and sent to boarding schools faraway [ex. The Carlisle School in Pennsylvania] where they were taught to behave like white children and to speak English. The traditions and values of the Native American culture were not honored in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Today, as a result of a civil rights movement among Native Americans in the 1960s, their culture is being preserved and their rights honored. However, life on many reservations is still difficult and many Native Americans live in poverty.”


South Carolina Social Studies Support Document, Grade 5, 2008 http://ed.sc.gov/agency/Standards-and-Learning/Academic-Standards/old/cso/social_studies/social.html


South Carolina Standards

5-2.5 Explain the social and economic effects of the westward expansion on Native Americans, including changes in federal policies, armed conflicts, opposing views concerning land ownership, and Native American displacement. (P, G, E, H)


8-1.2 Categorize events according to the ways they improved or worsened relations between Native Americans and European settlers, including alliances and land agreements between the English and the Catawba, Cherokee, and Yemassee; deerskin trading; the Yemassee War; and the Cherokee War. (H, P, E)



  • Students will analyze and explain one of the social effects of expansion on Native Americans by:
    • Searching a primary document for key terms
    • Using context clues to derive meaning from key terms.
    • Explaining information in their own words


Time Required                                                                    Recommended Grade Level

1 class period                                                                          Elementary/Middle



Lesson Materials


Lesson Preparation

  1. Download the primary document associated with this lesson (see attached pdf).
  2. Print the word bank for students
  3. Divide students into groups of two, no more than three.


Lesson Procedure

  1. Pass out word bank.
  2. Model how students should analyze the document by using a word from the word bank to go through the process with them, including using context clues and/or a dictionary to define the term, defining the term in your own words and by writing out the meaning sentence in your own terms.
  3. Go through the process with students again, having students give you definitions and putting information in their own words.
  4. Instruct students to search through the document to find the remainder of the words.  Once they have found a word, students will need to read the sentences immediately surrounding the word.  After they read, students should define the term in their own words based on the context clues.  Students may also use a dictionary to determine what the word means in the context of the sentence.
  5. Next students will need to interpret and write the meaning of the sentence in their own words.
  6. Students will continue this process until they are finished with all words in the word bank.
  7. Next students will re-read their interpreted statements to make meaning of the whole document.
  8. Teacher will need to circle the room helping students as they interpret.
  9. Students will turn to their partners and discuss the ideas put forth in the document.
  10. The teacher will reconvene the class then review the meanings of the terms with and ideas addressed in the pamphlet with students. Explain to students that this pamphlet addresses one of the ideas of some Americans during the time period of Westward expansion.



Assess the lesson by asking students to explain what some people meant by “civilizing the North American Indians”.  Students should write a one-paragraph summary to explain.



Lesson Extension Options

Have students research the history of the Mormon schools used to convert the Catawba tribe of South Carolina to Christianity.


Digital Collections Information

This lesson plan is based on images and/or documents derived from the K-12 Primary Sources Pilot Project collection available from the University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections Library.


To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collections.