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Cahokia and the Mississippian Native Culture

Lesson Plan

Lesson Created by Lee McBee, Elizabeth Bowens, Robert Marshall, Cynthia Twining

Cahokia Artifact

Core Theme:

Native Americans

Grade Level:

Grade 5

Lesson Duration:

1-2 days

Content Standard:

  • Skills and Methods A 3: Differentiate between primary and secondary sources. B5, 6. Use a variety of sources to draw inferences. Compare points of disagreements between sources. Draw inferences from relevant information.
  • Make generalizations about the cultural ways of life among American Indian cultural groups in North and South America.

Primary Sources:


Lesson Summary:

Students will first be introduced to how archeologists examine artifacts from the past. Then students will examine an artifact and make inferences about early Native American culture form these artifacts. Students will then examine the ancient culture of the Mississippian Native Americans through a Power Point and video about Cahokia. Finally, students will complete a post-assessment written handout.

Instructional Steps:

  1. The teacher will build on what the students already know about archeology by demonstrating what we can tell about a class by going through what they threw away in the trash can yesterday. Using gloves, the teacher will dump onto a sheet (could be a cut up trash can liner) the contents of yesterday’s class. If possible, use the trash contents of a class that is not their own. What can we tell about the class: age? Do they write? Cursive? Do math/have a  knowledge of numbers? Other subjects? Level of learning? What they eat or drink? Are they artistic? Are they ill (tissues)? Remind students that they are learning about a group of people by what they THROW AWAY, much as archeologists do. Is this a complete picture of what we know about this class?
2. In the week ahead, they will be learning about part of the Mississippian culture from some artifacts. Students will be working in small groups of 4 students. Assign one person in each group as the “secretary” to record the group’s observations. Give each group an 
3. Point out where Cahokia is on a map of the United States. Ask students to identify what major cities, states this site is near today. Students will then view a Power Point about Cahokia. NOTE: This link will take you to the SlideShare page of the OSU Goldberg Center, the parent organization of the History Teaching Institute. To access the audio and full slide presentation, you must download the PowerPoint  onto your computer.
4. After viewing the PowerPoint, students will complete a  written handout. 

Pre-Assessment and Scoring Guideline:

Teacher observation through discussion and interaction of students

Post-Assessment and Scoring Guidelines:


Materials needed by the teacher: 

Smart Board connected to teacher computer, Powerpoint, artifact images, assessment handouts

Materials needed by the student:


Other items: 


Other possible resources: 

Journey to Cahokia, an Educational Activity Book by Kris Steele, American Educational Press.
Before Columbus: the Americas of 1491 by Charles C. Mann.
First Americans by Anthony Aveni
Video (DVD):
Ancient America series: Cahokia Mounds, Ancient Metropolis
Cahokia: City of the Sun at Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site