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Native American History: John Smith and the Powhatan

Lesson Plan

Chief Powhatan

(above) Chief Powhatan

Grade Level:

This lesson relates to understanding primary sources to evaluate John Smith’s description of  the Powhatan Indians.  


This lesson is estimated to last for approximately five 45-minute classes.

Ohio Academic Content Standards:

Grade five standard, Social Studies Skills and Methods.  The indicators are 5-Compare points of agreement and disagreement among sources and 7-Organize key ideas by taking notes that paraphrase or summarize.


The primary sources that can be used for this lesson are:

  •    America Firsthand, Volume I, by Robert D. Marcus & David Burner,
  •    The Powhatan Indians, by Melissa McDaniel,
  •    The Powhatan Tribes by Christian Feest 
  •    The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture, by Helen C. Rountree.

Website that can be used to obtain printable copies of information about the Powhatan Indians:

This lesson is designed to help students understand and compare different points of view from different sources about a particular subject. Students will compare John Smith’s account of the Powhatan Indians with other primary source material about the Powhatans.  They will then compare ideas and facts from each source to determine similarities and differences.    
1. Students will be given a copy of the excerpt from the book America Firsthand, Volume I, of John Smith’s description of the Powhatan culture.  As a whole class they will study this excerpt and summarize the information about the Powhatan’s appearance, clothing, food sources, culture, social life, traditions, etc.  
2. Students will then break up into groups of 3 or 4 and select a topic from above to research.  Each group will use the primary source books or internet resources about Powhatan Indians mentioned above to gather information about their topic.    
3. Students will then complete the worksheet entitled The Powhatan:  Comparing Sources using information found about their particular topic.  
4. When students have finished their research, they will prepare reports comparing John Smith’s description with those from other sources.  
5. Students will then present their findings to the entire class and specify similarities and differences about the information.  All students will take notes on findings as presented by each group, so that they have information for the post-assessment.     


Students will use all of the notes they have acquired to write a summary of similarities and differences of John Smith’s account versus accounts from Powhatan resources.  They will choose 3 topics to write about.  


  • Teacher will need to prepare copies of the John Smith excerpt from America Firsthand and other book and internet resource copies that will be needed for students’ research. 
  • Students need pencils and paper and will be provided with all resource copies needed for their research.  
  • Worksheet needed for this assignment: The Powhatan:  Comparing Sources
Lesson developed by Cristine Adkinson, Shelby City Schools, Shelby, Ohio