by Steven Schwartz

Historical Background

American Indians (First Nations in Canada) constructed homes to conform to their needs and environment. Housing for some tribal groups was permanent, while other residences reflected the need to relocate, often to adjust for a harvest season or to follow a source of food. Housing styles reflected these needs.


Native American housing is frequently assumed to be represented by one or two well-known styles such as the teepee or pueblo. While these do reflect distinct tribal designs, they are not all inclusive and students should be exposed to a wider range of design. The lesson should also help students understand the relationship between environment and housing.

Essential Question

How did Native Americans use natural resources and their knowledge of their surroundings to build their homes?

Students Will Be Able To

  • Identify the construction techniques and materials used by various Native American tribes
  • Compare the differences and similarities of traditional tribal housing and contemporary construction
  • Describe the relationship between housing styles and the environment
  • Create a “model” pueblo or an appropriate alternative style
  • Locate selected tribes and housing styles on a map
  • Explain the connection between environment and housing styles of Native Americans

    Do Now (“The Hook” or Motivation)

    1. Ask students to name and describe types of homes that people may live in today. (They may volunteer private one-family home, apartment house, mobile home, even military housing).
    2. Have students examine the photograph and compare it to the types of homes they previously described.
    Anasazi dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

    Questions and Activities

    1. Study the Native American Regions and Housing Maps, then:
      • Locate the similar type of housing on the first map
      • Identify the tribe with which the housing is identified
      • Locate the same area on the “Tribes of the Indian Nation”
    2. What type of materials might be available to build this house? 
    3. Why did they build their home on the side of a cliff?
    4. Students study the pictures below and compare to the pueblo as to: construction materials and design.
    5. Interdisciplinary application: With a science cluster teacher connect the Anasazi construction with the climate, topography, and available building materials. This may then be applied to the other housing.
    Family standing in front of a Pawnee lodge. Photographed by William H. Jackson.


    Gordy, Wilbur F. Stories of American History. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913



    Ask the students in which of the houses they would prefer to live and how they might arrange their personal space.

    Supplementary Activity

    (with a teacher of Fine Arts)
    Provide students with appropriate materials (Legos, clay, ice cream sticks) to create a representative housing style of a Native American tribe.

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