2. Recording Your Own Community Experience

(This is the Lesson Plan 2 for Carol Buswells curriculum unit, “Exploring Your Community.)


Photograph of horses at creek with Indian community in background (National Archives: Records of District Courts of the United States)

The story of American Indians in the Western Hemisphere is intricately intertwined with places and environments. Native knowledge systems resulted from long-term occupation of tribal homelands, and observation and interaction with places. American Indians understood and valued the relationship between local environments and cultural traditions, and recognized that human beings are part of the environment.

Native Knowledge 360°: Framework for Essential Understandings about American Indians, National Museum of the American Indian, 2015.



Grade 4

  • W.4.7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
  • SL.4.5: Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Grade 5

  • W.5.7: Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
  • SL.5.5: Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.



  • What are the unique natural elements of my community environment?
  • Is the natural world important to me?
  • What methods did Lewis and Clark use to gather and record direct information about the natural world?
  • What methods did the Native communities along the Lewis and Clark Trail use?
  • What other methods can be used to create a primary source?



The students will conduct explorations of the natural world around them and report their findings using a variety of methods, in order to connect in a more personal way with nature in their immediate community.



For a complete listing of all materials necessary for the entire curriculum by Episode, see Curriculum Materials and Resources at a Glance.


  • A small paper journal for each child and writing instruments (see episode 1).
  • Student access to a still or video camera (perhaps on a cell phone).
  • Student access to a voice recorder, or recording app.


  • A safe area in the community or school yard where students can explore without close supervision.

Online Resources

Samples of primary sources in different formats:

  • MAP Map of Lewis and Clark Track Across the Western Portion of North America from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean (National Archives: War Department, Office of the Chief of Engineers)
  • PHOTOGRAPH Close­up of Indian petroglyphs mentioned in the journal of the Lewis and Clark expedition … found on a limestone cliff at the mouth of the Nemaha River, near Troy, Kansas, in Doniphan County in the extreme northeast corner of the state. (National Archives: Environmental Protection Agency)
  • DOCUMENT List of Indian Presents Purchased by Meriwether Lewis in Preparation for the Expedition to the West (National Archives: War Department, Office of the Quartermaster General)
  • SCOPE OF TERRITORY Rolling hills in the outskirts of Atchison, Kansas, showing an area of landscape painted by George Catlin between 1830 and 1850. It once was tall­grass prairie, as described in the Lewis and Clark journals. The county road in the distance at the left leads to St Patrick’s Church, an early pioneer Catholic Church. (National Archives: Environmental Protection Agency)

Additional Background Information for the Teacher

  • A collection of Lewis and Clark maps, including a map created from American Indian information at the time. (United States Geological Survey)
  • Explanation of the “what” and “why” of petroglyphs and pictographs.(National Park Service: Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico)
  • Information can be found describing items in the List of Indian Presents in several locations by searching the web for each item separately. The most reliable sources are probably tribal, university, museum, and government websites.



Before Class

Arrange for the students to spend about ¾ of the class time outdoors in a safe location where they can observe and collect information without close supervision. If possible, it would be best for the location to have an abundance of natural materials. If your playground is not adequate or nonexistent, plan to visit a park, arboretum, or other location nearby.


For this exercise each student should have his own journal of sufficient size so he or she can draw illustrations of his or her own observations. Lewis and Clark recorded their journey in a journal. Some Native people tell stories to this day. Ancient Native people drew symbols (petroglyphs) on large and small rocks that had multiple meanings, some of which may have described an element of the location itself.

Student Activity

  • On the whiteboard or projector screen, open the Tribal Legacy website.
  • Locate the Nez Perce tribal area (located in both the Columbia Country and the Intermountain and Upper Missouri River sections) by passing the cursor over the map.
  • Tell the students you will be listening to someone who lives in this tribal area today.
  • Go to http://www.lc-triballegacy.org/video.php?vid=342 (Diane Mallickan, Nez Perce) and play her description of how Nez Perce life was patterned after the natural world.
  • Ask the students why the natural world was important to her tribe. Is any element of their own lives patterned after the natural world? Discuss.
  • Go to
  • Tell the students that you want them to “discover” the natural world of their own community by what is called “direct observation” in the same way that Lewis and Clark did. Point out the primary source poster and explain that direct observation, when recorded, produces a primary source. Primary sources can come in many forms.
  • Show the students the online map, photo, document, and scope of territory examples below. Compare and contrast the information found in each. Tell them that all of these examples are primary sources.
  • Take the students to the safe area you have predetermined and allow them to explore.
  • Explain that they will be using several of the same methods used by Lewis and Clark to gather information about nature in their community.
  • Instruct them to use all of the following methods.
  • Observation
    • Have them look very closely at the plants and animals they find, including the way they smell and feel when touched. How do they move? If safe, how do they taste?
    • How does the air and any nearby water sound, feel, or taste?
    • Can they see, hear, or smell other things, such as cars and people?
  • Writing in their journals.
    • Have them describe what they have observed by writing a paragraph or two about each item they have observed.
  • Drawing illustrations
    • Have them draw illustrations of what they see. (They should do this on site, if there is enough time. Otherwise have them take photographs using a camera, cell phone, tablet, etc., and then have them complete a drawing later in the classroom.)
  • Mapping
    • Have them draw a simple map of the area they have been observing.
  • Ask the students to compare/contrast the different kinds of information produced by each method.



Review these words briefly with your students and explain further if necessary. (see Glossary)

  • direct observation
  • petroglyphs
  • Indian presents



Give emerging writers a tape recorder, tablet, cell phone, or other recording device with which to record their observations. Use photography as an option for challenged students as well as for the entire class.

Advanced readers and writers may want to do further research into the ecology of their own community, native plant life, animal life, etc. using secondary sources (books and articles).



Using the “observation notebook” to record student difficulties, discuss and suggest ways in which students might relate to the natural world as they are observing and recording. Review any difficulties students might have with this exercise.