Lessons and Activities about Arctic Peoples

Teaching about indigenous peoples and cultures in elementary school is vitally important, yet challenging. How do you ensure that your lessons are accurate and avoid stereotypes and misconceptions? How can you help your students understand that the indigenous cultures of the Arctic – like other cultures of the world – change over time, incorporating modern technology while retaining traditional values and activities? In this article, we’ve highlighted resources that can help you design a lesson or unit about Arctic cultures. The informative books from this month’s virtual bookshelf will greatly enhance any of the resources listed below.

We’ve divided this month’s lessons into those about the Inupiat of Alaska and the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic. We’ve also chosen to include two general Native American lessons because these lessons provide resources for teaching cultures without stereotyping and include modern-day populations.

Because the interdisciplinary nature of all the lessons below means that literacy skills (reading, writing, and discussion) are often fully incorporated, we’ve chosen to not include a separate literacy section. We have indicated standards alignment as appropriate for science and English language arts. All lessons align with the People, Places, and Environments and Global Connections social studies thematic strands.


Alaska Native Ways of Knowing (Grade 3 and up)
Students learn about Alaska Native ways of knowing (“reading” the land, knowing the local language, learning from Elders, and living in harmony with nature). They will watch videos and interviews that will help them prepare for their primary assignment: completing a science fair project that demonstrates the application of traditional knowledge to a scientific topic. This lesson meets the following National Science Education Standards Science Content Standards for grades K-4 and 5-8: Science as Inquiry, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Science and Technology, Science in Personal and Social Perspectives, and History and Nature of Science.

Alaska Native Stories: Using Narrative to Introduce Expository Text (Grades 3-5)
This lesson uses traditional stories of the Native peoples (i.e., narrative text) to introduce students to the study of animals in Alaska (i.e., expository text). Students use the Internet to listen to a Yu’pik tale told by John Active, a Native person living in Alaska. They also use online resources to find facts about animals in Alaska. Students compare and contrast the two types of text in terms of fiction and nonfiction. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9.


Mama, Do You Love Me? An Introduction to Inuit Culture for Primary Grade Students (Grades K-2)
This lesson plan uses the picture book Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee. By reading and discussing this book, students will learn about traditional Inuit culture. The lesson plan includes background information on the Inuit and a pattern for making an Inuit puppet. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards for grades K-4 and 5-8. It also meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 9.

Exploring Inuit Culture Online (Grade 4 and up)
A collection of multimedia lesson plans designed to teach students about the Inuit people and Nunavut Territory contains the following lessons and related multimedia:

  • The Traditional Foods of the InuitStudents learn about the traditional foods of the Inuit, and how these foods are acquired from the land and sea.
  • Inuktitut the Language of the Inuit of NunavutStudents practice writing and pronouncing selected words, then create an English/Inuktitut ABC book with illustrations.
  • My Community vs. NunavutStudents collect and graph weather data for their school and for Nunavut.
  • My First Polar Bear (Nanugiurutiga)
    Students learn about the significance of hunting to Inuit culture and discuss the threats to the survival of the polar bear: hunting and global warming.
  • Dog Team (Qimuksik)Students learn about Inuit culture, including the use of dog teams for transportation.

Lessons from this collection meet the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12. Some also meet the Life Science and Science in Social and Personal Perspectives content standards of the National Science Education Standards for grades K-5 and 5-8.

Inuit Peoples (Grade 4 and up)
This lesson plan describes a cooperative learning project where students select tasks that reflect multiple intelligences and learning interests.

Biomes: Land of the Inuit (Grades 6-8; modify for elementary students)
Students view a Discovery Education video, compare present-day Inuit to their ancestors, explore the Inuit’s relationship with the environment, and create a classroom gallery of Inuit art. This lesson meets the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standard of the National Science Education Standards for grades 5-8.


Native American Cultures Across the U.S. (Grades 3-5)
A general lesson introducing the diversity of First Americans across the United States. The lesson includes resources for teachers about teaching Native American culture without stereotyping and lists of appropriate children’s literature. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Native Americans Today (Grades 3-5)
Many people think that Native Americans are a vanished people-that they do not exist in the present day. Using this lesson plan, teachers can use photo essays and other texts to introduce students to Native children and their families, thereby countering the idea that Native people no longer exist. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright October 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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