I like to start every unit by assessing the students to find out what they already know about the subject matter. Many of the students can tell you about Native Americans, everything from they lived in igloos to how they bow hunted wild animals. It is a priority of mine that students understand that it is possible to gather everything necessary for survival from what nature has to offer. The Native Americans epitomized this belief.
After the students relate what they know, continue by asking what the Native Americans had available. What weather, what animals, what plants, what types of water sources, etc. These are questions that can be constantly solicited throughout the unit to measure the level of comprehension. It will become obvious to the students that the specifics of each of these answers informs us as to how each tribe of Native Americans lived.
With the aid of a North American map, some key facts that students should learn can be how the first natives arrived from Asia over the Bering Straits land bridge some time during the last Ice Age, 10,000 - 30,000 years ago. They spread throughout the North and South American continents to inhabit virtually the entire western hemisphere, including some very remote islands in the Caribbean. Depending on which source one reads, the population of North and South America when Columbus set sail was somewhere between 40 and 80 million inhabitants. In 1865 by official count in the U.S. and its territories the number of indigenous peoples was reduced to some 300,000.
Handout 1 at the end of this unit is a reproducible topographical map of North America for each student. This handout can be referred to throughout the unit. Explain the map legend to the students so they can understand the geological differences between the arctic, the eastern seaboard, and the deserts. Continue with these maps by asking what would be some of the weather differences between the northern and southern regions. Ask how these features would effect the living conditions of the Native Americans. How would people live in the dense forests of the East, in the flat open Plains of the Midwest, the cold tundras of the North, and the dry deserts of the Southwest? Elicit from the children answers to these questions so that they can become problem solvers in regard to these diverse environmental conditions. Show photos of these regions so the children can get a better feel for the landscape.