Lesson Plan:

Observe Indigenous People's Day by Learning about Borrowed Words from Native American Languages

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October 5, 2016
by Maggie Knutson

Learning Objectives

Students will learn that many of the words we use every day come from North American indigenous languages. Students will design a page for a book based on one word from an indigenous language, including a picture of the item, the original word, the native language, and its translation.


Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Ask students “Who knows one language?”
  • Ask students “Who knows two languages?”
  • Ask students “Who knows more than two languages?”
  • Explain that languages are a collection of words that work together to convey ideas.
  • Explain that languages are dynamic, or always changing, and that American English, because we have had citizens from so many different countries, has many everyday words that DERIVE from other languages. For example, alligator, mosquito and taco are all Spanish words. Stripe, cookie and waffle are all Dutch/Flemish. Pretzel, pumpernickel and sauerkraut are all German words. Gazelle, bazaar and caravan are all Arabic. Gorilla, gumbo and zombie are all from African languages.
  • Explain that students will be studying the ETYMOLOGY of words that have derived from indigenous languages. Tell students that etymology means “the study of where words come from”.

Explicit Instruction/Teacher Modeling (10 minutes)

  • Explain that you will be honoring Indigenous People’s Day. Many Native American tribes struggle to keep their traditional languages alive in their communities. Today we are going to learn many different words that come from Native American Languages. The word “hurricane” comes from a language spoken by several indigenous tribes of the Southwest.
  • As a class, look up the word “hurricane”. Tell them you are researching the etymology of the word and will take notes on the Etymology Research Page together. Project the sheet for the class to follow along. Together, answer the questions about the word “hurricane”.
  • Call on a students to come to the front and follow the steps to create the page for your class book or if you are pressed for time, do this step yourself.

Guided Practice/Interactive Modeling (15 minutes)

  • Pass out the Etymology Research Page so that each student has one.
  • Assign each student a word, or pick names randomly and have them select words. Be sure there that each word is chosen by only one student, unless you choose to have them work in pairs).
  • Have students use dictionaries or the internet to research their word. Circulate around the room to support students.

Independent Working Time (20 minutes)

  • Students continue to work independently, researching their words and creating their pages for the class book, following the instructions on the page.
  • Ensure that art supplies are accessible.




  • Have students research other words used in the United States that come from other languages Support:
  • Have students work in pairs
  • Provide the information rather than having students research the word
  • Create a template for students to create their page in the book to guide them to include all of the necessary information

Technology Integration

  • Have students use the internet to research their words.

Related Books and/or Media


Assessment (10 minutes)

  • Use the pages that students create to assess student learning. Note whether the picture matches the word and that they included all of the relevant information.
  • (Optional: Have students share their page in small groups or with the whole class)

Review and Closing (5 minutes)

  • Who remembers what etymology means?
  • Why are there so many words from other languages in our American English?
  • What is your favorite word derived from languages of Indigenous people?
  • Explain that by acknowledging the linguistic (language) contributions of Native Americans we are honoring Indigenous People’s Day.

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