California Indians

a reading lesson plan

by Beth Ericson


Step I: Prereading activities

  • Topic: Ohlone Indians, a California Tribal Group
  • Text: Short essay, The California Indians, by Beth Ericson
  • Materials: Pictures of tribal life, territorial maps, a sacred text
  • Strategies: Thinking independently, questioning deeply

Students walk around the classroom, stopping to view maps and pictures related to four topics found in the essay, "The California Indians." Students react spontaneously and intuitively to the data. It is arranged in four separate locations so students walk from place to place, speaking to classmates or not, as they wish. The teacher acts as a silent observer, noting students' reactions to the data. A question or a few words written next to each display serve as "ice breakers" for students to begin commenting on what they see.

The separate physical locations in the classroom serve as a tangible way to illustrate "topic" to students. The topics are represented throughout the lesson by these symbolic names: Turtle Nation, Habitat, Gifts for Life, and Coyote. Note that the teacher does not formally name the four topics. Instead, these symbolic names will provide clues about the topic. Students themselves will discover the topics during the course of the lesson. By walking from "topic" to "topic" in the classroom, seeing that each one is unified in content, students will get a sense of topic as a controlling feature in paragraph organization.

To close this stage of the lesson, the teacher explicitly defines "topic" and tells students to anticipate finding the four topics in the essay, "The California Indians."

Step II: Students open up their own lines of inquiry; brainstorm questions

  • Topic: as above
  • Materials: as above
  • Strategies:make inferences, make assumptions, note significant similarities and differences, based on the visual cues provided.

    Best case scenario: students will genuinely be interested in the visual material. Questions will naturally arise from their own curiosity.

    Critical thinking skill: application of onešs own knowledge and value systems to a new, unknown field of learning.

    Strategies: make assumptions, make inferences, interpret data

Students' individual backgrounds, values, and experience come into play in this step of the discovery process. A Laotian student may note the Ohlone's use of reeds and plants to construct their houses. That student is an expert in similarly built houses in Laos. She infers that the Ohlone's houses were built cooperatively, as Laotians built houses in her community of origin. A Bosnian student might focus on the maps which show territorial and linguistic boundaries between distinct tribes of Californian Indians living within a small geographical area. Such boundaries certainly exist in Serbo-Croatia today. How did the boundaries function to keep or break peace among the California Indians? The student predicts that the Ohlones had to defend their borders aggressively, but he discovers his prediction is incorrect after he reads the essay.

    Troubleshooting: problems that crop up

  • Problem: students who are accustomed to reading clear statements, memorizing facts, and repeating them fail to see this task as worthwhile.

  • Solution: Humor uncooperative students! Be sympathetic, but stick to the rigors of the task at hand. Joke with them about "old mentality" versus "new mentality."

  • Problem: students lack precise vocabulary to express complex ideas.

  • Solution: brainstorm vocabulary domains, using the visual displays as cues. Learning vocabulary domains (groups of words with fine differences in meaning and usage) is a demanding intellectual activity for ESL students. Using words precisely helps students to verbalize their thoughts.

  • Problem: students feel inhibited by their own inability to generate grammatically correct questions.

  • Solution: ask students to generate questions together (pair, group or whole class).

  • The results may not be immediately "interesting" to the teacher, i.e., the questions may be formulaic, a "prepackaged," memorized form which does not require original thought from the student. But a formulaic question can lead the student into a more demanding thought process:

    Step II, continued

    Formulaic Question

    (Student retrieves a standard question about people from her memory bank):

    A. What did they do in their free time?

    B. They played games, told stories, and danced.

    Question which promotes critical thinking

    (Student notes a ritual form of behavior and weighs its importance):

    A. Why did they wear animal masks when dancing and hunting?

    Both questions are valid, especially in the brainstorming stage of the lesson. Both questions open up a significant area of inquiry, spiritual values, which students will explore in the next stage of the lesson as they read the essay.

    To close this stage of the lesson, ask students to respond to a writing prompt in their class journals:

    Of all the questions you and other class members asked today, which question is the most interesting one to you?

    Step III: The Essay, The California Indians,

    Read the opening three paragraphs of the essay, The California Indians.

    Ask the students to read silently. Then read the paragraphs aloud to students. Allow plenty of time for this step. Use expression in your reading to help students gain insight into new vocabulary. For example, "boggle the imagination," "amazing" come to life when read aloud. Don't read the whole essay to the class. Concentrate on the first three introductory paragraphs only to establish the historical context for what follows in the essay.

    Step IV: Small Group Tasks

    Hand four students index cards. Each card has a symbolic name related to topics in the story. Card holders should represent different native countries, ages and sexes. The symbolic names on the cards are: Turtle Nation (group 1), Habitat (group 2), Gifts for Life (group 3) and Coyote (group 4).

    Members of the class self-select the group they wish to belong to. Teacher can modify group membership if the composition of the group is too homogeneous.

    Demonstrate what students are to do with their assigned paragraph(s) in the essay. First, they should reread it carefully. Students can take turns reading one sentence each, clarifying vocabulary. Second, students determine the topic and supporting details, then infer the author's point of view.

    The teacher models these tasks . She selects a symbolic name, "Mind boggle," an expression which relates to the topic of paragraph two: the Spanish explorer's amazement upon meeting the Ohlones and learning their defining characteristics.

    The unifying theme of the essay is the uniqueness of this group of people. The topic is the Ohlone's characteristics as a tribal group. The supporting details include information on the Ohlone's population density, language varieties, distinct names and territories belonging to different tribelets. The author's point of view can be inferred by such words as "boggle," "prosper," "respect" and "warfare was nonexistent."

    Each group of students works independently. The teacher circulates to troubleshoot. The teacher gives students additional sources of information (illustrations, folk tales, web site information) when appropriate.

    Step V: Listening and Note taking

    Students select one group member to paraphrase the paragraph in his or her own words. Group members check to see if the paraphrased version expresses the main idea (topic) and gives supporting details. The speaker should also tell the author's point of view. These three requirements can be divided among group members. Encourage students, even if they are shy, to take the role of speaker.

    Class members listen to the speakers and take notes. The teacher provides a grid for them to record the topic, details, and author's point of view.

    Whole class reaches agreement by referring back to the original text if necessary.

    Close this step of the lesson by assigning homework. Students will read the whole essay, review their notes, and revise them. Students will also complete vocabulary exercises and prepare study question(s) as relevant to the current interests and needs of students. (see appendix to lesson).

    Step VII: Assessment

    Students will be evaluated on their ability to understand the theme, topic, supporting details and author's point of view in a short text on a theme related to the California Indians.

    The teacher will find a news article from a web site location previously given to students, composing an adaptation if necessary. Ask students to locate the original article at the web site, print it out and compare the two versions. Students will read one or both versions independently and identify the four aspects studied in this lesson.

    End of Lesson

    Appendix: Remodeling Homework Assignments to Extend Critical Thinking Skills

    Objective: Assign homework that encourages students to apply the reading lesson to personal values, interests and other aspects of their lives.

    Approach: By silently observing students as they work in small groups, the teacher usually learns about aspects of her students' individual interests and concerns that can be addressed in the context of homework assignments.

    Strategies: Note similarities and differences of belief systems; explore implications and consequences of belief systems

    Example: California high school students often organize themselves into exclusive social groups based on linguistic ties. They are asked to comment on the benefits and drawbacks of such exclusiveness in the following homework assignment:

      Homework--Study Questions

  • Why is linguistic distinctiveness necessary to maintain a group of people's cultural identity?

  • What values and beliefs of the Ohlone Indians might be useful today? (for example, cooperative coexistence, humility)



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