Creating Meaning at a Sixth-Grade Level

Guest blogger: Krista Betcher, Northfield Middle School

Every year, I am reminded at how little background knowledge my students have in history — especially Minnesota History and specifically Dakota and Ojibwe. In that light, I am constantly seeking out resources and tools to help my students create meaning at their level. I’ll share a few of my favorite resources and also some student work samples.

Every year, I use three books by Kathy-jo Wargin: The Legend of Minnesota, The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper, and The Legend of the Loon. The messages in these books are simple, yet complex. I use them in the Early Dakota and Early Ojibwe chapters, as a way to show the importance of family, tradition, respect, and spiritual beliefs to the Dakota and Ojibwe. In my opinion, creating the foundation of Early Dakota and Early Ojibwe is critical to student understanding of the U.S.-Dakota War and beyond. I am constantly going back to the foundation we build in early chapters-to help students analyze and evaluate the “how” and “why” of historical events and even to support a present-day awareness of current events related to Dakota and Ojibwe.

Another book I use when teaching early history is Tatanka and the Lakota People. This is the Dakota creation story; I really love the way it is written in English on one side and Dakota on the other side. It’s just one more resource that helps students create their own understanding of Early Dakota.

student maps
Student work, courtesy Krista Betcher.

Map creation is a big part of my classroom. The resource I’ve used is the “True North: Mapping Minnesota’s History” website through the Minnesota Historical Society, but unfortunately it’s being updated and is not currently available. I’m anxious to access it again, on the new platform! As we progress through the textbook, I always go back and refer to previous student-created maps. For instance, when talking about the treaties, I refer back to the maps they created for Early Dakota and Ojibwe Migration (see the two examples). This allows my students to see, through their own creation, how life changed through history for the Dakota and Ojibwe.

student maps 2
Student work, courtesy Krista Betcher.

This year, I had my students create “stop motion” videos of their treaty map. I am sharing three examples: one is an iMovie trailer and the other two are stop motion videos (video 1 and video 2). These three examples are a good snapshot of how my students are creating their own understanding. One map example is at right, and I really like the visual impact of the stop motion movie in conjunction with the map.

Growing up, I hated history, because it was “read the textbook, answer the questions at the back of the book, take a test……then repeat.” I never created meaning from history, the way it was taught. Now, I am blessed to teach Minnesota History, and it’s my mission to help history become real and meaningful to my students. In my classroom, with varied resources and technology, I am helping my students create their own understanding of Minnesota History and specifically Dakota and Ojibwe history.


Montileaux, Donald F. Tatanka and the Lakota People: A Creation Story. Pierre, SD: South Dakota State Historical Society, 2006. Print.

Wargin, Kathy-jo, and David Geister. The Legend of Minnesota. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2006. Print.

Wargin, Kathy-jo, and Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen. The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2001. Print.

Wargin, Kathy-jo, and Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen. The Legend of the Loon. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2000. Print.

3 thoughts on “Creating Meaning at a Sixth-Grade Level

  1. Thank you Krista for the list of books to use for 6th graders. This is my first year teaching this grade level. It has been difficult to find activities and readings for MN that isn’t our textbooks. My students love listening to stories still at this age. These books are already in my Amazon Prime now for next year!


  2. I have used one of the books you listed, but will make sure to check out the others! Thanks! And yes, I agree, 6th graders come in with very little historical knowledge, which is why it’s so important for us to get them hooked and curious about history!


  3. I agree with Sara. These are great resources, thanks Krista! I also teach 6th grade and am always looking for sources that are at their reading levels but still engaging.


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