Educator Resources

California Indian Acorn Culture-Teaching Activities

Lesson Plan Title: California Indian Acorn Culture

Time Allowance: 2-3 days

Concepts / Topics to Teach: Cultivation, interdependence, American Indian belief systems, granary, progressive culture

Standards Addressed:
CA History/Social Science Standard 4.2.1

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.

1. Discuss the major nations of California Indians, including their geographic distribution, economic activities, legends, and religious beliefs; and describe how they depended on, adapted to, and modified the physical environment by cultivation of land and use of sea resources.

General Goal(s):

Students will understand the importance of the acorn to California Indian Culture

Specific Objectives:

  • Students identify the human and physical characteristics of the places they are studying and explain how those features form the unique character of those places.
  • Students judge the significance of the relative location of a place (e.g., proximity to a harbor, on trade routes) and analyze how relative advantages or disadvantages can change over time.
  • Students pose relevant questions about events they encounter in historical documents, eyewitness accounts, oral histories, letters, diaries, artifacts, photographs, maps, artworks, and architecture.
  • Students conduct cost-benefit analyses of historical and current events.

Required Materials:

  • Primary sources (Photographs taken by L.D. Creel of the Bureau of Indian Affairs)
  • Written Document Analysis Worksheet
  • Materials for acorn bread (see procedures)
  • Kiln or oven
  • Craft sticks or string
  • Glue
  • Hay or shredded paper, leaves

Anticipatory Set (Lead-In):

If possible, pass out an acorn to each student. If not, have a couple in the front of the class with you.

Have the students examine the acorn and pose a few questions:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think it is?
  • What can you do with it?
  • How many possible uses do you think there are for this?

This should be a sufficient lead-in to explain how many California Indian tribes used the acorn and the importance of co-existing with your environment.

Step-By-Step Procedures:

Have students review documents and complete a document analysis worksheet for each.

You may want to have a brief discussion of the photographs to reinforce understanding.

Try the following recipe for acorn bread:

Makes one loaf.


1 cup acorn meal*
1 cup wheat flour
2 T. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 T. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
3 T. oil

*Acorn flour can be difficult to find, although it is often carried in Korean grocery stores.

Sift together acorn meal, wheat flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
In a separate bowl, mix together, egg, milk, and oil.
Combine dry ingredients and liquid ingredients.
Stir just enough to moisten dry ingredients.
Pour into a greased pan and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.

After students have reviewed the photographs and made the recipe listed above, have them discuss how the recipe above might differ from traditional California Indian ways of preparing acorn mush or bread.

Draw an acorn storage granary or a traditional oven for baking bread.

The photographs are from a report by a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee named L. D. Creel. About the Towatt family (caption 3). Mr. Creel wrote, "Although the family is one of the most progressive of any I met, the acorn is a matter of regular diet." Have students, working in groups, discuss what they think he meant by "progressive".

Plan for Independent Practice:

Assign students a short essay comparing some of the things California Indians gained with the coming of Europeans and establishment of the U.S. Government and American civilization with some of the things that Indians lost.

Closure (Reflect Anticipatory Set):

California Indians lived in close harmony with the natural world. Have students describe ways in which their own families live in harmony with the natural world as well as ways contemporary American are able (or think they are able) to ignore the cycles, seasons and changes of the natural world

Assessment Based On Objectives:

Have students think of a product that they use everyday (i.e., soap, bread, clothing, etc.). Direct them to come up with a way in which they can still obtain this product using only the natural things in their immediate environment. If possible, the students can re-create the product. However, they should be able to provide a visual display (poster, diagram, etc.) of the product. They should also accompany this with a one-page written reflection of their experience.

Adaptations (For Students With Learning Disabilities): Picture books, audio tapes, or videos about California Indians

Extensions (For Gifted Students): Instead of drawing the granary and oven, students can re-create these using craft sticks (or twine), glue, hay (or shredded paper), and leaves

Possible Connections To Other Subjects:

Science: ecosystems, using heat
Math: measuring
Art: drawing, building
Language Arts: writing