Using Archaeology to Learn about Wisconsin’s First People Lesson Plan

Mike Madden

Sevastopol School District

(thanks to Greg Attleson at Viroqua Middle School for cookie shard reconstruction ideas)







Directions for Making Cookie Shards

Cookie Shard Designs


Students will understand how archaeologists use artifacts to hypothesize about the lives of early people.

Students will increase their understanding of the lives of Wisconsin’s first people, noticing similarities and differences from their own lives.

Students will classify “cookie pottery shards” and identify the time period of the “pottery” during a simulated archaeology activity.

State Standards:

Social Studies/History Fourth-Grade Performance Standards

B.4.1 Identify and examine various sources of information that are used for constructing an understanding of the past, such as artifacts, documents, letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, paintings, architecture, oral presentations, graphs, and charts.

B.4.4 Compare and contrast changes in contemporary life with life in the past by looking at social, economic, political, and cultural roles played by individuals and groups.

Social Studies/Behavioral Sciences Fourth-Grade Performance Standards

E.4.13 Investigate and explain similarities and differences in ways that cultures meet human needs.


Cookie shards made in various patterns (directions for making cookies are below)

Copy of “Cookie Shards Artifact Reconstruction” patterns and time periods

Video Investigating Wisconsin History: The First Peoples of Wisconsin

Field trip to Whitefish Dunes State Park, Roche a Cri State Park, or the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum’s display of preshistoric Wisconsin Native People


1.         The teacher invites students to suggest how we know about the lives of the first people from Wisconsin when the early people left no written records. Remind students that whatever the first people left behind would have to survive for thousands of years (possible ideas: stone spear points or tools, bones, or pottery shards). Students pair-share, then each pair offers an idea. The teacher records student ideas on large chart paper.


2.        The teacher introduces students to pottery that early Woodland, Oneota, and Mississippian people made through drawings of each type (see Digging and Discovery: Wisconsin Archaeology, 1997, pages 27 and 36 for examples). The teacher asks students how they might use pottery today and how early people might have used pottery. Students pair-share responses, then each pair offers an idea. Ideas are added to the class chart.


3.         The teacher then displays a transparency of various “pottery patterns” and the years the patterns were used (see the “Cookie Shards Artifact Reconstruction” patterns and time periods below). The teacher then distributes a plastic bag of cookie shards to each pair of students and challenges the students to put their pieces together, identify the pottery pattern, and the years the pattern was made. Explain to students that not all pieces may be included in the bag because often archaeologists could find only pieces of pottery and other artifacts. Remind students they must wait to eat their “cookie shards” until after everyone has shared their conclusions with the class. As the students complete the task, the teacher questions pairs of students about the pattern they find and what led to their classification.


4.         The teacher records the results from each pair of students and their classification of their “cookie shards” on the transparency. The pottery patterns include:

            Late Iced Age approximately 8000 B.C.

            Early Archwayic approximately 7000 B.C.

            Middle Archwayic approximately 5000 B.C.

            Late Archwayic approximately 3000 B.C.

            Classic Keebler approximately 500 B. C.

            Late Keebler approximately 300 A.D.

            Post Keebler approximately 800 A.D.

            Nabiscoan approximately 1100 A.D.


5.         The teacher questions what students learned from the “cookie shard” activity and how archaeologists use pottery shards and other artifacts to learn more about the lives of the first people who lived in Wisconsin. The students pair-share, then the teacher records students’ responses on large chart paper.


6.         The teacher introduces the video Investigating Wisconsin History: The First Peoples of Wisconsin by encouraging students to watch for additional ways we can learn about the first people of Wisconsin. Following the video, the teacher records students’ ideas for additional evidence we have for the lifestyles of Wisconsin’s early people (examples: rock art, effigy mounds, oral stories, and artifacts such as tools and pottery shards).


7.         As a culminating activity, guide students on a field trip to Whitefish Dunes State Park to learn about the 1992 archaeological dig and the artifacts found in the park behind the nature center. The students could also see and learn about the recreated miniature Woodland fishing village and the Oneota farming family living area. Focus on how the first people of Wisconsin met their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter and compare to how students meet these needs today. Alternative class field trips might include the Roche a Cri State Park to examine the rock art found there which provides some insight into the lives of the Ho-Chunk people’s ancestors. Yet another field trip may be taken to the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum in Madison to view the exhibit on Wisconsin’s prehistoric people. Encourage students to summarize what they learned about the lifestyles of the first people to live in the area and compare to their own lives.


8.         Following the field trip, record on large chart paper additional ideas students gained regarding how archaeologists learned about the lives of Wisconsin’s first people and important characteristics of the state’s earliest residents. Ask students to work in small groups to create a model village illustrating the homes and lifestyle of Wisconsin’s first people. They should use materials from nature, such as wood, stones, and sand in their models. They may refer to the class chart for ideas as they create their model.


Review each group’s model village for appropriate ideas and concepts of the lifestyle of Wisconsin’s first people.

Directions for making Cookie Shards


1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup white sugar

1/4 cup molasses

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup butter

4 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon ginger

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and molasses and mix well. Sift together dry ingredients. Add these to mixture 1 cup at a time. Chill overnight in refrigerator. Roll thin and cut with large round gallon jar lid. Use a fork, knife, toothpicks, or cookie cutters to make the various pottery designs on the cookies before baking. Bake at 350 degrees until brown.

After baking, break the cookies into 9 or 10 pieces and place in a plastic baggie.

Cookie Shard Designs



Late Iced Age

Approx. 8000 B.C.

Early Archwayic

Approx. 7000 B.C.

Middle Archwayic

Approx. 5000 B.C.

Late Archwayic

Approx. 3000 B.C.

Classic Keebler

Approx. 500 B.C.

Late Keebler

Approx. 300 A.D.

Post Keebler

Approx. 800 A.D.


Approx. 1100 A.D.

Wisconsin Studies

Teaching Social Studies