Detectives of the Past: Chaco Culture National Historical Park


Students will demonstrate basic skills in analyzing artifacts. Students will demonstrate deductive skills by drawing conclusions about a culture based on its artifacts.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • America the Beautiful Quarters


  • Students will demonstrate basic skills in analyzing artifacts.
  • Students will demonstrate deductive skills by drawing conclusions about a culture based on its artifacts.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts


  • 9th
  • 10th
  • 11th
  • 12th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Four
  • Session Length: 45-60 minutes
  • Total Length: 151-500 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

  • Archaeology
  • Artifacts
  • Archaeological sites

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse
  • Reverse
  • Prehistory
  • History


  • 1 overhead projector or other classroom technology
  • 1 overhead transparency (or equivalent) of each of the following:
    • "Chaco Culture National Historical Park Quarter" page
    • "Did You Know…" page
  • Copies of the following:
    • "Detectives of the Past" worksheet
    • "Detectives of the Past" answer sheet
    • "Detectives of the Past Rubric"
  • 1 class map of the United States of America
  • Access to video clips of Chaco Canyon
  • Age-appropriate materials for student research on the Chaco culture, such as Internet sites, videos, textbooks, reference materials, and other texts
  • 1 computer with Internet access
  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Access to a computer lab
  • Highlighters
  • A box of transparencies or multimedia tools


  • Make copies of the following:
    • "Detectives of the Past" worksheet (1 per student)
    • "Detectives of the Past Rubric" (1 per student)
  • Make overhead transparencies (or equivalent) of the following:
    • "Chaco Culture National Historical Park Quarter" page
    • "Did You Know…" worksheet
  • Bookmark a video of Chaco Canyon.
  • Have paper, markers, highlighters, and transparencies ready for class use.
  • Reserve computer lab for session 3.
  • Bookmark Internet sites that focus on Chaco Canyon culture.
  • Prepare chart paper for the beginning of session 2.


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

  1. Discuss with the class what they know about archaeology and what an artifact is. Include questions about the responsibilities of an archaeologist, what constitutes a dig, how a site's grid is established, and the ways artifacts are dated. Record responses on chart paper.
  2. Review any famous archeological sites that were discussed in previous lessons. Note any similarities and differences that exist among the sites of Egypt, India, and China.
  3. Display the "Chaco Culture National Historical Park Quarter" overhead transparency. Describe the America the Beautiful Quarters® program for background information. (The program is described at Explain that the back of a coin is called the reverse, and "obverse" is another name for the front. With the students, examine the quarter's design.
  4. Display the top part of the "Did You Know…" page, which features: "Prehistory and History." Discuss the key points.
  5. Display the rest of the "Did You Know…." page on "Chaco Culture Excavation." Lead the class to state the importance of this archaeological dig. Emphasize the fact that this excavation, in its early stages, yielded thousands of artifacts for archaeologists to examine. All artifacts were prehistoric and therefore required extensive study.
  6. Show the class the bookmarked video of Chaco Canyon. While the video is playing, have students record five main ideas. Have students present these main ideas in a class discussion following the video.

Session 2

  1. Review the previous class session, focusing on the main ideas that students gathered from the video. Place the class into groups. Have each group determine who its presenter, encourager, and director will be. (The director will keep the group focused and moving in a timely manner. The encourager will reassure the group of their efforts. The presenter will summarize the group's findings in the class discussion following the completion of the assignment.) Each person in the group will be their own recorder. Students have the benefit of the group's analysis but are challenged to stay on task.
  2. Each group is to act as archaeologists who were part of the excavation team that initially uncovered the Chaco Canyon. Present each student with the worksheet "Detectives of the Past" and "Detectives of the Past Rubric." Students are to analyze the artifacts in column 1 and then complete the second column without doing any research. They are to draw their own conclusions about the Chaco culture.
  3. After the groups have completed their assignment, have the presenter from each group summarize their findings and then present them the class. Record the groups' findings on chart paper in a 3-column format like the worksheets.

Session 3

  1. Display the charts from the previous session and review the information. Have the students pay attention to not only the scientists' findings but also their methods and accuracy.
  2. Take the students to the computer lab to research the accuracy of their predictions.
  3. Students may work individually or in pairs depending upon the number of computers or resources available.
  4. Students will continue to use their worksheet "Detectives of the Past" to complete the third column of the sheet. Have the students research the same questions they answered in column 2. These answers will be based on the findings of archaeologists who have studied the Chaco people for decades.
  5. When the students have completed the third column, have them individually or in pairs analyze the differences between the two columns. Have them mark with a highlighter the conclusions in column 2 that were accurate based on their research.
  6. Focus on the class chart from the previous session. Discuss the findings that were accurate and those that were erroneous. Mark with a highlighter those conclusions that were accurate from the research of this day's session. The final discussion should center upon the methods and accuracy of archaeologists.

Session 4

  1. Review the information from the previous session.
  2. Explain to the class that around the year 1140, this complex social system unraveled and collapsed. Some of the population moved to new areas while others didn't survive. Ask students what may have caused this decline. Write the information and question on chart paper.
  3. Divide the class into four groups. Each group is to research the assigned areas of investigation: geography/climate/geology, daily life/subsistence, technology, and trade.
  4. Each group is to prepare a written report on the topic assigned, summarizing its investigation, and providing illustrations. Pictures are to be printed and shared with the entire class. As an option, students may create multimedia presentations to present their information. Included in the summary must be the answer to the question "In the area the group researched, what would explain the decline of this complex society?"
  5. Upon completion of the research, the class will come together in a large group session. The presenter from each group will summarize the findings, show the pictures through transparencies or multimedia, and then answer the question of what caused the decline of the Chaco culture.
  6. After the presentations, collect the printed pictures and summaries. Collate them into a scrap book and make individual copies for the students.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students to have extended time if needed.
  • Allow students to use a scribe to complete their worksheets.


  • Have students create cave paintings to explain the exodus of the Chaco people from their settlements in Chaco Canyon. Students may then exchange these cave paintings and write explanations, as archaeologists, about their interpretation of these drawings.
  • Have students create picture books and summaries of the Chaco culture to read to lower grade level students.

Technology Extensions

Have students create a video commercial attracting tourists to Chaco Canyon.


  • Take anecdotal notes about the students' participation in class.
  • Evaluate the students' worksheets and projects for understanding of the lesson objectives.
  • Use the rubric to evaluate the final project.

Common Core Standards

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.9-10 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • RI.9-10.7. Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
  • RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
  • RI.9-10.9. Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: L.9-10 Language
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Conventions of Standard English

  • L.9-10.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • Use parallel structure.
    • Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.
  • L.9-10.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • Use a semicolon (and perhaps a conjunctive adverb) to link two or more closely related independent clauses.
    • Use a colon to introduce a list or quotation.
    • Spell correctly.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.9-10 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Craft and Structure

  • RI.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
  • RI.9-10.5. Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
  • RI.9-10.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.9-10 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

  • RI.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.9-10.2. Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RI.9-10.3. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: SL.9-10 Speaking and Listening
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

  • SL.9-10.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
  • SL.9-10.5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
  • SL.9-10.6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9–10 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.9-10 Writing
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Production and Distribution of Writing

  • W.9-10.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
  • W.9-10.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10.)
  • W.9-10.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.9-10 Writing
Grade(s): Grades 9– 10
Cluster: Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • W.9-10.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • W.9-10.8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • W.9-10.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    • Apply grades 9–10 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work [e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare]”).
    • Apply grades 9–10 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning”).

National Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.