Learn to Speak Abenaki

Grades: 4-6

Subjects: Social Studies

Concepts: Deeper understanding of communication between European colonists and Native Americans, Abenaki language

Skills: Verbal and non verbal communication, Vocabulary, script writing

Materials: Handout of Abenaki vocabulary list and pronunciation guide

Time: 1-2 class periods

Focus Questions

  • How did colonial settlers communicate with the native inhabitants?
  • What kinds of cultural exchanges occurred between colonists and Native Americans, especially the Abenaki?

Instructional Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the aspects of verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Create a hypothetical conversation between an English colonist and an Abenaki Indian
  • Communicate by speaking with some Abenaki vocabulary
  • Perform their conversation in front of the class
Rationale and Background
Connection to the NH Framework Proficiencies

Introductory Activity

  1. Ask students “How do you communicate with the people around you?” Encourage them to expand on their likely initial response of “by using words”.
  2. Have them brainstorm non verbal ways they communicate. One way to get the ideas flowing is to smile and wave at students; then ask them what you were “saying.”
  3. Other examples are waving goodbye, pointing, winking, shaking/nodding the head, shaking hands, patting the shoulder, wagging a finger, making a V with your fingers, making circles next to the ear, blowing kisses etc.
Instructional Resources or Materials

Instructional Procedure

Shift students’ attention to the colonial period at the time when colonists first encountered Native Americans and continued to make contact as they moved west in search of new land.

Set the Stage

Ask them to imagine that they are colonial settlers in New England who are meeting Abenaki Indians for the first time.

How did they communicate?

Point out that while initially a lot of gestures were used, some colonists learned Abenaki vocabulary, just as some Abenaki learned English words.

Ask students about the impact of language exchange and the sharing of ideas from different cultures.

In the colonial period, these exchanges likely took place at trading posts as the two groups transacted business. Sometimes exchanges occurred when colonists were taken captive and sold to the French during the series of French and Indian Wars. Phineas Stevens from Fort No. 4 in Charlestown, New Hampshire is an example of a colonist who learned Abenaki words during his captivity as a young man. Like other colonists of his time, Stevens used that knowledge throughout his life to trade and negotiate with the Abenaki tribe.

Speak the Language

Explain to students that they have an opportunity to learn some Abenaki vocabulary that is still spoken by some people.

Distribute the handout: Alnôbaôdwa! Speak Abenaki! and review the directions at the top of the page. Go over the pronunciation guide at the bottom of the page.

Give the partners time to write their dialogue and help with pronunciation where needed.

Have the partners perform their conversations in front of the class. If time permits, allow the teams to gather and use props to add to their presentation.

Concluding Discussion questions

Engage students in a whole class discussion about how colonists and Native Americans communicated with one another and draw parallels to students’ lives and other examples of contact between different groups.


Student performance and script of their dialogue.

Assessment Rubric for script

Level 4

Student completed all parts of the assignment. A high number of vocabulary terms were used in a creative way and in a historically accurate context. Setting was very appropriate and imaginative.

Level 3

Student completed all parts of the assignment. Many vocabulary terms were used creatively in a historically accurate context with little error. Setting was appropriate.

Level 2

Student did not complete all parts of the assignment. Some vocabulary terms were used. Dialogue was not fully accurate for the historical time period. Setting did not entirely match the dialogue.

Level 1

Student response showed significant gaps. One to two vocabulary terms were used with little to no connection to the historical era. Setting was inappropriate.

Curriculum Modifications/Extension