Native American Corn Grinding Activity

I'm linking up with Amanda for her second Friday Flashback.

When we are in the Southwest region of our Native American unit, I take the kids outside (while the weather is still nice!) and we grind corn to get a feel for what it would have been like.

Materials needed:
One rock per student, fist size or larger
One tub per group to hold materials (I use a plastic dish pan - $1.98 each)
Ears of squirrel corn, two or three per group (I end up getting two bags for ~60 students)
Cup and/or Ziploc to hold ground corn, one per group

I assemble students into groups of four and give each group a tub with the following materials - one rock per student, two to three ears of corn, a cup and a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag. We go outside and choose a square on the sidewalk for each group. I do not offer any advice or tips. I let them figure out techniques and such on their own. I give them about a half-hour, and they need to get the ground corn into the cup/Ziploc. Then we come inside (after stopping by the restroom to wash up) and discuss things like if we would like this for a daily job, if it was harder/easier than expected, what techniques were successful, etc.

This is what I overheard this year:
  • "It was hard because it would go all over." - This is from the first "bashing" technique that they try. They always start with bashing. Then they gradually decide that grinding works very well, just like they saw in a video. What a coincidence!!
  • "I thought that ladies were supposed to do this." - From an ELL student who ended up being really good at it and thought that he would have liked this job. He also said that he probably wouldn't have had the opportunity because he would have to hunt.
  • Discussions of which rocks would be more suitable for arrowheads or scraping, rather than grinding (the smoother rocks tend to work better).
  • "Teamwork is always important."
  • "It's so hard to get in a good position."
  • "Indians worked really hard."
  • "I don't like chunky bread." - I told them the more fine the meal, the smoother the bread. Note: We didn't make this into bread for obvious reasons, but I spoke about it as if we could.
And my favorite:
  • "One hundred kernels of corn on the ground, one hundred kernels of corn. Take one down and smash it around, ninety-nine kernels of corn on the ground." -  This led to a great discussion on why people sing when they work, especially during repetitive tasks.

Using flat rocks and dried corn, students get an idea of how it is to grind corn

Native Americans Linky


  1. What a wonderful activity! I love all of their comments...especially the song! ;) Thanks for linking up and sharing, Diane!

    Teaching Maddeness

  2. I'm getting ready to do this for my observation lesson next week! We are finishing our unit on Native Americans, and this will be a great way to give the kids that experience of what Native American life was really like! Thanks for sharing this!

  3. This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you!

  4. Hi Diane,
    Great idea---I do a Native American music unit with my fourth graders who will love this idea. Question: what video did you use to demonstrate corn grinding techniques?
    Thank you,


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