TBH Lesson Plan

Lesson Title:
Cabeza de Vaca Meets the Coahuiltecans

Subjects:Texas History and Geography

Grade level: 4th (Can easily be adapted for 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th grades)

Rationale: The historical record is immense, containing countless pieces of evidence about the past. In today’s world of information overload, students must learn to distinguish the difference between primary sources, such as Cabeza de Vaca’s journal, La Relación, (The Account) and secondary sources, such as their history books or the posters they will create in this lesson.


Lesson Duration: Two 45 minute class periods or one 90 minute block period

Objectives: Students will create a poster portraying the cultures of Coahuiltecan Indian groups in south Texas during the 16th century, based on the journal of Cabeza de Vaca. Students will work in cooperative groups to:

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS):4th Grade

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS):7th Grade

Activity - Part 1

Step 1: Introduce Cabeza de Vaca as the Spanish explorer who came to America from Spain in 1527 and wandered, lost, across what is now Texas and Mexico for nine years before returning to his native Spain. Explain that during his Texas travels, Cabeza de Vaca encountered several different groups of Indians. We use the geographic term Coahuiltecans to describe these native groups because they lived in the region that is now part of Coahuila, Mexico, as well as south Texas. Some of the native groups, however, had different traditions, spoke different languages, and had different names for themselves. Explain that students will work in cooperative groups to create posters illustrating Cabeza de Vaca’s experiences among the Coahuiltecans.

Step 2: Have students do some basic “who, what, where, when” research on the Coahuiltecan Indian groups using textbook, library books, or the Internet. Have them record their answers on paper.
Some useful webites include:

Texas Beyond History’s illustrated look at various Coahuiltecan groups of the South Texas Plains

The Handbook of Texas Online

This page from the Texas Indians website provides more detail on Coahuiltecan groups

Step 3: Distribute the Texas map student handout to all students and explain that in their groups, only one group member’s map will be used on that group’s poster (the students will choose which map – see step 6). Using information from their textbooks or the Internet, have students label their maps with the following:

  • Map title – Coahuiltecans of the South Texas Plains
  • Rio Grande
  • Coahuiltecan habitat (labeled, outlined, and colored on their maps
  • Compass rose
  • Step 3: Have students get into groups of 3 or 4.

    Step 5: Ask for a volunteer to describe the difference between primary and secondary source documents. Explain that after Cabeza de Vaca finally returned to Spain, he wrote of his American travels in a book called La Relación, which was published in 1538. Ask students whether this book is a primary or secondary source document. (primary) Point out these readings were translated by a scholar and that all translations of this journal differ slightly.

    Step 6: Explain that each group will illustrate a different section of Cabeza de Vaca’s journal for their posters. These posters will be secondary source documents.

    Step 7: Distribute one posterboard to each group. Instruct groups to decide which of their group member’s maps they want to include on their poster and glue it on their posterboard.

    Step 8: Distribute one La Relación reading to each group and have group members work together to illustrate the reading. The illustration can be drawn directly on the poster, or on paper, which can then be glued to the poster. Completed posters should contain:

  • An appropriate title for the reading
  • A map of the Coahuiltecan Indian groups’ range
  • The La Relación reading
  • Illustrations of the reading
  • Step 9: Have a representative from each group present that group’s poster to the class and ask the following questions of each?

  • How did your group choose what to illustrate from your reading?
  • In historic terms, what was the most significant part of your reading? Explain why.
  • How did your group’s initial research of the Coahuiltecan Indian groups compare to Cabeza de Vaca’s accounts of them?
  • Modification: Highlight portions of the readings for special needs students. Gifted & talented students can research the Karankawa or Jumano Indians, both of which were encountered by Cabeza de Vaca in Texas.

    Student Product:

  • Research information on the Coahuiltecan Indian groups
  • Illustrated poster of Cabeza de Vaca’s experience among the Coahuiltecan Indians groups including a map of their range in Texas
  • Closure: Have students list three things they would miss most about their current lives if they were stranded in a strange country for nine years.

    Assessment or evaluation: Ask students how Cabeza de Vaca’s experience would have differed had he been stranded in the East Texas Pineywoods, the Panhandle, or the Trans-Pecos regions of Texas.


  • This lesson can also be adapted to the Jumano Indians encountered by Cabeza de Vaca near Junta de los Rios in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas and the Karankawa Indians he encountered in the Coastal Plains region.
  • For fun, colorful, and bilingual online activities dealing with Cabeza de Vaca’s experience in Texas, be sure to go to Through the Eyes of the Explorer: Cabeza de Vaca on the South Texas Plains http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/st-plains/kids/cabeza-south/cdv_mainpage.html.
  • The full text of Cabeza de Vaca’s journal, La Relación, can be viewed at www.library.txstate.edu/swwc/cdv
  • Carol Schlenk
    Texas Archeological Research Laboratory
    University of Texas at Austin

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