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        I'll Take Mannahatta

        In this lesson students learn about the original ecology of Manhattan and about the Lenape, the native people who inhabited the island for thousands of years before the arrival of the Dutch in 1609.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson students learn about the original ecology of Manhattan, or “Mannahatta” as it was known to the native Lenape Indians. After watching a video that describes the diverse ecosystem of the island in 1609, the time of Henry Hudson's historic expedition, students create a mural depicting life in Mannahatta prior to Hudson's arrival. As an assessment, students write two journal entries: one from the point of view of a crew member on Henry Hudson's ship, and the other describing what they would see on a visit to Manhattan today.


        • Describe the landscape, flora and fauna of Manhattan in 1609
        • Create a mural depicting the landscape, flora and fauna of Manhattan as Henry Hudson experienced it when he arrived in 1609
        • Compare and contrast Manhattan in 1609 with Manhattan today

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        (1-2) 50-minute session(s)

        Media Resources

        Mannahatta 1609


        Web Sites


        Illustrations of Native/Lenape people

        Lenape Information

        Before The Lesson

        • Using the links provided, print a photo of contemporary Manhattan and an illustration or painting of the Lenape and glue them onto cardstock. You may want to make multiple copies to circulate or assemble cardstock displays where students can examine and discuss.
        • For a deeper understanding of the Lenape, you may want to arrange a learning center in your classroom with grade-appropriate books and illustrations about the Lenape and Mannahatta.

        The Lesson

        Introductory Activity

        1. Write the name “Mannahatta” on the board. Ask students if this name reminds them of any other name they’ve heard or seen. Once “Manhattan” is volunteered let them know “Mannahatta” means “island of many hills” and was the original name of Manhattan Island. Ask students if they have any ideas as to who might have given Manhattan its first name. Take responses and discuss. Ask students to jot down or remember their answers for later.

        2. Either introduce or review with students that Manhattan is an island and is today one of the five boroughs of New York City. Show the picture of Manhattan today. Provide adequate time for students to examine the photo(s) and share their comments.

        3. Continue by asking students to share what they know about Manhattan (New York City). Take as many responses as possible. Some responses may be: a big city, skyscrapers, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the subway, or the “Big Apple.” Write each response for students to see. Tell students that many of the things they suggested are things we know and enjoy today. Then ask students if they have ever thought about what Manhattan might have looked like before these things existed. What was Manhattan like before it was a big city?

        Mannahatta Island and the Lenape

        1. Tell students that they are going to watch a video that gives an idea of what Manhattan was like over 400 years ago. Distribute the Mannahatta to Manhattan Organizer. Tell students that later they will be making a mural of early Mannahatta. Ask them to use the organizer to take notes on what they see in the video. Explain that these notes will help them to create the mural.

        2. Write the questions below on the board. Ask students to focus on the answers to these questions while watching the video.

        • What was Mannahatta like? Describe the land.
        • What animals, plants and trees lived on Mannahatta?

        Note: At this time, depending on the skill level of your class, you may choose to have the students view the video in its entirety once before proceeding with steps 3-5. After the initial viewing, you may say “Now we are going to watch the video again to look for and record the answers to the questions on the board.

        3. Play the Mannahatta 1609 Video, pausing as necessary to allow students time to write on their organizers. Ask students if they were surprised by what they saw in the video. Discuss student comments and responses to the questions above. Work with students to complete the land, plants and animal rows on their organizers. Some answers found in the video include:

        • Land: streams and beaches, big blue harbor, forested hills
        • Animals: Black bears, wolves, mountain lions, whales, porpoises, schools of blue fish
        • Plants: American Chestnut trees, Turkish wheat (corn)

        4. Next, tell students they’re going to watch the video again but this time they should focus on the people who lived on Mannahatta Island. Ask students to listen for their name and to jot down any details about them to discuss later. Re-play “Mannahatta 1609.”

        5. After the video ask students who lived on Mannahatta Island. Write the name “The Lenape” on the board. Ask students to share any details they remember from the video and discuss.

        Note: At this time you may want to introduce additional sources of information about the Lenape and invite students to add this information to their organizers.

        6. Play the video for students once again, this time providing a different focus. Ask students to listen for the reason why it’s difficult to see evidence of old Mannahatta Island in present-day Manhattan. Afterwards, ask students: Is it difficult to imagine Manhattan looking like Mannahatta?

        7. Using the video, images of the Lenape, and any additional information you provide, students create a mural showing early Mannahatta, including the land, plants, animals, and people who lived there. It may be helpful to organize students into groups dedicated to drawing specific sections or aspects of the mural.

        Optional: For additional details about Mannahatta plants and animals, go to the flora and fauna page on the Mannahatta Project website: Once you click on a link for an animal, the Animal Diversity web site will open with a photo and additional information. Students may also cut and paste printed images from other sources for the mural.

        8. Instruct students to draw land formations such as hills, ponds, streams, and the shore line, and to include plant life and animals in the scene. Students should show the Lenape people, the type of houses they lived in, and an activity they engaged in such as hunting or fishing. Encourage students to use their organizers as a reference for what they want to include on the mural.

        Optional: To illustrate the contrast between early Mannahatta and Manhattan today, students can create a section of the mural that depicts present-day Manhattan.


        1. Distribute the Mannahatta to Manhattan Journal Activity.

        2. Either in class or for homework, students write two journal entries: one describing what a crew member on Henry Hudson's ship might have seen or experienced on Mannahatta in 1609, and another describing what they might experience on a visit to Manhattan today. Use the rubric to assess student work.

        3. After students have completed their journal entries, initiate a class discussion in which students compare and contrast Mannahatta in 1609 with present-day Manhattan. Suggested questions to stimulate the discussion include:

        • What did Henry Hudson and his crew find on Mannahatta when they arrived there in 1609? What did they see in the water surrounding the island? What kinds of animals did they see on the island? What did the landscape look like? What kinds of buildings did they find?
        • What would you see if you were to visit Manhattan today? What would you see in the water surrounding the island? What kind of animals would you find in Manhattan today? What does the landscape look like now? What type of buildings do you see?
        • What do you think brought about this change? (Student responses may include: increase in the population of the area, the need to clear land to build homes and towns, the development of farming and industry to provide food and goods, and the development of the area as a port.)


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