1. Analyze a map of the Atlantic Ocean.
Use an overhead projector or interactive whiteboard to display the map Trading Across the Atlantic Ocean at the front of the classroom. Ask students to identify the two landmasses and the body of water on the map as you point to them. Use the language of the cardinal directions as you discuss each. For example, the landmass on the right (east) is the continent of Europe. The landmass on the left (west) is North America. The body of water in between the two continents is the Atlantic Ocean. Ask: Where on the map did the Dutch live in the 1600s? (Europe) Where did the Native Americans live? (North America)

2. Introduce the concept of trade.

Explain to students that they will explore how Native Americans traded with Dutch Europeans in the 1600s.  Ask students if they have ever traded, or exchanged, one thing for another thing. Prompt them to think about trading one type of food for another, or money for an item they bought. Invite volunteers to give examples, and make sure all students understand the concept of trade. Then point out the huge distance across the Atlantic Ocean. Explain to students that 17th century traders carried goods all the way across the ocean, a journey that often took more than two months. Ask: Why do you think traders carried goods such a great distance? (to get new, useful things that they didn’t have at home)

3. Examine items from the 17th century Native American and Dutch cultures.
Give each student a copy of the worksheet Trade in the 1600s, which has pictures of Native American and Dutch material culture and trade goods. For each item, read aloud the label and discuss what the item is, what it was used for, and who sold it to the other—Dutch Europeans or Native Americans. For example:

  • The Dutch used a loom to make woven cloth.
  • The Native Americans used seashells to make wampum beads, a form of money.
  • The Dutch made jewelry from metal.
  • The Dutch and other European groups used beaver pelts from the Native Americans to make fur hats.
  • The Dutch produced metal pots and knives for cooking.
  • The Native Americans grew corn for food.

Discuss the motivations for trade between the two groups. Explain to students that Dutch Europeans wanted beaver pelts for making hats and corn to eat. Native Americans wanted metal tools to add to their supplies of stone tools, and woven cloth to add to the leather that they made from animal skins and used for clothing and blankets.

4.  Simulate pre-colonial trade on a map of the Atlantic Ocean.
Cut out one set of pictures from the worksheet Trade in the 1600s. Have students help you tape the cut-out pictures on the appropriate continents on the map of the Atlantic Ocean. Cut out the picture of a sailing ship on the worksheet A Sailing Ship in the 1600s. Tell students you will use the picture to move important trade goods across the Atlantic Ocean in the correct direction. Ask students to help guide you. For example, move beaver pelts and corn from North America to Europe; move knives, pots, and woven cloth from Europe to North America. Make sure students understand that Dutch traders carried goods to and from North America on sailing ships, but that Native Americans did not cross the ocean on sailing ships at this point in history.

Alternative Assessment

Have students simulate trade between Native Americans and Dutch Europeans through role play. Assign students different cultural identities and trade goods. Have each draw a picture of their assigned item and describe what it is and what it was used for to the class. Then have students role-play trading the items.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • use a map to identify North America, Europe, and the Atlantic Ocean
  • identify where on the map two cultural groups, Native Americans and Dutch Europeans, were located in the 1600s
  • explain the concept of trade and provide examples from their own lives
  • describe some trade goods from 17th century Native American and Dutch cultures
  • demonstrate geographic understanding of pre-colonial trade by simulating moving goods across the Atlantic Ocean

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 1:  How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
  • Standard 11:  The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface
  • Standard 17:  How to apply geography to interpret the past

National Standards for History

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Safety scissors
  • Transparent tape

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Interactive whiteboard, Projector

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction

Background Information

In the 17th century, Native Americans and Europeans in New Amsterdam and other parts of eastern North America traded a variety of goods. These goods included metal tools and woven cloth from the Europeans, and beaver pelts and corn from the Native Americans. By studying these goods and the movement of the goods, students learn about important aspects of pre-colonial culture and trade.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None


Atlantic Ocean

one of Earth's four oceans, separating Europe and Africa from North and South America.

cardinal direction

one of the four main points of a compass: north, east, south, west.


one of the seven main land masses on Earth.


learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.


object or service that serves a human need or want.


large area of land.


buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.


  • Maestro, Betsy and Giulio Maestro. The New Americans: Colonial Times, 1620-1689. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard: New York, 1996.