Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Pocahontas (Matoaka)
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


This lesson will emphasize that, from the beginning, women have made significant contributions to American history and philanthropy by taking a stand to support their beliefs. One of these women who showed courage to contribute to the common good was Pocahontas.


Two Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods


The learners will:
  • describe how Pocahontas contributed to the “common good” of the people of Jamestown.

  • give an example of a core democratic value exhibited through the actions of Pocahontas.

  • speculate on the cause/effect relationship of Pocahontas’ actions.


  • A reading about Pocahontas. This can be taken from a textbook, the book Sisters in Strength or Internet resources (see Bibliographical References).

  • Soundtrack “Colors of the Wind” (see Bibliographical References)

  • Student copies of Core Values of American Constitutional Democracy (see Attachment One)

  • Student copies of Pocahontas (Matoaka) and Core Democratic Values (see Attachment Two)
Handout 1
Core Values of American Constitutional Democracy
Handout 2
Pocahontas (Matoaka) and Core Democratic Values

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:
Put the word “history” on the board. Ask the learners to define the word. Put the word “herstory” next to it on the board. Ask the learners to define the word. Explain that women have made contributions to our heritage and to the common good. Define common good as something that benefits the whole community.

  • From their previous knowledge, ask the learners to make a list of famous women in American history. Allow five minutes for this activity. While students are working, play the music from the Pocahontas soundtrack (“Colors of the Wind”). After students are finished, make a group list on the overhead or board from their lists of famous women. Tell students that many of the women they have named have had to “take a stand” because of their beliefs and they have given of their time, treasure and talents (philanthropy) to contribute to the common good. Ask students if they recognized the music that was playing while they were making their lists. Identify the music and tell them that Pocahontas (Matoaka) was one woman from history who took a stand that benefited others.

  • Distribute Core Values of American Constitutional Democracy (Attachment One). Go over the definition of core democratic values and then discuss each Fundamental Belief and Constitutional Principle.

  • Distribute or read your selection about Pocahontas or have the students go online to obtain her story. Tell students that they should notice the ways that Pocahontas took a stand on an issue that benefited others. Tell students that the Pocahontas story relates to core democratic values. Ask them which value(s) they think might apply to Pocahontas and give a reason for this belief. Talk about how Pocahontas was a Native American and explain some of the traditions of Native Americans (respect for nature and other living creatures, shared ownership of land and resources). Her actions showed that she believed in many of the core democratic values, some of which were based on the Iroquis Constitution. Using the idea of cause and effect, ask students to speculate on how things might have been different for the Jamestown community and the Native Americans had Pocahontas’ actions been different.

  • Distribute Pocahontas (Matoaka) and Core Democratic Values (Attachment Two). Have the learners fill in the information about actions for the common good, stand on an issue, and core democratic value that applies to Pocahontas (Matoaka). You may choose to have them do this activity independently or with a partner. When students are finished, discuss the answer on the worksheet.

  • Divide students into groups of three or four. Their task is to role play an action that Pocahontas took that benefited the common good of the community of Jamestown. For example, Pocahontas might convince her father, Powhatan, to provide food for the Jamestown settlers. Perform role plays.

  • Tell students that their assignment is to ask their parents to select a woman from history who gave significant help to others and find out why they chose this woman.


Student learning will be assessed through completion of a worksheet related to Pocahontas (Matoaka) which describes actions on behalf of the common good and taking a stand on a core democratic value. Student learning will also be re-enacted in role plays.

School/Home Connection:

  • Interactive Parent / Student Homework:
    Students will interview a parent or interested adult about a woman in history who significantly helped others. They will ask what this person did for the common good and ask why the adult chose this person above others.

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Pat Grimley
St. Charles Community Schools
Anna M. Thurston Middle School
St. Charles, MI 48655


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Core Values of American Constitutional Democracy

Core democratic values are the fundamental beliefs and constitutional principles of American society which unite all Americans. These values are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and other significant documents, speeches and writings of the nation. Below are some examples of core democratic values.

Fundamental Beliefs Constitutional Principles
Life The Rule of Law
Liberty Separation of Powers
The Pursuit of Happiness Representative Government
The Common Good Checks and Balances
Justice Individual Rights
Equality Freedom of Religion
Diversity Federalism
Truth Civilian Control of the Military
Popular Sovereignty  

Fundamental Beliefs

Life: The individual’s right to life should be considered inviolable except in certain
highly restricted and extreme circumstances, such as the use of deadly force to protect one’s own or others’ lives.

Liberty: The right to liberty is considered an unalterable aspect of the human condition. Central to this idea of liberty is the understanding that the political or personal obligations of parents or ancestors cannot be legitimately forced on people. The right to liberty includes personal freedom: the private realm in which the individual is free to act, to think and to believe, and which the government cannot legitimately invade; political freedom: the right to participate freely in the political process, choose and remove public officials, to be governed under a rule of law; the right to a free flow of information and ideas, open debate and right of assembly; and economic freedom: the right to acquire, use, transfer and dispose of private property without unreasonable governmental interference; the right to seek employment wherever one pleases; to change employment at will; and to engage in any lawful economic activity.

The Pursuit of Happiness: It is the right of citizens in the American constitutional democracy to attempt to attain - to “pursue” - happiness in their own way, so long as they do not infringe upon rights of others.

Common Good: The public or common good requires that individual citizens have the commitment and motivation - that they accept their obligation - to promote the welfare of the community and to work together with other members for the greater benefit of all.

Justice: People should be treated fairly in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of society, the correction of wrongs and injuries, and in the gathering of information and making of decisions.

Equality: All citizens have: political equality and are not denied these rights unless by due process of law; legal equality and should be treated as equals before the law; social equality so as there should be no class hierarchy sanctioned by law; economic equality which tends to strengthen political and social equality, for extreme economic inequality tends to undermine all other forms of equality and should therefore be avoided.

Diversity: Variety in culture and ethnic background, race, lifestyle and belief is not only permissible but desirable and beneficial in a pluralist society.

Truth: Citizens can legitimately demand that truth-telling as refraining from lying and full disclosure by government be the rule, since trust in the veracity of government constitutes an essential element of the bond between governors and governed.

Popular Sovereignty: The citizenry is collectively the sovereign of the state and holds ultimate authority over public officials and their policies.

Patriotism: Virtuous citizens display a devotion to their country, including devotion to the fundamental values and principles upon which it depends.

Constitutional Principles

Rule of Law: Both government and the governed should be subject to the law.

Separation of Powers: Legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be exercised by different institutions in order to maintain the limitations placed upon them.

Representative Government: The republican form of government established under the Constitution is one in which citizens elect others to represent their interests.

Checks and Balances: The powers given to the different branches of government should be balanced, that is roughly equal, so that no branch can completely dominate the others. Branches of government are also given powers to check the power of other branches.

Individual Rights: Fundamental to American constitutional democracy is the belief that individuals have certain basic rights that are not created by government but which government should protect. These are the right to life, liberty, economic freedom, and the “pursuit of happiness.” It is the purpose of government to protect these rights, and it may not place unfair or unreasonable restraints on their exercise. Many of these rights are enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Freedom of Religion: There shall be full freedom of conscience for people of all faiths or none. Religious liberty is considered to be a natural inalienable right that must always be beyond the power of the state to confer or remove. Religious liberty includes the right to freely practice any religion or no religion without governmental coercion or control.

Federalism: Power is shared between two sets of governmental institutions, those of the states and those of the central or federal authorities, as stipulated by the Constitution.

Civilian Control of the Military: Civilian authority should control the military in order to preserve constitutional government.

Source: CIVITAS: A Framework for Civic Education, a collaborative project of the Center for Civic Education and the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship, National Council for the Social Studies Bulletin No. 86,1991. Michigan Department of Education - Curriculum Development Unit: Social Studies 612198

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Pocahontas (Matoaka) and Core Democratic Values

Stand Taken on an Issue Action(s) for the Common Good of the Colony Core Democratic Value Involved

Philanthropy Framework:


Paula, Teacher – Walker, MI11/15/2007 7:32:09 AM

Kids loved this. We had a wonderful discussion. Pocahontas is a familiar character for students.

Luann, Teacher – Felch, MI11/15/2007 7:33:21 AM

(The positive aspect of using the lesson is) students understand how important women were in history. The review of the Core Democratic Values was excellent! The interview of a parent was wonderful. I loved the responses.

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