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Native American Legends

One of the best ways of experiencing Native American culture is by listening to their legends. Take a few minutes to share some legends from the Paiute, Ute, and other Utah Native American cultures*. Once you’re done, ask them to get together with a partner and create their own Native American legend!

Paiute Tribe
The Naming of Paw-Haw-Wan (Parowan) Lake
How the Indians Found Clothing

Ute Tribe
Legends and Children’s Stories of the Ute Tribe

Shoshone Tribe
The Wolf, the Fox, the Bobcat and the Cougar

Navajo-Dine Tribe
Coyote Kills a Giant
Spider Rock (note picture of the Spider Rocks to the right- these are the Spider Rocks that are referred to in Navajo legends and can be found in Canyon de Chelly National Monument in AZ)

*I had a difficult time finding Goshute legends- if you know of any that I can add to this list, please send it our way!

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Bows And Arrows

This is a great review game for any unit, but especially for the Native American unit. My students request this game all the time, because they get to use bows and arrows in the classroom!


  • 2 sets of bows and suction cup arrows (you can buy these at any general or grocery store in the toy aisle for $2.00 each set)
  • A taped line a few feet in front of the white board
  • A whole bunch of unit vocabulary words/answers to questions

When reviewing for the unit test, fill the board with different keywords and vocabulary learned in that unit. It works best to write the words in random order, straight and diagonal, big and small, different colors…make a mess of the words! These words are answers that correspond to a question that you, the teacher, will ask.

Split the class into two teams. Each team sends up a representative to the front of the class to answer the question (every student must have a turn before there are repeats). They must stand behind a line of tape on the floor several feet away from the board. Read a question to both contestants. The players will then try to find the answer on the board and “shoot” it. The person who hits the word first (doesn’t have to be a perfect shot) gets the point. If they shoot but get the wrong word, or miss it, they are allowed to retrieve their arrow, run back behind the line, and keep trying until someone’s made a close enough shot.

The rest of the class can help the shooter by shouting out the answer, but can’t reveal where the answer is on the board. The whole class goes crazy with this game, but it’s important to lay down the rules before starting (no pointing the arrow at anyone, no name-calling, pushing, shoving, etc…). I also give the class a mini-lesson on how to hold and shoot the bow and arrow for those who haven’t played with one before.

Try This Twist! Once everyone’s had a turn, I allow each team to send up their “best archer” and base it on accuracy instead of speed. One team shoots first (they can take their time), and if the second player gets any closer to the word, they get the point. I’ve had to pull out a ruler on many occasions to find out who the winner was inch-by-inch… Then they choose the next best archer of their team, and so on.

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It’s important to teach students how Utah’s geography and land affected the Native American diet. What kind of plants and animals are capable of living in each region? If you and your students have studied this, then rest assured you have a pretty good idea of what Native Americans ate! This activity goes right along with your lesson on geography, or the importance of hunting/gathering/farming.

Come up with a list of major plants/animals that are native to Utah (don’t forget the seasonal ones) that could provide nutrients to the Native American diet. There are also some you may not know about, such as grasshoppers and other insects.

Students will then create a menu for a fictitious Native American restaurant that serves what was typically eaten. The fun part is describing the delicacies, and delicious dishes!

“‘Fisherman’s Meal’ is a dish featuring freshly caught rainbow trout, with a side of maize ground to perfection, topped off with a berry sauce with bits of grasshopper to garnish.”

Of course, let the class share their menus with each other at the end.

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Paper Teepees

This activity is fun to do when learning about different Native American shelters, or learning about pictographs!

Now, before you say or think anything, just know that I know the teepee was NOT a common shelter used by Utah Native Americans. Teepees were more commonly used by those in the plains, but the Shoshone did use them quite a bit as well. If you would like to make a more common shelter used by the Goshutes, Utes, etc…feel free to make a mini wickiup or a pit house. :) Not impossible, but a bit more difficult. This is why I stick with the teepee.

During the Native American Unit, I like to bring in a teepee and set it up in the corner, just to add something fun to the learning environment. There’s lots of websites available to assist you in making your own teepee out of different materials, and they all vary. It’s my dream to one day have enough will-power (and money available for supplies) to build a teepee with my students. But until then, I like to make miniature teepees out of paper, and let students decorate them with pictographs or other designs.

Here are directions I made for making a small and simple paper teepee:

Paper Teepee

Here’s another option if you would like to use sticks, or make it look more authentic:

If you are interested in using pictographs for your teepees, click here for a list of some general Native American pictographs.

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Native American Greeting at SLC 2002 Winter Olympics

For those of you who watched the Opening Ceremony at the 2002 SLC Winter Olympic Games, you will remember the greeting given by the Utah Native American tribal leaders. These leaders represented their own tribe, which included the Ute, Goshute, Shosone, Piute, and Navajo-Dene tribes. Each leader led their tribe onto the stage, and everyone was dressed in tribal clothes and dancing! After the performance, the five leaders then gathered together and accepted a gift from an athlete, and each give a welcome in their own tribal language. The dance and costume show great culture, and it’s really interesting to hear the different languages!

The Native American Welcome starts about 50 seconds into this clip.

If you’re interested in the rough translation of their welcome, I got the following from the news commentary that went along with the ceremony:

“Welcome to you athletes. At this historical gathering, we’re here today as brothers, sisters and friends. Our creator will watch over us. Welcome to the athletes of the world, to this beautiful country of Utah. Father watch over the athletes, take care of them all, and welcome many nations to Salt Lake; much luck to you all.”

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Guest Speaker- Archaeologist

Arrange for an archeologist to come and talk to your class about what archaeologists do. If it’s possible, ask him/her to bring real artifacts found from excavations, and explain for what purpose it was used, and what that says about that tribe’s culture. Also, have him/her clear up any misconceptions about archaeologists (Indiana Jones, dinosaurs, etc…).

Always leave time at the end for questions any students may have!

The easiest way to find an archaeologist is to contact a nearby college or university. They usually work in the anthropology department. Other archaeologists work for museums, the federal or state government, or private companies, so those might be harder to find. But you can always look them up online!

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Dig Up The Past

For a couple of days, ask the janitor to NOT empty your trash can. This activity requires lots of trash!


Trash (accumulated after a couple of days)
Sanitary Gloves (can be just for you, or enough for the class)

Explain that archeologists literally dig up the past! We learn about the Natives Americans that once lived in that particular region by finding their artifacts, and deciding the reason that artifact was used.

Take the classroom garbage can to the front of the room and dump its contents on the floor. Start going through the contents item by item, holding them up for everyone to see while asking, “Hmmm…what could this be used for?” For example, pencil shavings could have been used as a pillow stuffer, or a crumbled piece of paper with a drawing of someone could be “one of their Gods…”.

Sometimes I’ve hidden a piece of candy nearby and make it look like I’ve pulled it out of the garbage and cautiously put it in my mouth. After this shock, I reveal that it wasn’t originally in the garbage can.

If you have enough gloves for everyone in the class, give a pair of gloves with a piece of trash in a tissue to each pair of students. Have them delicately examine their assigned “artifact” in all aspects (no tasting!), draw a sketch of the item, and below the illustration list as many ideas as to what that “artifact” was used for.

Share with the class.

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