Goals, Rationale, and Background Information
The Indians of the Great Plains did not have a written communication system as we have today. They relied on sign language as well as a symbol written language in which they communicated with pictographs. The writings usually were done on rocks, cave walls, buffalo hides, or on a tipi. The Plains Indians pictographs appear to have been drawn in simple pictorial symbols, or representational form. The symbols would act as a guide or reminder to the storyteller's important memorized details and lessons. Symbols appeared both in isolation and in combined representations, which would prove to make compound meanings. Some pictograph writing may have been simply decorative. For example crosses rectangles, circles, spirals, and other simple designs. However, other pictograph writing could be for the recording of events, dates, ceremonies, warnings, directions, territorial postings, or even maps (Cole 1990). Some pictograph writings could identify cultural relationships, patterns of communication, evidence of trade or other cultural contacts.
Pictograph writings have told many things about the Plains Indians. They were able to depict human figures that were often wearing necklaces, belts, and headdresses. Some forms of the writings included pictures of buffalo and men with bows and arrows that would be dressed in animal skins stalking their prey (Robbins 2001). Other styles included that of the horse which proves to document the arrival of it in the 1600'sTo develop concepts of symbol writing in conjunction with reading and interpreting stories developed by the students. One other purpose of picture writing could have been to record some type of calendar or to track seasons. As the Plains Indians were, at first, hunters and gathers as well as extremely aware of the seasons, plants, and animals that would be available for food during each season, picture writing may have been a way for them to record what was available to them during each season. "Some researchers propose that specific panels or designs, in conjunction with the movement of sun or shadow across the panel, could have provided them with a calendar of the seasons" (Cole 1990). During this lesson students will identify and understand the purpose of picture writing and develop an appreciation for language as a source of communication. A wonderful piece of literature will aide in developing these concepts, as well as the creation of a story on mock deerskin using symbols we develop as a class to represent words.
Purpose and Objectives
Learning to read involves a process of decoding a symbol system. This activity will support that process as students learn to connect symbols to words and expand them into coherent stories through the use of language. Children will identify with The Plains Indians as a group of Native Americans who told stories and recorded other pertinent information through symbols rather than a written language like the one that exists today. The literature selected will model how and where the Native Americans used symbol writing, types of language used by the Native Americans, and the type of structure and events that Native American literature carries.
Structure and Outline
The Legend of Indian Paintbrush
, mock deerskin, chart paper, pencils, crayons
1hour 20 minutes
whole class shared reading experience, whole class symbol construction, individual writing, and individual sharing.
listen to literature, devise a symbol system, construct their own story, and share their stories verbally
read, demonstrate, conduct learning, monitor students, and listen
Introduce piece of literature to children. Title, author, and brief
2. Read the story to the children. Let students generate conversation and reactions to the text. Use questioning skills to draw out idea of symbol writing if it does not come up. Be sure to let students run the conversation and generate ideas about symbol writing (constructivist approach).
3. Invite students to create some of their own symbols for words they think would be useful to them if they had to write their own Native American story with symbols.
4. Share mock deerskin with students and invite them to write their own Native American story on the skin only using symbols like the Native Americans did.
5. In a circle share their symbol stories with each other. Students will use linguistic intelligence to enhance and detail their story as they read the symbols.
6. Display stories in classroom.
Assessment and Monitoring
Look for student's ability to listen, and react to the teacher and the literature, ability to make connections between symbol and word, ability to read symbol story with narrative voice, and courtesy to listen to peers as they share. Elicit conversation about Indian symbols in text and try to compare and contrast how some are more easily decodable than others.
Reflections, Extensions, Emergent Curriculum
This activity sparks an interest in writing in other forms. From here I usually have the students write out their stories using words so that they can make a comparison between the symbols and their words. They also recognize how language plays a part in making their symbol stories come to life with detail. We will make transference of this activity to mathematics and problem solving, where certain words mean certain operations. Students can also draw pictures to the math problems. Putting the words into visually friendly symbols helps to generate an authentic understanding of "how I went about getting the answer "instead of "did I get it right?"