First Nations, Inuit, and Metis cultures have long passed on knowledge from generation to generation through oral traditions, including storytelling. Storytelling is a traditional method used to teach about cultural beliefs, values, customs, rituals, history, practices, relationships, and ways of life. First Nations storytelling is a foundation for holistic learning, relationship building, and experiential learning.

Preparation

Before following this plan, we recommend the following preparatory steps:

  1. Book computer equipment, and ensure the proper plugin - Adobe Flash  - is installed. Test to make sure that Flash functions properly on your school's equipment by playing the games. If it does not, please use the printable accessible versions.
  2. Divide students into groups of two and allow them to play the Turtle Island and Memory games.
  3. If using the printable option, print out the appropriate materials (memory cards, accompanying resources, etc) for each pair of students.

Activity 1: "Think About This" Challenges

Goals

The following three activities have been designed to introduce children to the history, culture and present-day lives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada.

Specifically, students will:

  • Familiarize themselves with technologies, cultural practices and current issues of First Nations, Métis and Inuit;
  • Compare older technologies with newer adaptations and recognize that First Nations, Métis and Inuit technologies and culture are not merely "historic", but are still relevant today;
  • Discover symbols or ceremonies that play an important role in First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit culture;
  • Learn about and discuss current issues being addressed by First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit communities in Canada.

Subjects and Strands

This lesson plan can be used by teachers in all provincial and territorial grades 3-6 social studies classes; activities can be modified for age and ability. The main subjects are:

  • First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture and history.
  • Present-day concerns and achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

These activities will also help students develop basic Library research skills and Interpretation/Analysis skills.

Set-up Instructions

Once students have completed the Turtle Island game online, they will have been exposed to 20 items and practices associated with First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures, with brief explanations of the significance of each. To continue this experience, select one (or more) of the following activities and print out the related handouts. You may wish to have a group discussion prior to this step to answer any questions students may have about terminology or objects in the game.

Activity Instructions:

Research Challenge

  1. Ask students to divide into groups of two. 
  2. Hand out the Research Challenge question sheets.
  3. Bring students to your school or local library and instruct them to find information on a technology that was developed by First Nations, Métis or Inuit in the past that is still being used today (it can be an item or practice from the Turtle Island game or something completely different). You may wish to have a discussion in class about potential technologies that students can research prior to visiting the library.
  4. Help students locate books on their topic that are related to First Nations, Métis or Inuit technologies (a list of some recommended resources can be found in Appendix A).
  5. Once they have found some information relevant to their chosen topic, students should answer the questions on the Research Challenge.
  6. After answering the questions, each group should present what they learned to the class.

Poster Challenge

  1. As preparation for this challenge, you may wish to invite an elder or representative from a local First Nations, Métis or Inuit community to discuss their traditional practices with the class. If this is not possible, a class discussion on the importance of tradition and culture will help students complete this activity (see recommended resources in Appendix A).
  2. Ask students to find out more about one of the following topics, and illustrate their findings with a poster:
    • Smudging Ceremonies
    • Sweat Lodge Ceremonies
    • Traditional Hunting and Fishing Practices
    • Medicine Wheel
  3. On their poster, students should represent a) the various components of the chosen item or practice b) the importance of the item or practice to the relevant cultural group by including any important equipment, symbols, or colours that relate to the event.

Newspaper Challenge

  1. This challenge is meant for older students (grades 5-6), and involves some analytical skills. You may wish to partner students in groups of two for this task.
  2. Ask students to look in a newspaper, magazine or online (either at home or during class time) and find an article on a CURRENT issue - positive or negative - facing a First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit community in Canada. You may wish to provide a list of preselected articles to ensure the questions on the Newspaper Challenge sheet can be answered.
  3. Hand out the Newspaper Challenge sheet and ask students to analyse the article by answering the questions on the handout.
  4. Follow-up this exercise with a class discussion on the issues raised, emphasizing the relevant historical, political and cultural roots of each particular issue, and the various points of view presented in the articles chosen.

Storytelling

Goals

This activity will enhance students' understanding of First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture by introducing them to the importance of storytelling.

Specifically, students will:

  • Listen to and then recall Inuit, Métis, or First Nations stories;
  • Identify, describe and interpret important information in these stories;
  • Create their own stories based on the formats discussed.

Subjects and Strands

This lesson plan can be used by teachers in all provincial and territorial grades 3-6 social studies classes; activities can be modified for age and ability. The main subjects are:

  • First Nations, Métis and Inuit legends, stories and culture.

These activities will also help students develop basic Writing, Interpretation/Analysis skills.

Required Equipment and Materials

  • Stories from different First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups (oral stories are best, either online or in person, but books can be substituted if necessary).
  • Using Your Memory! (PDF 1.3 Mb) hand-out
  • Computers with Adobe Flash, OR printed cards and information sheet (see printable instructions).

Set-up Instructions

  • Have the class play the Memory game either online or using the printed cards provided in the printable version.
  • After students have played the game, hold a class discussion about the methods used to play it (e.g. did they choose cards at random or in sequence?) and the various items displayed on the cards in the game. The Description Sheet has additional information on each item.
  • Begin a new discussion on the role that memory played in traditional storytelling. Note: First Nations, Métis and Inuit did not have written languages before the Contact period - all of their history and beliefs were passed from generation-to-generation through oral stories.

Activity Instructions

  1. Following a class discussion on the importance of storytelling, invite an Elder from a local First Nations, Métis or Inuit community to tell traditional stories to the class. If this is not possible, there are several online resources available. 

    OR

    From your school or local library, take out several books that recall First Nations, Métis or Inuit stories. See Appendix A for suggested books.
  2. After listening to the Elder (or reading the stories out loud to the class), hand out the Using Your Memory! (PDF 1.3 Mb) sheets. Explain that these questions are to see how much students remember from the stories they have just heard - they will not be graded on these questions. The goal of this exercise is for students to write down as much detail about the story as they can remember.
  3. After students have answered the questions, review the details of the story with the help of the class. You may find it helpful to list the following items on the chalkboard as they are mentioned by students:
     
    1. The names of the stories and the culture(s) they came from;
    2. The characters in each story;
    3. The lesson, message, etc. of each story.
    DISCUSS: Did the students remember every detail of the stories while they were answering the questions? What would have happened if they had waited longer to write down the information? How hard would it be to memorize all of the stories grandparents, parents and teachers have to tell them?
  4. Ask students to write their own story and illustrate it. Suggest that they use a story their grandparents of parents have told them in the past. Post the stories on a classroom wall for all to read.

Handouts

Research Challenge

In the Turtle Island game you learned about items that First Nations, Métis and Inuit developed in the past (such as canoes, maple syrup and snowshoes), and that are still being used today.

Choose something first developed by First Nations, Métis or Inuit and answer the following questions:

  1. What did you choose? Describe it and its ORIGINAL purpose.
  2. How has the item you chose changed over time (Is it made of different materials? Is it prepared in a different way? Does it have a new purpose?)
  3. How is the item used today? (Where and when is it used? Who uses it? Why is it used?)
  4. Which book(s) did you use to find this information?  (Title and Author).

Newspaper Challenge

Answer the following questions in paragraph form using the article you selected on a modern Aboriginal issue.

TITLE:

AUTHOR:

  1. What issue does this article report? 
  2. Who is affected by this issue?
  3. Does the article identify the harm or benefit of the issue? What is the main message of the article?
  4. Does the article present one point of view, or several? Can you think of other points of view that were not mentioned?
  5. Who did the reporter/writer interview to get the information in the article?
  6. What do you think about the issue in this article? Did you know about it before you read this article?

Using Your Memory!

Traditionally First Nations, Métis and Inuit stories were told orally (out loud), and passed from person to person - it was very important to remember them because there was no alphabet to write things down.

Let's test your memory: answer the following questions the best you can from what you remember. Answer the same questions for each story.

  1. What was the story called? What culture was it from?
  2. Who were the people and animals in the story?
  3. Why is this story important? (Did it teach a lesson? Did it explain how something was made or born? Did it give helpful advice? Did it teach important spiritual beliefs?)

Appendix A: Resource List

The following books are resources that may be helpful for your students in completing their challenges:

  1. The Kids Book of Aboriginal Peoples of Canada
    By Diane Silvey
  2. Canadian Aboriginal Art and Culture Series
    By Jennifer Nault
  3. Jason's New Dugout Canoe
    by Joe Barber-Starkey
  4. The Inuit Thought of It
    by Alootook Ipellie and David Macdonald
  5. Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones
    By Bonnie Shemie
  6. Carving a Totem Pole
    By Vickie Jensen

Elder Lillian Pitawanakwat - Nation -  Ojibwe/Potawotami

Lesson Plan Grade Level

Junior (Grades 1-6)

Time Required

3 – 4 hours

Traditional Teachings

  • Four Directions
  • Four Sacred Colours
  • Four Seasons
  • The Centre of the Wheel

Teacher Summary

A Medicine Wheel is a circle divided into parts (usually four), which relate with and counterbalance one another to form a whole, and is often used to represent Aboriginal wisdom in North America.  Medicine Wheels are not necessarily a tradition belonging to all Aboriginal peoples.  However, many cultures have some variation of the Wheel, and the Traditional Knowledge and views of the various first peoples of North America are more compatible with the circle concept than with linear, European-based forms of thought.

The Medicine Wheel represents and unites various aspects of the world, both seen and unseen, and emphasizes how all parts of the world and all levels of being are related and connected through a life force originating in the creation of the universe.  Some wheels teach about the four cardinal directions, the seasons, times of day, or stages of life; others represent the races of people, animals, natural elements, aspects of being, and so on.  All parts of the wheel are important, and depend on each other in the cycle of life; what affects one affects all, and the world cannot continue with missing parts.  For this reason, the Medicine Wheel teaches that harmony, balance and respect for all parts are needed to sustain life.

The centre of the Medicine Wheel symbolizes the self in balance, and the perspective of traditional philosophy.  The central perspective is a neutral place where it is possible to develop a holistic vision and understanding of creation and the connections between all things.

Medicine Wheels made of stones arranged on the Earth have been found in various places throughout North America, marking places of special significance, such as places of energy, ceremony, meeting, meditation, teaching, and celebration.  Some estimate that there were about 20,000 medicine wheels in North America before European contact occurred.  Some Medicine Wheels on the prairies have been found to be 5,000 years old or more.

Learner Objectives

Knowledge/Understanding: 

  • To relate the Four Sacred Colours of the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel to the Four Cardinal Directions
  • To recognize the changing of the seasons
  • To identify and perceive the movement of the sun from east to west
  • To develop awareness of the natural environment through the identification of the Four Cardinal Directions and the Four Seasons
  • To identify the Ojibwe as an Aboriginal people with traditional beliefs
  • To become familiar with the meanings of the terms “Medicine Wheel”, “sacred”, “traditional”, “direction”, “respect” and “survival”

Inquiry/Values:

  • To appreciate the unique gift of each of the four directions
  • To recognize that the four seasons make a whole which repeats in a cycle year after year
  • To recognize the Medicine Wheel as an Aboriginal symbol with an ancient history
  • To appreciate that the four directions are consistent and everlasting and that each individual has a central perspective to these directions

Skills/Applications: 

  • To physically identify the Four Cardinal Directions
  • To physically demonstrate the movement of the sun
  • To navigate the internet with some measure of control

Subject Strand Links

  • Geography
  • Natural Science
  • Astronomy

Strategy

  1. Take students to a place in an open area outside the school (yard or field).  Ask if they know which direction they live in.  Have them point in that direction.  Ask them to look at the sun.  Which way is the sun facing in the morning?  Explain that this is the East.  Where is it in the evening?  Explain this is the West.  Ask who knows what the other directions are called – point them out.  Explain South and North.  Each of us is at the centre of these directions.
  2. Explain that Aboriginal people have traditional teachings to share, given to them thousands of years ago and passed down through the generations.  Tradition is knowledge or ways of doing things that are taught by older people - or Elders - who have worked and studied many years with Elders that came before them to understand the traditions.  Aboriginal elders teach that the four directions are very special and very important, not just to them, but to everyone - because all of us share these same four directions no matter where we are: at home, at school, in doors or outdoors.  The four directions never change.  Aboriginal traditions see the four directions as sacred, because each direction gives us special gifts.  So they teach that we must always respect the four directions and the gifts they bring.  What is respect?
  3. Have the class face East together.  What is the gift of the East?  What comes from the East that we need?  Explain that this is the direction where the sun comes up every day.  Why is the sun important to us?  The sun’s light gives us warmth and makes our plants and foods grow; we need the sun for our physical survival.  What is survival?  What colour is the sun?  Yellow: a colour that the Ojibwe people use to represent the East.  Now turn together to the south, in the direction that the sun moves.  Explain that this is the direction the sun passes each and every day, year after year.  The sun gets hotter in the south, which is represented among the Ojibwe by the colour red.  Now turn to face West together.  Explain that this is where the sun goes down and night comes, represented among the Ojibwe by the colour black.  Now turn to face North together.  Explain that this is where a new day gets ready to be born.  North is represented among the Ojibwe by the colour white.  Explain that Ojibwe elders teach that these directions and colours are sacred, and are remembered in their prayers.
  4. Face East again, and the cycle is complete. Did we change our position?  No, we stayed in the centre, because we are always in the centre.  Even if we move left or right, we are always in the middle of the four directions.  So this is important to remember according to traditional teachings because it reminds us that we are connected to the four directions.  We cannot escape them.  They are part of us and we are part of them.  Return to class.
  5. Show a picture of a Medicine Wheel to the class to generate discussion (see links below). Who knows what this is?  What is this called?  Where does it come from?  Show a modern representation of a Medicine Wheel.  What do the colours represent?  Why is it called a Medicine Wheel?  What is medicine?  We use medicine to heal us; it is good for us; it keeps us strong and healthy.  This looks like a wheel because it is round and each part is the same size.  The Ojibwe and other Aboriginal people have used the Medicine Wheel as a symbol for generations, to remember and respect the Four Directions and the good things that the sun and the seasons bring us every day.  Explain a little bit more about Medicine Wheels from the Teacher Summary above.
  6. Now ask students to identify the Four Directions in the classroom.  Put up a yellow sheet on the eastern wall.  Put up a red sign in the south; a black sign in the west; and a white sign in the north.  Explain these are colours used by the Ojibwe.  Other Aboriginal groups use different colours.
  7. Explain that Lillian Pitawanakwat is an elder and has traditional teachings to share with the students about the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel. 
  8. Visit www.fourdirectionteachings.com together as a class to read the Elder biography to the class.
  9. Individually or in pairs, have students listen to Lillian’s teaching on the East.
  10. On paper, have students draw a large circle.  Draw four quadrants.  Colour the first quadrant on the right in yellow.  Label it “East.” Ask, “What else does Lillian say the East represents?  Spring, when new life begins and flowers begin to grow.”  Label the yellow quadrant in the drawing “spring.”
  11. Individually or in pairs have students listen to Lillian’s teaching on the South.  Colour the second (bottom) quadrant in red.  Label it “South”.  Which season does south represent?  Summer, when flowers have grown and are in full bloom.  Label the quadrant “summer.”
  12.  Individually or in pairs have students listen to Lillian’s teaching on the West.  Colour the third quadrant on the left in black.  Label it “West.”  Which season does west represent?  Fall, when flowers die.  Label the quadrant “fall.”
  13.  Individually or in pairs have students listen to Lillian’s teaching on the North.  Colour the last (upper) quadrant in white.  Label it “North”. Which season does north represent?  Winter, when plants rest and the ground is covered in snow.  Label the north quadrant “winter.”
  14. Wrap up the lesson with a guided reading of the summary above and select from optional exercises below.

 

Optional Exercises:

  • Find Manitoulin Island, the Elder’s community, on a map of Ontario.  Who knows where Manitoulin Island is?  Who has visited there?
  • Identify additional symbols of the seasons to add to the drawings.
  • Research the vocabulary words in a dictionary and study the meanings.
  • Find creative ways to craft Medicine Wheels using hoops, coloured cloth, leather, paints, yarn, etc.
  • Identify the relationship between the Four Directions and the Four Sacred Colours of the Medicine Wheel.
  • Invite an Aboriginal elder to the class to discuss the Medicine Wheel from his/her perspective.
  • Take the class to visit a planetarium to demonstrate how Earth’s orbit around the sun creates the seasons, and how the circle or wheel is evident in many ways, such as the shapes of the Earth and Sun, and the orbits of the Earth and moon.
  • Visit related websites that explain the solar system and the changing of the seasons from a scientific perspective (see links below).

Vocabulary

  • Tradition
  • Sacred
  • Direction
  • Survival
  • Respect
  • Medicine
  • Wheel

Materials Required

  • 4 large coloured sheets of paper for the walls (yellow, red, black, white)
  • Markers, crayons or paint, and paper for four-coloured Medicine Wheel drawing
  • Other arts and crafts materials, if available, for more elaborate Medicine Wheel models (hoops, coloured cloth, paint, yarn, leather, etc.)

Evaluation

  1. Teacher observation of students’ ability to grasp concepts of directions and relationships to seasons and colours
  2. Worksheets for the identification of colours and directions
  3. Tests for correct spelling of vocabulary terms
  4. Participation in discussions and demonstrated understanding of key concepts

Additional Resources