Objective: Students will listen to a Native American fable and will construct a
Thunderbird image shield. The class will learn what causes thunder and lightning and will
be able to identify the difference between the myths
Materials: The "Origin of the Thunderbird" story, shield pattern, shield drawing, 1 piece
of heavy cardboard -12" square, tape, pencils, glue, scissors, paper mache, paints, 1"
pieces of elastic, cut into 6" strips (2 strips for each shield), 1 piece of poster board -
18" round, string or yarn, feathers and beads (optional)
Background: The Thunderbird myth is perhaps one of the most widespread among
the Naive American culture. Thunderbird myth/lore can be categorized into two types: as
a benevolent (or sometimes malicious) nature deity, or a type on which the bird is not
spiritual but corporeal and co-extant with the aboriginal inhabitants of pre-colonial North
American (this latter type, might be the source for legends of giant birds reported in
more recent times).
The Thunderbird, in the vast majority of Native American myths, is benevolent toward
humans. The Chippewa has a supreme bird, "The bird's eyes were on fire, his glance
was lightning, and the motions of his wings filled the air with thunder". The Mandan
supposed that the thunderbird broke through clouds to cause thunderstorms. The
Comanche story explains, "a hunter once shot a large bird...it was so large he was afraid
to go near it alone. The hunter believed he had shot a Thunderbird. When he returned
with the Medicine Man and others from the village, the bird was gone, and the hunter
was struck by lightning during the resulting storm".
Read "The Origin of the Thunderbird" story to class. Explain that this story is one of
many in the Native American culture that explains how the Thunderbird appeared to
different tribes. Many groups also used the Thunderbird image to explain weather
Copy the Thunderbird shield picture and distribute to class. Tell students that they are
going to create their own shield with the Thunderbird image on the front. Explain that
shields, in the past, were used for protection against the enemy and the elements and
have them imagine how powerful their shield might have been with the formidable
Thunderbird image gracing the front of it.
To make paper mache mix, use 1.5 cups of wallpaper paste mixed with 2 cups of water
or boil 1 cup of white flour with 2 cups of water.
Pass out materials to make their shield.
Enlarge Thunderbird drawing to fit onto the 12" square cardboard. Photocopy one per
student. Have students cut out the Thunderbird outline. Students then should draw the
Thunderbird outline on the cardboard. Fill the outline with the wet paper mache mix. Let
it dry and then paint it. Encourage students to make their Thunderbirds bright and
colorful. Remove it from the cardboard.
While Thunderbird is drying, have students decorate their shield with feathers, beads, or
other decorative materials. Give each student 2 pieces of elastic and have him/her
staple it to the back of their shield (on opposite sides of the back) stapling the end of
each piece to the shield to form a "c"-shaped handle that he/she can pass his/her arm
Gently turn the Thunderbird onto its front and carefully glue the shield onto the image.
Let it dry thoroughly before picking it up.
Invite a local Native American friend to visit your class and discuss totem poles and their
importance in the history of his/her tribe.
Visit the National Weather Service web site (www.nws.noaa.gov) and have students
check out the latest radar image or the Internet weather source section of the site to find
out what the weather is doing (real time) in their areas.
Do a weather unit based on Ranger Rick's Nature Scope "Wild About Weather"
Reading, Social Studies, Visual Arts
SD Standards for 4th grade:
4.R.1.1; 4.R.1.2; 4.R.3.1; 4.R.4.1
Standard 1; Standard 2; Standard 3
Observation, Analyzing, Interpreting,
Prior Preparation: The class should
complete "The Weather Game". While
playing The Weather Game, stress to
the students that the Native Americans
believe that all creatures and all things
on earth are all connected. The
Weather Game gives another example
of this belief.