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 phenomenon.

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 through.

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" curriculum.
Grade Level:

Subject Areas:
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

Social Studies

Visual Arts
Standard 1; Standard 2; Standard 3


Observation, Analyzing, Interpreting, Presenting

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.

Home | Trunks | Presenter Kits | Class Activities | Teaching Units | Contact Us