Objective: Students will listen to a Native American fable and will construct a turtle
Materials: The "Turtle Tale" story, 2 small (6") paper plates, 1 straw, turtle pattern,
scissors, markers or crayons, stapler, Native American housing styles (optional), pre
contact housing types (optional)
Background: In South Dakota, there are several types of turtles that are residents of
the state. One, the western painted turtle, lives around permanent bodies of water. They
are cold-blooded and survive South Dakota's winters by hibernating. The Lakota name
for turtle is "keya" and they are often portrayed in Lakota stories, artwork and crafts. For
more information about the western painted turtle, refer to the attached document,
re-printed from the "Natural Source".
Turtles are an ancient animal. Turtles live in and around water, whereas tortoises are
land bound. The turtle is considered sacred to most Native American cultures. It is a
healer, protector, can grant long life, wisdom, and good health. The turtle is also seen as
a symbol of the Universe and Earth, bringing the two together within ourselves is
something turtle can teach. Turtle totems hold the knowledge of awakening the senses,
both physically and spiritually.
Copy the head, feet and tail pattern onto green paper.
Read students "The Turtle Tale" story. Ask them how this story differs from stories
they've heard of pertaining to the beginning of time. Explain that the Native American
culture has stories for the "beginnings" of many things (how the sun came to be, how
wolves came to hunt, how buffalo came to dwell in the plains, etc.). Have students share
any stories that have been handed down through their families/cultures that explain the
"beginning" of something important to them (i.e., their birth is the beginning of their
family, their grandfather's immigration is the beginning of their family living in this
Discuss with the class that sometimes having a home is a beginning and that they are
going to make a turtle home. Ask for ideas on what a turtle home could be. Most
students may know that turtles live in their shells - their homes. Give the class some
basic information about turtles (see attached) and explain that they are very revered in
the Native American culture as being one of the wisest creatures created.
Pass out the supplies needed to make the turtle.
Have students color the bottom (outside) section of the plates to create a bright home
for their turtle. Staple the plates together, top to top, creating a rounded shell for the
turtle. Have children cut out 4 feet, 1 head and 1 tail.
Staple, glue, or tape the feet onto the top shell. Staple the tail to one end of the straw
and staple the head onto the other end.
Slip straw between the plates. Tape or stable the bottom plate and the top plate
together to form a shell, leaving an opening by the head. Next have the student pull the
tail to make the head go into the shell (the turtle is going home). Push the tail to make it
Make copies and/or invite your class to view the "Pre-Contact Housing Types" map
provided in this activity. Review what type of housing was used in your area. Pass out
copies of the "Native American Housing Styles" sheet and have students match the
pictures of each type dwelling with the coinciding areas on the map where that type of
dwelling was used. Encourage students to do additional research on the Internet to find
out more about each type of dwelling (i.e., what types of materials were used to
construct the dwelling, how many families lived in the specific type of dwelling, etc.).
Have a "Dances with Wolves" party. Show the video, pop some "maize" and have fun!
Explore a nearby Native American cultural experience - whether it's attending a local
powwow or hoop dance ceremony, visiting an Indian burial ground or discovering Native
American artwork at a state/tribal-sponsored exhibit.
Reptile: A cold-blooded animal that cannot control the temperature of its body.
Activity adapted from FEMA for Kids
Reading, Social Studies, Visual Arts
SD Standards for 4th grade:
4.R.1.1; 4.R.1.2; 4.R.4.1; 4.R.3.1
Standard 1; Standard 3
Observation, Analyzing, Interpreting,
Prior Preparation: To set the stage,
teach the students the Turtle Chant
and have a small discussion about the
Native American culture. Explain to
students the meaning of animal
totems. Educator may also want to
lead a discussion about turtle habitat
and life cycle. Have children take a few
minutes to brainstorm different types of
dwellings or have them illustrate their
ideas and then discuss. Explain that
turtles carry their homes with them and
that, in many instances, Native
Americans did too.