Objective: Students will listen to a Native American fable and will construct a turtle home.

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 country, etc.).

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 come out.

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.

Vocabulary Glossary:
Reptile: A cold-blooded animal that cannot control the temperature of its body.

Activity adapted from FEMA for Kids
Grade Level:

Subject Areas:
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

Social Studies

Visual Arts
Standard 1; Standard 3


Observation, Analyzing, Interpreting, Presenting

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.

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