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Team Totems

Express team spirit and unique personal style! Students create replicas of a traditional totem poles as a get-to-know-you project!

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Totem poles are traditional among Native American clans who live along the Northwest Pacific Coast of what is now the United States and Canada. Invite students to research how totem poles are carved. Investigate some of the traditional images used, such as ravens, beavers, whales, and thunderbirds. Many symbols signify characteristics of which families are proud.
    2. With a small group of classmates, discuss interests, skills, and favorites to discover common themes, such as soccer, dogs, video games, or crafting. Students sketch possibilities for symbols to represent the team’s ideas with Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils.
    3. Together, decorate one small snack tube with Crayola Model Magic. Use symbols for the common themes team members discovered about each other. Mix colors if you like, or knead just a little for a marbled effect. Model Magic fresh from the pack sticks to itself.
    4. Team members each personalize a totem pole section on separate snack tubes. Encourage students to display favorite things to express individuality!
    5. Place small rings of Model Magic between sections. Stack them on top of each other and press together to make one totem. In the oral tradition, explain Team Totem to other teams in the class.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    LA: Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Solve problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements from a larger unit to a smaller unit.

    SS: Compare ways in which people from different cultures think about and deal with their physical environment and social conditions.

    SS: Identify and use various sources for reconstructing the past, such as documents, letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, and others.

    VA: Use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

    VA: Use visual structures of art to communicate ideas.

    VA: Select and use subject matter, symbols, and ideas to communicate meaning.

    VA: Identify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places.

    VA: Identify connections between the visual arts and other disciplines in the curriculum.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Echoes of the Elders: The Stories and Paintings of Chief Lelooska with CD by Lelooska; The Totem Pole Indians of the Northwest by Don E. Beyer; Totem Poles: An Illustrated Guide by Marjorie M. Halpin; The Talking Totem Pole: The Tales It Told to the Indian Children of the Northwest by Lurline B. Mayol

    Prior to sharing totem poles with other members of the class, the class as a whole will compose interview questions for viewers to pose while the artist is presenting his artwork. Word process student questions and provide a copy of the questions for each member of the class.

    Students use their totem poles to introduce themselves to each other.

    Students work in teams of two to create totem poles which include traditional symbols. Students should be prepared to explain or write about the meaning of each image they have chosen to include in their traditional totem pole.

    Students research a Native American tribe of the Pacific Northwest. Include in the research a look at their homes, practices of daily life, foods consumed, artwork, etc. Organize research into an electronic format for presentation to classmates.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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