Beyond Feathers and Tomahawks:
Lessons from Literature

Mary R. Franklin, Patricia B. Roach, Juanita K. Snyde

Let me see through your Eyes. Let us Teach each other here in this Great Lodge of the People, This Sun Dance, of each of the Ways on this Great Medicine Wheel, our Earth. (Hyemeyohsts storm cited by Harvey, Harjo, & Jackson, 1990, p. v.).

Studies about the first Americans are a traditional part of the elementary social studies curriculum, however, the prior knowledge of many elementary children may be based on stereotypes typified by a “feathers and tomahawks” image. These students may even permit this misinformation to override the more accurate information of textbooks, if these texts are incompatible with what they already believe (Alvermann, Smith, & Readance, 1985). The customary alphabet books and wall charts symbolizing “I for Indian,” as well as primary grade art and drama projects that inaccurately depict Native Americans, may perpetuate these existing stereotypes rather than enhance learning.

As students progress to higher grades, their social studies instruction is typically dominated by textbooks (Goodlad, 1983; Shaughnessy & Haladyna, 1985). The technical vocabulary and concepts of these texts may be difficult for students to understand (Heilman, Blair, & Rupley, 1990); consequently, their interest in learning about Native American cultures may diminish. These difficulties can be remedied through the use of children’s tradebooks. The informal and appealing style of these books can spark interest in social studies topics. In the case of the first Americans, children’s books can be used to teach accurately about Native Americans as they were in the past and as they are today.

Lessons from Children’s Literature

Teachers sometimes fear substituting literature for textbooks due to the pressures of covering assigned texts and teaching mandated skills. With guidelines and careful planning, however, teachers can supplement their textbooks with tradebooks and still achieve the goals of an elementary social studies curriculum — knowledge, values, skills, and participation (National Council for the Social Studies, 1984). Teachers could use tradebooks not only for information but also for potential extensions in a variety of whole-group, small-groups, and individual activities.

Teaching Ideas

The following lesson plans constitute an example of how teachers might implement a concept-based (rather than textbook-based) approach:

1. Using the social studies textbook and/or other factual resources, the teacher would initiate a Native American study by presenting the major culture areas of North American tribes. In this step, the teacher would lead a discussion of both the commonalities and the diversities among the tribes. Information about the topography, climate, natural resources, and other important features of each culture area would be collected and charted (see Figure 1).

2. To supplement this study, the teacher could then introduce tradebooks to help students better understand cultures other than their own, as well as to gain further insight into the people of each specific area.

3. Since teachers often have a limited number of tradebooks, related basal reader selections could also be used as supplementary materials. Using a Directed Reading Activity format, a combined reading/social studies lesson could be used to develop and extend story content to meet the NCSS goals (see Figure 2). For example, in the sample lesson that follows, students should infer that, like the Hopi boy in the story, they can learn to appreciate and value the world in which they live.


In order to interest children in learning about Native Americans and to guide their development of authentic concepts rather than of stereotyped images, teachers can use children’s tradebooks as supplements to their curriculum. Many basal readers incorporate children’s literature, thus facilitating the gathering of materials. Correlating tradebook selections with textbooks may also alleviate some of the difficulties students have with content area textbooks such as the comprehension of unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts.

In order to reduce teachers’ concerns about the neglect of social studies information and basic skills which may result from the substitution of children’s literature, a concept model incorporating major aims of the elementary social studies curriculum is given in Figure 2. Lesson plans for a story about a traditional Naming Day ceremony illustrate how instructional activities can address the goals specified by the National Council for the Social Studies.

Alvermann, D. E., Smith, L., & Readance, J. (1985). Prior knowledge activation and the comprehension of compatible and incompatible text. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 420-436.
Dehuff, E. W. (1989). Blue-Wings-Flying. In W. K. Durr et al., Caravans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Goodlad, J. I. (1983). A place called school. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Harvey, K. D., Harjo, L. D., & Jackson, J. K. (1990). Teaching about Native Americans (Bulletin No. 84). Washington DC: National Council for the Social Studies.
Heilman, A. W., Blair, T. R., & Rupley, W. H. (1990). Principles and practices of teaching reading (7th ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Shaughnessy, J. J., & Haladyna, T. M. (1985). Research on student attitude toward social studies. Social Education, 49, (8), 692-695.
National Council for the Social Studies. (1984). Social studies for young children. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies. (Position Statement prepared by the Elementary/Early Childhood Committee.)

Blue-Wings-Flying, a young Hopi boy
His new baby sister
So-Oh, his grandmother
Tah-Tah, his father
Yu-Yu, his mother

Blue-Wings-Flying wants to find the name that will be given to his new sister on her Naming Day, but he cannot think of a suitable name.

1. Blue-Wings-Flying goes with his father to the spring to get water and look for a name.
2. He lets his grandmother’s ancient jar slip and break against the stone wall.
3. The sunlight makes a rainbow in the mist from the spring that Blue-Wings-Flying barely notices in his anguish.
4. He tells So-Oh about the broken jar and goes outside.
5. The colors of the sunset jar his thoughts about something he should remember.
6. He thinks of the sunset as he lies in bed and suddenly pictures the scene at the spring.

Blue-Wings-Flying’s suggestion of Rainbow Mist-at-the-Spring is chosen for the baby on Naming Day.

[Note: The Harvey, Harjo, and Jackson text (NCSS Bulletin No. 84) is recommended for further guidance in preparing a unit of study on Native Americans.]

Selected Resources Southwest Culture

Baylor, B. (1972). When clay sings. New York: Schribner’s Sons.
Baylor, B. (1989). I’m in charge of celebrations. In P. D. Pearson et al., Silver secrets. Needham, MA: Silver, Burdett, & Ginn.
Baylor, B. (1989). The desert is theirs. In V. A. Arnold et al., Sketches. New York: Macmillan.
Baylor, B. (1989). The other way to listen. In V. A. Arnold et al., Adventuring. New York: Macmillan.
Hood, F. (1989). The snow has come at last. In B. Cullinan et al., Crossroads. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Lopez, A. (1989). Celebration. In V. A. Arnold et al., Sketches. New York: Macmillan.
Miles, M. (1989). Annie and the old one. In W. K. Durr et al., Journeys. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Monjo, L. (1975). Coming of age: The Hopi way. New York: Macmillan.

Other Culture Areas

Aliki. (1976). Corn is maize: The gift of the Indian. New York: Crowell.
Beckley, A. (1989). Sequoyah and the riddle of the talking leaves. In R. L. Allington et al., City spaces. Glenview, IL: Scott-Foresman.
dePaola, T. (1989). The legend of bluebonnet. In R. L. Allington et al., On parade. Glenview, IL: Scott-Foresman; also in V. A. Arnold et al., Sketches. New York: Macmillan.
dePaola, T. (1988). The legend of the Indian paintbrush. New York: Putman.
Faulk, O. B. (1988). The Modoc.
New York: Chelsea House.
Fisher, L. I. (1988). Pyramid of the sun, pyramid of the moon. New York: Macmillan.
Freedman, R. (1988). Buffalo hunt. New York: Holiday House.
Goble, P. (1988). The girl who loved wild horses. New York: Aladdin.
Goble, P. (1985). The great race of the birds and animals. New York: Bradbury.
Goble, P. (1980). The gift of the sacred dog. New York: Aladdin.
Martin, F. (1951). Nine tales of raven. New York: Harper.
Martin, N. G. (1970). Choctaw little folk. San Antonio: Naylor.
Patterson, L. (1989). Sequoyah:
The Cherokee who captured words. In V. A. Arnold et al., Sketches. New York: Macmillan.
Rushmore, H. (1968). The magnificent house of man alone. Champaign, IL: Garrard.
Stan, S. (1989). The Ojibwe.
Vero Beach, FL: Rourke.

About the Authors
Mary Franklin is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at Arkansas Tech University (ATU) where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in reading and directs a summer clinic for remedial reading.

Patricia Roach is an Associate Professor of Secondary Education at ATU, teaches courses in educational methods, economics, and curriculum, and is president of the Arkansas Council for the Social Studies.

Juanita Snyder received undergraduate degrees in Secondary and Elementary Education from ATU and, as a Graduate Assistant, is currently working toward a Master’s Degree in English. She taught fourth grade at nearby St. John’s School for four years and now instructs basic reading classes at the University.

Drs. Franklin and Roach collaborate frequently on publications, presentations, and school-based research. Dr. Franklin’s students participate regularly in field-based experiences at St. John’s School. This manuscript is based on the methods and materials used by Dr. Franklin and Mrs. Snyder with the latter’s fourth-grade students.

functions of holidays — legitimacy, preservation, and cohesion and how holidays help us acquire a common identity. For example, children can be asked what ideas are being kept alive and passed on by a particular celebration or what rituals are performed in conjunction with the holiday and how they help us feel that we share something in common. Children can learn to distinguish between types of holidays and investigate why specific holidays have come to be widely celebrated.
There is much to be gained in having children focus on the meaning and significance of specific holidays and how they have evolved. When encountering a holiday such as Halloween, children can investigate its historical origins and how it has changed over time. This could help children understand cultural change and appreciate that people may see different meanings in a holiday. Studying the meaning of celebrations and rituals associated with a holiday such as the symbols used to express the seven values of Kwanzaa leads to important insights and deeper understandings of particular groups.
Children should study holidays in a global context. They should understand that many holidays commonly celebrated in the United States are variants of global patterns. For example, nearly all societies have a major holiday in the fall to give thanks for the harvest and virtually all nations have a political holiday that celebrates their founding or independence. Children should also understand how local customs and practices produce variations in holiday celebrations.
Holidays are a legitimate and important part of the school curriculum. They encompass key ideas from history, geography, anthropology, and the other social sciences. When holidays are dealt with in the manner described in this article, they become vehicles for addressing fundamental social studies goals and objectives, especially the nature and value of living in a culturally diverse society and world.

The American heritage dictionary of the English language (3rd ed.). (1992). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Bender, T. (1989). Public culture: Inclusion and synthesis in American history. In P. Gagnon (Ed.), Historical literacy (pp. 188-202). New York: Macmillian.
The extended quotation from Historical Literacy, edited by Paul Gagnon and The Bradley Commission on History in Schools (Copyright © 1989 by Excellence Network) is reprinted with the permission of Macmillan.

About the Authors
David T. Naylor is Professor of Education and Bruce D. Smith is Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, at the University of Cincinnati. Both are specialists in social studies education,

Blue-Wings-Flying, Annie and the Old One, When Clay Sings

Figure 2. Sample Lesson Plans for Blue-Wings-Flying

Directed Reading

Examine photographs and sample items from the southwest region such as pottery, kachina dolls, Indian corn, and jewelry. Consult maps, globes, and encyclopedias; identify prominent mesas, canyons, bluffs, and pueblos.
Discuss these terms in story context: cornmeal, burro, cornstalks, rattlesnake, paintbrush. Teach Hopi words for family members: So-Oh, Tah-Tah, Yu-Yu.
Discuss familiar naming ceremonies; relate to Hopi Naming Day. Share origins of students’ given names. Discuss historical and fictional Native American names; brainstorm names derived from nature. Write and share individual stories of potential names for the baby in this story based on remembrances of beautiful scenes from nature.

Guided Reading
Read to find out how a name is chosen for the new baby.

Discuss the story plot in terms of its basic story elements (see Figure 3).
Conduct small group studies to find story illustrations of character traits and development such as showing trust, love, and respect for others.
Locate and read in small groups story examples of descriptive passages/sensory words related to the beauty of nature.
Discuss how Native Americans preserved natural resources.

Figure 3. Story Summary for Blue-Wings-Flying