Lesson 4

Winter Count

Lesson Topic: Social Studies/Art Date: Nov. 5, 1997
Teacher of Lesson: Joy Augustine
Time: 2-30 minute class periods


  1. Students will break their personal histories into components or significant which can be understood. Analysis
  2. Students will translate these significant events into symbols. Comprehension
  3. Students will organize the symbols they chose to create a nonverbal record of their lives. Synthesis



  1. Introduce the students to the idea of a winter count. Discuss how we record our history. Ask students to volunteer answers such as in history books, encyclopedias, family trees, diaries, newspapers, news casts, etc. Explain that many Native American tribes did not have a system of writing. Rather, they used "wampum" or pictures to keep records. These were drawn of animal skins or bark. The belts of wampum or pictures showed events in the tribes history or an individual’s life. Each symbol stood for an important event in the life of the tribe or a person for a given year. These were often created in the winter when the Native Americans had time--they were not out working with plants. Wampum belts later recorded treaties.
  2. Pass examples of a winter count and examples of symbol charts around the room. Explain that the winter count can be circular with the past in the center and the most recent events on the outside.
  3. Create a class winter count on a paper bag.
    1. Because most students are ten years old, our winter count should have ten symbols. Ask the class members to suggest significant events that majority of students have experienced. For example, year one-- say a first word, year five-- start kindergarten, year nine --begin playing sports or a musical instrument. Record this list on the board.
    2. Ask students to come to the board and volunteer simple symbols for these events. If more than one symbol is proposed for each of these, vote. Create a legend which records the symbols decided upon and gives their meaning.
    3. Decide if we want to arrange the symbols as a timeline (vertical, diagonal, horizontal) or as a spiral. May need to vote.
    4. As students are working on their own, put the symbols in the correct position on th class wampum belt.
  4. Let students create their own winter counts. Allow students to use symbols on the chart passed around, symbols created by the class or by themselves alone. Ask students to make a legend to go with their winter count.
  5. Remind students to work in pencil and do their best work because these will be displayed at Parent/Teacher conferences.


  1. Do students personal winter counts demonstrate an ability to select significant life events?
  2. Do students personal winter counts demonstrate an ability to express these events symbolically?
  3. Were students able to compose a winter count that communicates the significant events of their life in a original way?


How did the lesson go? Did students enjoy it? What revisions are necessary?


"American Indian Language" in the World Book Encyclopedia, "I" volume 10: 1995.

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