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Native American Myths

Grade Level: 4-6



Archeological evidence indicates that Native American tribes lived in the Yellowstone area almost 10,000 years ago; a major trail these tribes used for tracking bison goes right through the park. Some of the tribes that traveled or lived nearby include the Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfoot, Flathead, Nez Perce, Utes, Crows, Piegans, and Paiutes.

Imagine what Native Americans must have thought when they first saw the park's geysers, mudpots, and hot springs! As in other cultures, Native American culture is rich in myths and legends that were used to explain natural phenomena that they didn't understand. The most common myths are the creation myths, that tell a story to explain how the earth was formed. Others include explanations about the sun, moon, constellations, animals, seasons, and weather. In this lesson, students will review some of these myths and then write their own myths to explain how the geologic features of Yellowstone came to be.


Students will:
  • read Native American myths
  • summarize the myths in class discussions
  • write their own myths

National Standards:

National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association

  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions
  • Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


After viewing the Yellowstone video, ask the students what they think the Native Americans and first white explorers' reactions might have been when they first saw the geysers and landforms of the Yellowstone area. Encourage them to imagine themselves seeing these stunning features without having any knowledge of them before. Rewind the video and watch the segment that tells the names the natives gave to the park (11:50-12:56). Discuss why they used these names. You can also refer them to the Native Peoples page on this Web site.

Ask the class what a myth is and if they've ever read or heard any Native American myths. If someone knows one, let him/her repeat the story to the class. Ask what other cultures have myths (ancient Greeks and Romans, for example). Discuss why these cultures had myths (to explain the natural phenomena that they weren't able to explain otherwise). Elicit some common themes in myths (beginning of the earth, how humans first came to be, floods, thunder and lightening, fire, death, constellations) and common characters (gods, animals) of myths.

Read aloud Tomie de Paola's The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush or another Native American myth of choice. Have the students identify the natural phenomenon that is explained by the myth, the theme, and the main character. Give each student a myth to read silently, and then have each student summarize his/her myth for the class. Native American myths can be found in the list of resources below.

Review the unique features of Yellowstone. Let each student pick one of the features and tell them they are to write a myth as if they are a Native American seeing that feature for the first time. The myth must explain how that feature was formed. After they finish their final draft, they can make picture books. Let the students share their myths with the rest of the class. If there is a younger grade in the school that studies Native Americans, let the class vote on the best myths to be read to the younger grade.

Assessment Suggestions:
  • Understanding and oral summary of the Native American myth
  • Creativity of the student's own myth
  • Writing process (prewriting, draft copy, and editing)
  • Writing mechanics (spelling, punctuation, grammar)


After writing their myth, students research how the features really did form.

Students pretend they are the first white explorer to see the area and write an account of their first impressions of the natural attractions in Yellowstone Park.


Web Resources:

Native American Mythology

Choctaw Legends and Stories

Native American Bedtime Story Collection


Caduto, M.J., and Bruchas, J., 1991, Keepers of the Animals; Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children, Fulcrum Publ., Golden, Co.

Caduto, M.J., and Bruchas, J., 1989, Keepers of the Earth; Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, Fulcrum Publ., Golden, Co.


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