Lesson: Theme and Symbolism in Native Myths

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Lesson Objective

Students identify universal themes and differences in presentation of themes Students identify instances of symbolic meaning

Lesson Plan

 Lesson Name: Themes and Symbols in Native American Myths            Course: High School Language Arts by Anke al-Bataineh

Objective:   Students identify universal themes and differences in presentation of themes

Students identify instances of symbolic meaning

Essential Questions:            (write on board)
What themes appear in more than one Native American creation myth?

What symbols appear in Native American creation myths?

Theme overhead

Short Story overhead

Symbol overhead

Vocabulary Builder

American Indian Creation Myths (photocopies of those myths not yet read as a class)

Anticipatory Set:         (5 min)
Ask students to define a theme and give examples. Gauge prior knowledge. Ask students to define symbols and give examples. Gauge prior knowledge.

Guided Practice:         (10 min)
Present projection of paintings. Ask students to identify themes they see in common. Explain that themes are important elements or messages we see over and over.


Present projection of extremely short stories. Ask students to identify themes they see in common.


Group Work:         (10 min)

Remind students that they have now read three Native American creation myths. Review summaries if necessary. Explain that the author of the compilation has given us several themes, that of creation and those of either sky, land, water or underground origin. Ask students to discuss with a partner any similarities in events or messages, with the goal of identifying other themes the myths share.


Guided Practice:         (20 min)

After 5-10 minutes, ask students to share what they identified. Compile a list on the board of suggested themes. Ask the class to agree or disagree and give evidence from the stories of their view. As a class, write a paragraph identifying important themes in Native American creation myths. Have students complete the vocabulary builder for “theme”.


Present projection of symbols. Ask what each is communicating. Ask how symbols work. Ask what the difference is between a sign and a symbol, in the physical sense. Stress the implied nature of symbols. Mention, if students don’t, that you need to share some cultural background in order to understand most symbols belonging to others.


Group Work:         (10 min)

Change pairs. Ask students to review myths and look for items or events with symbolic meaning. Ask pairs to compile lists of symbols and their possible meanings.


After 5-7 minutes, call on pairs to share and ask students to agree or disagree and justify their viewpoint.

Independent Work:         (35 min)

Allow students to choose from the remaining myths in the book. For the myth they choose, they will need to write a report identifying the following literary elements:

I.               Theme (main idea) and whether it is shared with other myths we have read

II.             Symbols (if any), their possible meanings, and whether they are shared with other myths we have read

III.           A paragraph comparing and contrasting this myth with another myth or myths we have read


Circulate and check the comprehension and logic of what students are finding for their report. Grade as a formative assessment.






Vocab to Watch Out For:


Symbol / symbolize / symbolic /symbolism

Lesson Reflection:

What went well?

What would you change?

What needs explanation?

Some students had prior knowledge of theme and symbolism, and those who did not were able to easily transfer the idea from visual application to text.

 A template or model for the report would be good because the idea of appropriate quality can range widely.

It is good to stay alert to vocabulary in the story, which can usually be defined using context clues. My students keep the Vocabulary Toolbox with them for this reason and fill out a Vocaubulary Builder when they encounter an unfamiliar word.

Lesson Resources

Vocabulary Builder   Culture and Systems
Themes in Native Myths   Lesson Plan


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