Coyote WalksTHe Totem ProjectMr. K


The main impetus of this unit is a "self-discovery" of one's personal and behavioral mannerisms within their own culture. The Students (and teachers really should model good teaching skills and do this assignment alongside the students!) will develop a personal "Totem" that reflects their own beliefs in connection with those based on the Native American Studies of animal spiritualism and mythology.

Students will research animals, their habitats, and their characteristics. Students will then compare themselves to these characteristics. This comparison will develop into a comparative essay/speech. Students will research Totems and their purpose and use with Native Americans. Students will then develop their own unique animal Totem based on this research.

Subject Area(s): Cross-Curricular Therapeutic Academics Lesson Plan

Grade Range: 6-12


Students will visit web sites related to animals, animal totems and totem poles.
Students will create personal totems that reflect their own characteristics and spirituality.
Students will create a multi-media presentation explaining their personal totems
Students will develop a "family" or "clan" totem pole.

Prerequisite skills:

Basic computer skills. Fine motor skills. 5th grade reading/writing ability

Teacher's Notes:

Students will research animals, their habitats, and their characteristics. Students will then compare themselves to these characteristics. This comparison will develop into a comparative essay/speech. Students will research Totems and their purpose and use with Native Americans. Students will then develop their own unique animal Totem based on this research.

  • Students will define what a "totem" is and how they are used in modern culture
  • Students will compare modern "totems" with historical ones
  • Students will review different Native American cultures comparing each's idea of what totems and totem animals represent
  • Students will identify various types of totem poles from different Native Tribes
  • Utilizing a WebQuest students will define their own "totem" animals
  • Students will then create a totem pole which represents their own personal totem
  • Students will develop a "Potlatch": a "party" where authentic foods will be presented to a school-wide audience
  • Students will search for authentic Native American foods and then recreate them for the "Potlatch"
  • Students will present their Totems in a "Potlatch"

(click to view a slideshow presentation of this Unit Plan)
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Tools and Resources necessary:

Websites listed below, access to computers with graphical software, Internet access, printer(s).



(Use the allocated hyperlinks to find the answers to your quest):

Part 1: Questions for Research:

  • As a whole class or small groups discuss characteristics of people, themselves, the class etc:
    • How are the life and deeds of a person remembered in our society? (trophies, plaques, books, movies)
    • What kinds of qualities are remembered? (good ones)
    • When people die, how are they memorialized? (tombstone, eulogy, funeral, wake, mourning period)
    • How do other cultures memorialize their departed? (England - kings and queens buried in cathedrals, Egyptian royalty mummified with items for afterlife and buried in pyramids, Plains Indians buried on scaffold with items for afterlife, Anasazi buried in a closed-off room or in trash pit with items for afterlife, Northwest Coast Indians buried at top of totem pole). What accounts for the differences in the way we bury our dead? (Religion)




Part 2: What Are Totem Poles?

  • Describe the types of Totem poles.
    • Memorial Pole - describes a special event (defeat, hunt, dream) or the life and deeds of a person or clan.
    • House Pole - The emblem (a sign or figure that represents something) of a family and tells what rights and privileges they have.
    • Mortuary Pole - a marked grave; at the top is a box that holds the remains. The carving below describes the person's rank and accomplishments.
  • How are totem poles similar to the other ways people remember the dead? (It recalls their lives, deeds, and strengths, it creates a record of their life)
  • How are totem poles different?

Totem Poles:

An Exploration:
A Brief Introduction:
Totem Poles of the North American Northwest Coast Indians:
Types of Totem Designs:


Teacher Notes:

Totem poles are made out of cedar trees and traditionally painted with red, blue-green, black and white. Special animals with certain strengths are carved according to the owner. The beaver has a wide, distinctly marked tail, two large front teeth, and holds a stick between his paws. He has the power to heal and change the cold weather into mist. The beaver was a sign of wealth due to the fur trade. Another popular animal, the Killer Whale, has a wide mouth and a long, high fin. He is honored for his bravery and strength. It was believed that he could become a human with great power. The bear carving has large paws and claws, a short snout and large teeth. Often he is carved with his tongue hanging out. For women, the bear gave them the power to work hard and to be good mothers. The bear gave men the power to be successful hunters. A large totem could take two to three years to carve. It was a great honor to have one, and a family might trade all they had for one.



Part 3: Finding Your Animal Spirits

  • What type of animal describes you? What deeds and activities have you done that an animal could represent? (Football, babysitting, quiet and studious, social)
  • Make a list of characteristics that you represent you; those behaviors that you believe are most important to you.
  • For each "Spirit Animal" (7) write a paragraph explaining why you chose these particular "Spirit Animals" and compare/contrast them with your own characters

Begin Quest Here

Other Resources for Spirit Animals
Roles of the Animal Totems:
Life Paths: Animal Totems & Earth Medicine:
Working with Animal Spirits:



Part 4: Your Personal Totem


  • Once there exists a written record of your totem create a multi-media slideshow, movie, presentation, photo essay etc that represents your "Personal Totem"
  • Using other media create a totem pole that represents you, your past and future accomplishments:
    • use old soda cans, milk bottles or cartons, found objects, old computer parts paper maiche etc (This is the time to be creative and let your spirits guide you!)

Individual pictures of totems: (requires Java capable browser)



Part 5: Potlatch

  • Explore different Native American foods, games, and customs
  • Prepare these foods for the potlatch
  • Bring everything together by having a potlatch invite other classes or family memebers
  • Display the created totems, multi-media presentations, or oral presentations




Teacher and/or peer and/or self evaluation. Students may want to participate in creating a rubric from which to create and evaluate this project with. For instance, how creative, detail of descriptions, neatness, different facets of family and personality. The Potlatch itself is a cumulative form of portfolio assessment.

Click Here for Examples

Developed Using MI Thoery


  • Students will present a "Potlatch" where they will provide authentic Native American foods to a school-wide audience.
  • Students will build a "Totem" pole which represents themselves or their families or their classroom


  • Students will design Totems for their family and/or classroom; discussing the different complexities that create a "dynamic" social environment.
  • Students will discuss their Totems how they


  • Students will do a self-discovery as they interpret their own individual Totems; and/or Power Totems
  • Students will develop a personal Totem Pole, Totem Book; essay/speech etc.


  • Students will need to compute ratios; make measurements; and other calculations when developing their Totem poles..
  • Students will develop a multi-media presentation of their Totems


  • Students will study the use for different instruments and their meanings when involved in a Potlatch
  • Students will develop a dance that represents their classroom Totem and present it at the Potlatch (like a Pow Wow ceremony)


  • Students will develop Totem poles by recycling milk containers; plastic bottles; old computer parts; etc.
  • Students will investigate the importance of different animals within an ecological environment and how man has changed these habitats instead of working with them.



  • Students will make paper Totems and use color to enhance them; using paper, paints, chalk, etc.
  • (Most of these objectives are actually overlapping with the other intelligences) These objectives include: graphing, measuring, mapping, photographing, exploring, visualizing with their other senses.


Assessment can be made in the following ways:

  • a multi-media presentation of their Totem application of gathered data and figures
  • production of Potlatch and foods
  • written assessment of their presentations
  • essay/speech concerning ecological conservation
  • compare/contrast essay/speech regarding different Tribes and cultures
  • technical skills pertaining to computer, writing, and communication use
  • use of color and design in artistic motif
  • construction of Totem (following plans etc)
  • application of environmental conservation information

Examples of Assessments:

  • pillow books of their Personal Totem
  • posters created of their totems
  • multi-media presentations
  • posters of poems
  • Totem Poles made from wood; computer parts; milk cartons; soda cans; etc
  • Essays and/or speeches presented to the class or student body