Lesson Plan: Little Herd on the Prairie Lesson Plan G 4

Written By: Jennifer Welle
Grade Level: 4

Time Allotment

One Month (Four/Five Class Periods)


This lesson examines the connection between the North Dakota prairie and the bison that once roamed it in great numbers. The art lesson will focus on students learning how to compose a chalk pastel North Dakota prairie landscape with bison along with a three-dimensional bison formed from clay. Students will paint the bison in a way that reflects a personal connection with the prairie landscape and the North American bison. Each student will display their prairie landscape along with the bison sculpture and poem about their projects.

Subject Matter

Arts - Visual

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Understand the landscape of the North Dakota prairie.
  • Learn how to use the art medium of chalk pastel to render a North Dakota landscape with bison.
  • Develop an understanding about the importance of the bison to Native Americans.
  • Develop an understanding about the cause and effect of people overhunting the bison leading them to near extinction.
  • Demonstrate proper sculpting techniques when creating a bison form with a base.
  • Discuss how artists’ and scientists’ work helped to explain and preserve the history of the bison.
  • Write a poem from the bison’s point of view about his/her land.


  • Bison Communities-Life in the Herd from Discovery Learning
  • The Bison’s Role in American History from Discovery Learning
  • Human Impact on the Buffalo Population from Discovery Learning
  • Conservation Efforts in the Grassland Biome from Discovery Learning
  • Herd About the Prairie-North Dakota Studies
  • Computer Laptop connected to LCD projector
  • Chalk Pastels and Paper
  • Reference images of the North Dakota Prairie for each group
  • Media Components from Discovery Learning
  • Herd About the Prairie (DVD) from Prairie Public or http://www.ndstudies.org/
  • Images of bison
  • Images of paintings by George Catlin and Walter Piehl for Venn Comparison
  • Clay, water, forks, canvas, variety of paint colors,/li>
  • Natural paper for writing

Teacher Preparation

  • Review all of the web clips to become familiar with the bison of the plains.
  • Prepare images for each table to refer to when drawing.
  • Prepare discussion questions for students to have a group discussion at their table after each video clip.
  • Acquire images of artwork by George Catlin and Monte Yellowbird for students to
  • compare and contrast the two artists’ work.
  • Prepare materials needed for creating and painting the clay bison.

Introductory Activities

This lesson is taught in conjunction with the fourth grade classroom’s North Dakota Social Studies Unit. The students learn about North Dakota history, geography, and study different N.D. Native American groups .
  1. Show a variety of paintings of North Dakota past and present.
  2. Discuss the artworks using the Descriptive Review technique (i.e. What do you know? What questions does it raise? Speculate) http://opd.mpls.k12.mn.us/ArtfulTools.html
  3. Use Venn Diagram to compare past and present artists’ depictions of North Dakota history. Allow time for discussion.
  4. Ask students to share what they know about the state symbols of North Dakota.
  5. Discuss the significance of the North American Bison.
  6. Show clips of the Bison footage and use Descriptive Review, http://opd.mpls.k12.mn.us/ArtfulTools.html , after each clip.

Learning Activities

  1. Students will observe artists’ photographs of North Dakota (e.g. Wayne Gudmundson) and discuss recognizable geography, as well as the elements of art and perspective. Prairie Public On Demand
  2. Students will use a variety of photographs to assist them with their own North Dakota landscape composition.
  3. Students will view the DVD, Herd about the Prairie. This video shows how artists each designed a large fiberglass bison which pays homage to and celebrates the region.
  4. Students will draw and brainstorm possible designs for a bison in their sketchbooks.
  5. Students will sculpt an approximate 4x6” bison from red clay and attach it to a flat base (grassland).
  6. Students will paint the finished bison in their own way which reflects their understanding of the importance of the North American Bison to our area in the past and present.
  7. Students will finish this project by writing about the land from the perceptive of the Bison.

Culminating Activity

  • Students will display their landscape drawing, bison, and writing in a public venue.
  • Students will also incorporate classroom activities with their art projects (e.g. parfleche bags, winter counts, toothpick/quillwork, housing diorama, etc.)