Lesson Plan: Native American Winter Counts

Written By: Mary Dalzell
Grade Level: Elementary but adaptable for all grades K-12

Time Allotment

I Unit with 5 lessons: approximately 2 hours per lesson


Winter Counts are pictorial records of Native American History. Students will learn the how Winter Counts was the visual record used by the Lakota to record the history of their daily life.


Subject Matter

Social Studies, Math, Literature, Science and Visual Art.

Learning Objectives

Students will understand that there are many diverse cultures and that different peoples use many different styles and forms to record their history. Students will learn about the practice of making winter counts among some Native American groups. Students will study the Lone Dog Winter Count. Students will learn about history keeping in various cultures. Students will understand how storytellers use pictographs as storytelling devices. Students will create pictograph cards illustrating their own life. Students will create a water color painting using pictographs within a Native American sun painting as well as create a “buffalo” pictograph and berry dye paintings.

Media Components - Video/Web


  1. Examples of pictographic records
  2. Student Journals
  3. Brown craft paper or Brown paper bags
  4. Pencils, Sharpies, erasers
  5. Various Oil Pastels or Tempura Paints
  6. Water Color Paper
  7. Water Color Pans
  8. Paint Brushes
  9. Containers for Water
  10. Various berries and fruits

Teacher Preparation

  • Power points prepared
  • Websites saved
  • Art materials ready

Introductory Activities

  • Students will be shown various power points on Winter Counts.
  • Students will also be shown websites on Winter Counts as well as handouts of pictographs.
  • Emaze Water color presentation
Students Materials:
  • Lone Dog Pictographs Handout
  • __L__ 1. The Nez Perces came to Lone-Horn’s lodge at midnight. 1852–53
  • __K__ 2. White soldiers made their first appearance in the region. 1823–24
  • __I__ 3. Plenty of buffalo meat. 1845–46
  • _B__ 4. Eight Nakotas were killed. 1863–64
  • _ G__ 5. La Framboise, a Canadian, built a trading store with dry timber. 1817-18 __D 6. The Nakotas killed a Crow woman. 1857–58
  • __F_ 7. The Nakotas made peace with the Cheyennes. 1840–41
  • __E_8. Buffalo belly was plenty (food, clothing and other materials). 1816–17
  • __C_ 9. Buffalo were so plentiful that their tracks came close to the tipis. 1861-62
  • __A 10. Four-Horn was made a calumet or medicine man. 1856–57
  • __J_ 11. There was a remarkable flood in the Missouri River and a number of Indians were drowned. 1825–26
  • ___H 12. The whooping cough was very prevalent and fatal. 1813–14 L

Learning Activities

  • Native American Sun Painting
    1. Students will design their own symbols which have meaning to them.
    2. Students will use compasses to create make circle shapes on their papers.
    3. Students will also add their personal symbols to the outer circle. Students will add flames and lines which extend into the background of the picture.
    4. Students will also use patterns with their symbols.
    5. Students will outline their pictures with sharpies.
    6. Students will use various painting techniques to create their pictures.
    7. Students will recognize warm and cool colors.
    8. Students will use Dry/ Wet on Wet/ and Salt textures techniques.
  • “Buffalo” Hide Pictographs:
    1. Students will design their own symbols which have meaning to them from the past year.
    2. Students will draw their symbols on the brown craft paper which has been torn to resemble a buffalo skin.
    3. Students can outline their symbols with sharpie.
    4. Students can add color with oil pastels or various tempura paints.
  • Winter Count Dyes:
  • During this activity the students will learn about natural dyes/pigments used to draw images on winter counts. The students will crush fruits and berries and then they will use the juice/dyes produced to paint cotton swatches. Setup/Process
    1. Collect the materials.
    2. Crush the fruits/berries in separate bowls (remove the large pieces, leaving the juice).
    3. Cut an old white sheet into 4”X4” cotton swatches.
    4. Use a brush or cotton swab to paint a 1 inch diameter circle on the cloth. Each dye should have a separate cotton swatch.
    5. Wait 10 minutes and then check for clarity (sharpness – defined edge) and deepness (range from dark to light).
    6. Using a chart, mark clarity and deepness for each sample. Use a scale of 1-10, 10 being the sharpest and deepest.
    7. Wash each sample in a mild mixture of water and dishwashing detergent. Wash each sample for 10-15 seconds. The scrubbing force, duration and action for all of the samples should be the same.
    8. Place the swatches on paper towels to dry or hang dry. Let samples dry for 5-10 minutes.
    9. Using the chart, mark clarity and deepness for each sample. Use a scale of 1-10, 10 being the sharpest and deepest.
What to expect: The students should realize that natural dyes work very well. Many of the fruits/berries tested will remain in the cloth for extended periods of time. The students may have experienced staining their clothing while eating fruits/berries. The students should also conclude that winter count images are durable but they can be prone to fading/breakdown over time due to environmental influences. Winter counts need to be protected to preserve clarity and deepness. Extension: Each student could select an additional item like ketchup, mustard or chocolate syrup to test. Also, the natural dyes could be compared to compounds like permanent marker or tee-shirt paint.

Culminating Activity

MATERIALS: Gallery or wall space Students will have a gallery show in which they will display their Native American artworks.

Cross-Curricular Activity

  1. Social Studies:Native Americans History Lesson Recording the Past and the Future
  2. Science: Winter count Dyes and Berry Painting
  3. Math: Creating a Timeline
  4. Reading:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnJcQTbf_8Q">The Birch Bark House
  5. Art: Native American Sun Paints
  6. Music: Native American Singer
  7. Background Information: Winter Counts
  8. Winter Count Unit: Grade Level: K-2
  9. Winter Count Unit: Grade Level: 3-5
  10. Winter Count Unit: Grade Level: 6-8
  11. Winter Count Unit: Grade Level: 9-12
  12. Elementary, Middle School and High School Lesson Plans
  13. Lesson Plan Connections for Elementary, Middle School and High School Students

Community Connections

Parents and family will be invited to join the class for a gallery show of their artwork.