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Native American Communications

Grade Level: 4-6

Have your students study and replicate the many forms communication that were used by Native American Indians. Ask your students how they thought Indians communicated with each other. There were three basic ways:

Drawings: In Mexico and Central America, the Maya's writings were "glyphs" (symbols) which were carved in stone. Aztec writings consisted of pictographs, most of which were pictures of objects. Some tribes used pictures or wampum beads to keep records of events in a person's life or a tribe's history, or the passage of time. These drawings were done on walls, animal skins, or tree bark.

Sign: The number of different tribes found on the Plains, each with its own language, created another form of communication, sign language. Indian tribes of the Plains developed a series of commonly understood gestures for trade and other basic information exchanges. A discussion could begin on the more complex sign language that's used by deaf or hearing impaired people today.

Unspoken signal: Perhaps the most familiar form of communication to students is smoke or drum signals. This was used for very simplistic messages between individuals or tribes and was most commonly some type of warning.

Have your students write about an important ceremony using pictographs or tell a story using sign language.

Resources For Additional Activities:

Cobb, Vicki (1980). The Secret Life of School Supplies. J.B. Lippincott Company, NY. Test different writing devices, pp.36-37; make your own chalk, pp. 46-48.

Wilt, Joy and Terre Watson (1978). Look! 70 Visual Experiments for Children: Including 35 Toys and Projects. Creative Resources, Cincinnati, OH. Invisible writing, pp. 54.