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Symbolic Stories

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Students will gain general knowledge about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Students will explore the role bison played in the culture and art of the American Indians of the Great Plains during the time of Lewis and Clark’s journey. Students will become familiar with the process of telling a story through artwork and will create a painting to tell a special story from their lives.

Coin Type(s)

  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Westward Journey Nickel Series


  • Students will gain general knowledge about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.
  • Students will explore the role bison played in the culture and art of the American Indians of the Great Plains during the time of Lewis and Clark’s journey.
  • Students will become familiar with the process of telling a story through artwork and will create a painting to tell a special story from their lives.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Art
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies


  • Second grade

Class Time

Sessions: Four
Session Length: 30-45 minutes
Total Length: 121-150 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Pairs
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • American Indians
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Story writing
  • Sequencing events

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse (front)
  • Reverse (back)
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Corps of Discovery
  • Nickel
  • Bison
  • Pictographs
  • Sequencing words (first, then, finally)


  • 1 overhead projector
  • The following pages from the Resource Guide:
    • “Pre-2004 Jefferson Nickel Obverse” page
    • “Pre-2004 Jefferson Nickel Reverse” page
    • “American Bison Nickel Reverse” page
  • “A Winter Gift” page
  • “My Story” worksheet
  • Classroom map of the United States
  • Copies of an age-appropriate text that provides information about the bison and the American Indians, such as:
    • The Buffalo by Sabrina Crewe
    • Following Great Herds: the Plains Indians and the American Buffalo by Ryan P. Randolph
    • Animal Lore and Legend: Buffalo by Tiffany Midge
    • Plains Indians by Kate Hayden
    • Buffalo Woman by Paul Goble
  • Internet sites about American Indian bison hides, such as:
  • Chart paper/markers
  • Pencils
  • Newspaper
  • Brown paper or brown paper bags
  • Sponge pieces or small spray bottle
  • Small paper cups
  • Water
  • Watercolors
  • Paintbrushes in various sizes
  • Smocks (optional)
  • Scissors
  • American Indian music (optional)
  • CD player (optional)
  • Age-appropriate writing paper


  • Make copies of the following:
    • “A Winter Gift” page (1 per student)
    • “My Story” worksheet (1 per student)
  • Make an overhead transparency of the following:
    • “Pre-2004 Jefferson Nickel Obverse” page from the Resource Guide
    • “Pre-2004 Jefferson Nickel Reverse” page from the Resource Guide
    • “American Bison Nickel Reverse” page from the Resource Guide
    • “A Winter Gift” page
  • Locate appropriate texts that provide basic historical information about the bison and American Indian customs (see examples under “Materials”).
  • Create a “Special Events” chart. Divide a piece of chart paper into three columns. Label the columns “Special Event,” “Details,” and “Picture Symbols.”
  • Bookmark appropriate Internet sites about American Indian bison hides (see examplesunder “Materials”).
  • Cut rectangular pieces of brown paper (1 per student).
  • Create a model “bison hide” for the students to use as a guide.
  • Set up paint areas (tables covered with newspapers; watercolors, a paintbrush, a piece of sponge, a cup of water, and a piece of brown paper for each student).
  • Locate American Indian music and a CD player (optional).

Worksheets and Files

Lesson plan, worksheet(s), and rubric (if any) at

Session 1

  1. Display the transparency of the “Pre-2004 Jefferson Nickel Obverse” page. Ask the students to examine it and tell you what they know about this picture. If necessary, tell them that this is the obverse (front) of a nickel and that it shows President Thomas Jefferson.
  2. Ask the students if they know what is on the reverse (back) of the nickel. After hearing responses, display the transparency of the “Pre-2004 Jefferson Nickel Reverse” page. If necessary, explain that the building was called “Monticello” and was the home of President Jefferson.
  3. Explain that our country changed the design on the nickel in 2004 to help tell the story of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the two men who led an expedition that explored our western land 200 years ago, and that President Jefferson sponsored this journey. Now, in 2005, the Westward Journey Nickel Series™ continues with a third design on the nickel to tell another part of the story.
  4. Display the transparency of the “American Bison Nickel Reverse” page and allow the students enough time to thoroughly examine the image. Explain to them that this is a large animal that was seen long ago on the plains by Lewis and Clark. If necessary, tell them that this is a special animal known as the bison or buffalo.
  5. Explain to the students that the American bison is not really a buffalo—no species of buffalo is native to North America. But people have used the term “buffalo” to describe the American bison since before Lewis and Clark’s time, so the terms are virtually interchangeable in common usage.
  6. Display a map of the United States and point out the area of North Dakota and its relation to the students’ state. Explain that this was one area where large groups of bison used to roam and run wild.
  7. Ask the students what people they think may have been living in this area 200 years ago. After student responses are given, explain, if necessary, that American Indians were living there at that time.
  8. Explain that they will be reading a story as a class about the bison and how it was important to the lives of the American Indians.
  9. Introduce the students to the selected text and then read it aloud to the students. During the reading, attend to any unfamiliar vocabulary.
  10. Using information from the text, ask the students to recall facts from the text about the bison and how it was important to the American Indians. Record student responses on chart paper.
  11. Mention to the students that the American Indians painted pictures on the dried hide of the bison to show important events in their lives.

Sessions 2 and 3

  1. Review the chart and revisit the discussion about the text from the last session.
  2. Emphasize the importance of bison hides as a material on which the American Indians could record important life events, such as a hunt.
  3. Remind the students of the explorers mentioned in the previous session. Tell them that the explorers spent one winter with a group of American Indians called the Mandan and received a special gift from them.
  4. Distribute a copy of the “A Winter Gift” page to each student. Also display the transparency of this page using an overhead projector. Read the page with the students. Encourage the students to underline key words on their copy.
  5. Display a map of the United States. Show the students the location of North Dakota. Explain that this is the area where the Mandan Indians lived. Ask the students to recall what else was recently discussed about this area. The students should respond that this was the area where the bison also lived.
  6. Display images of pictographs used by the American Indians from Web sites. Discuss the images and the colors used. Ask the students to tell what special story they think is being told and explain their answers.
  7. Introduce the students to the “Special Events” chart. As a model, fill in the three columns on the chart paper using something you yourself have learned to do, such as learning to read, playing the piano, or riding a bike. Under the “Picture Symbols” column, draw pictographs of the accomplishment to show the students how the story can be written in another way.
  8. Explain to the students that they will now have the opportunity to share a special event from their own lives such as a special day at school, relatives coming to visit, a trip they took, when they got a pet, etc. Record the ideas and suggestions on the chart.
  9. Show the students the pre-made teacher example of a bison hide story. Ask them to predict what special memory they think is being told. Encourage the students to explain their answers. Tell the students that they will be creating their own “bison hide” to tell a special story through a pictograph painting in a later session.
  10. Assign each student a partner and explain that they will each be writing a story about a special event in their life. Explain that they can use the class chart as a reference. The partners should help each other generate ideas and proofread each other’s written work.
  11. Distribute one “My Story” worksheet to each student.
  12. Tell the students that they will be filling out the top part of the worksheet with the special event and also the sequence and details of the story. They can work with their partners to generate ideas, story sequencing, and details.
  13. Once they are finished with the top section, tell the students that they will now need to draw images or pictographs to tell their story like the American Indians did. Have images of the American Indian pictographs displayed in the classroom. Students should also have copies of these pictographs available at their desks for near-point copying as they create their stories. Their images need to look similar to the ones the American Indians used to tell their stories.
  14. While the writing pieces are being created, have small groups of students go to the teacher-supervised paint areas. The students should put their name on the back of the paper and turn the paper over. Then the students should lightly dampen the sponge piece and wipe it over the brown paper to soften it. Emphasize the fact that very little water should be used.
  15. The students should then gently fold and crumple the paper into a large ball. This will soften the paper and give it the appearance of faux leather (this step should take about 5 to 7 minutes).
  16. Set the paper pieces aside to dry completely.
  17. When the students are not preparing their brown paper for the painting activity in Session 3, they should continue to work on story details for their worksheets.
  18. Collect the “My Story” worksheets.

Session 4

  1. Distribute the “My Story” worksheets from Sessions 2 and 3 to the students.
  2. Distribute the students’ bison hide from the previous session. Direct them to carefully tear off pieces of the paper along the edge to form an irregular shape for their “hide.” Remind the students that the final piece needs to be large enough to paint their story on.
  3. Have the students get with their partner from Session 2 and review the pictographs drawn on their worksheet. Continue to have the American Indian bison hide pictographs from the Web sites and the teacher created “bison hide” displayed in the classroom as a reference for the students.
  4. Tell the students that now they will complete their special story using pictographs.
  5. Explain to the students that they actually created the first draft of their “bison hide” story on the worksheet during the previous sessions. Now they will tell the story by painting images on the hides using their “My Story” worksheet as a guide.
  6. Using the images created on the “My Story” worksheet and the American Indian pictographs in the classroom as a guide, direct the students to paint images on their “bison hide” (brown paper from Sessions 2 and 3).
  7. Have American Indian music playing in the background while they paint (optional).
  8. Set the painted “bison hides” aside to dry.
  9. Direct the students who are not at the painting area at this time to write a final copy of their special story from the “My Story” worksheet for classroom display.
  10. Share with the students that sometimes American Indians gave away their bison hide to a special person. Invite any students who want to give away their hides to a person who is special to them to do so.
  11. Display the symbolic bison hide stories in the classroom. Hang the writings nearby, and encourage others to match the written stories with the correct symbol stories.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students to dictate their story to a scribe.
  • Allow students to cut out pre-made pictographs to glue to their bison hide painting.


  • Have students do independent research about the Indian Head/Buffalo Head Nickel, minted from 1913 to 1938 at
  • Have students compare the obverse and reverse of the Indian Head/Buffalo Head Nickel with the American Bison Nickel.
  • Have students do independent research about other coins that show an image of the bison such as the 2005 Kansas quarter.
  • Take anecdotal notes about the students’ participation during the class discussions and the development of their stories and paintings.
  • Check for students’ comprehension through a discussion with the students about their stories and paintings.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: L.2 Language
Grade(s): Grade 2
Cluster: Conventions of Standard English

  • L.2.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • Use collective nouns (e.g., group).
    • Form and use frequently occurring irregular plural nouns (e.g., feet, children, teeth, mice, fish).
    • Use reflexive pronouns (e.g., myself, ourselves)
    • Form and use the past tense of frequently occurring irregular verbs (e.g., sat, hid, told).
    • Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.
    • Produce, expand, and rearrange complete simple and compound sentences (e.g., The boy watched the movie; The little boy watched the movie; The action movie was watched by the little boy).
  • L.2.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • Capitalize holidays, product names, and geographic names.
    • Use commas in greetings and closings of letters.
    • Use an apostrophe to form contractions and frequently occurring possessives.
    • Generalize learned spelling patterns when writing words (e.g., cage --> badge; boy --> boil).
    • Consult reference materials, including beginning dictionaries, as needed to check and correct spellings.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.2 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 2
Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

  • RI.2.1. Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
  • RI.2.2. Identify the main topic of a multi-paragraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.
  • RI.2.3. Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text. 

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.2 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 2
Cluster: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • RI.2.7. Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.
  • RI.2.8. Describe how reasons support specific points the author makes in a text.
  • RI.2.9. Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.2 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 2
Cluster: Craft and Structure

  • RI.2.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 2 topic or subject area.
  • RI.2.5. Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.
  • RI.2.6. Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.2 Writing
Grade(s): Grade 2
Cluster: Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • W.2.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
  • W.2.8. Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • W.2.9. begins in grade 4.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.2 Writing
Grade(s): Grade 2
Cluster: Production and Distribution of Writing

  • W.2.4. begins in grade 3.
  • W.2.5. With guidance and support from adults and peers, focus on a topic and strengthen writing as needed by revising and editing.
  • W.2.6. With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: Culture and Cultural Diversity
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • assist learners to understand and apply the concept of culture as an integrated whole that governs the functions and interactions of language, literature, arts, traditions, beliefs, values, and behavior patterns
  • enable learners to analyze and explain how groups, societies, and cultures address human needs and concerns
  • guide learners as they predict how experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference
  • encourage learners to compare and analyze societal patterns for transmitting and preserving culture while adapting to environmental and social change
  • enable learners to assess the importance of cultural unity and diversity within and across groups
  • have learners interpret patterns of behavior as reflecting values and attitudes which contribute to or pose obstacles to cross-cultural understanding
  • guide learners in constructing reasoned judgments about specific cultural responses to persistent human issues
  • have learners explain and apply ideas, theories, and modes of inquiry drawn from anthropology and sociology in the examination of persistent issues and social problems

Discipline: Visual Arts and Music
Domain: K-4 Visual Arts
Cluster: Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students know that the visual arts have both a history and specific relationships to various cultures
  • Students identify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places
  • Students demonstrate how history, culture, and the visual arts can influence each other in making and studying works of art

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Use of Spoken, Written, and Visual Language
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: People, Places, and Environment
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • Enable learners to use, interpret, and distinguish various representations of Earth such as maps, globes, and photographs, and to use appropriate geographic tools
  • Encourage learners to construct, use, and refine maps and mental maps, calculate distance, scale, area, and density, and organize information about people, places, regions, and environments in a spatial context
  • Help learners to locate, distinguish, and describe the relationships among varying regional and global patterns of physical systems such as landforms, climate, and natural resources, and explain changes in the physical systems
  • Guide learners in exploring characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface
  • Have learners describe how people create places that reflect culture, human needs, current values and ideals, and government policies
  • Provide opportunities for learners to examine, interpret, and analyze interactions of human beings and their physical environments, and to observe and analyze social and economic effects of environmental changes, both positive and negative
  • Challenge learners to consider, compare, and evaluate existing uses of resources and land in communities, regions, countries, and the world
  • Direct learners to explore ways in which Earth’s physical features have changed over time, and describe and assess ways historical events have influenced and been influenced by physical and human geographic features