Birchbark Baskets

Birchbark is an important resource for many in the Great Lakes region. Containers of birchbark were used for cooking, gathering berries, hauling water, storing food, and even burying the dead. It was also used for dwellings and birchbark canoes. This lesson will inform students of the varied uses and importance of birchbark for many Native Americans - past and present - and lead students through making a basket using traditional methods of folding.

Special thanks to Wendy Savage who conceived and demonstrated this lesson for Project Intersect teachers in 2007.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Begin a discussion on what birchbark is and where we find it. Show a sample of real birchbark, so students are able to see it and touch it. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is a good chapter book to read during/prior/post working with birchbark objects. In the book, the author speaks of the birch trees and how they are valuable to the Ojibwe people. After discussing some of the many uses of birchbark, present the facsimile of a birch bark basket that the class is going to make out of paper. I created the template myself after looking at pictures of traditional birchbark baskets. Show examples of the woodland floral motif (see lesson plans on floral motifs for background) and talk about ways students can represent a woodland motif as part of the basket decoration.


Demonstrate how to lay the template on the wood and rub the crayon over it to make the birchbark-like texture. Then fold two of the fold lines and show how to glue the flaps together and then bring the bottom flap up and glue that as well. They are to do both sides that way. Demonstrate how to punch holes around the rim and string yarn/twine around the rim for some decoration along with the scratch art paper that represents the woodland floral motif often seen in Ojibwe basketry. Then finally, knot the ends together.


  1. It is helpful to have the basket templates already cut out for the students with the fold lines in place.
  2. Each child is to write their name on the paper opposite of the side where the fold lines are drawn.
  3. Laying their template on the flat piece of wood and using the flat side of a brown crayon, rub the paper to show texture. Black and/or white crayon may also be used to represent more of the birch look.
  4. Present the basket folding procedure from the beginning to partly completed, by showing what the fold lines are for and how to glue them. Each child will then fold on two of the fold lines and glue the flaps together. They may tape it together until it dries.
  5. Do the same on the other side.
  6. Students then will use a floral design they've created and apply that design to the scratch art paper for the rim decoration.
  7. Students then punch holes around the rim with a hole puncher and then wrap yarn or twine around the edges in and out of the holes.
  8. Secure the ends with a knot.


Finally, when the baskets have dried, we will present our projects to the class. Each child will have their picture taken with the basket. We then will brainstorm ideas of what the baskets could be used for at school or at home.


Observe the students creating their baskets and watch for understanding by how they are completing the steps. Review can also included Ojibwe uses and purposes for baskets.

Vocabulary Words

Grade Levels


Primary Content Areas

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards



Social Studies