Tree Identification: Resources, Cultural Traditions and Scientific Categorization

It is important to be able to identify trees that have been traditionally a necessity in the Ojibwe culture and have been used as a basic resource, such as birch trees.The birch is a significant tree of the Great Lakes, all parts of the tree; the bark, sap, roots, wood, and leaves offer valuable resources. Ojibwe communities have long recognized the value of birch and hold it in high esteem.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Read an excerpt from John Peyton's Birch:Bright Tree of Life and Legend.Students then are invited to see a birch leaf and birch bark, as well as images or objects made from Birchbark in the classroom. Talk about the MANY uses of birch and its bark:- Birch is used for making utensils, birchbark trays, baskets, storage boxes, maple sugar cones, pots to boil water, dishes, cups, and of course birchbark canoes. - Because birchbark resists rotting, has natural antibacterial qualities and repels water, American Indians have historically used it to waterproof their dwellings, and as a form of paper for depicting teachings Midewiwin scrolls, history or visual art motifs bitten bark. - Traditional Ojibwe stories tell us that birch has received all these qualities as a reward for having sheltered Nanabozho from the thunderbirds. It was the angry thunderbirds' wings that gave the birch its distinctive bark marking.


Show the contemporary artwork of Holmes, Rabbett and Morrisseau, contrasted with the traditional uses of Birchbark. Have students journal as you compare and contrast the art pieces. Ask students questions about how they think it was made, the purpose of the object, or the meaning of the art. Summarize by encouraging the idea that tradition and culture is always changing and the materials, expressions and objects both change in theme, but remain in material.Demonstrate the technique of leaf rubbing and etching using crayon. Talk about this process as both a record of the tree for identification, as well as a visual exercise meant to feel the texture, see the details and create a tactile memory and visual. Show the class finished pieces and talk about ways to display and share their tree knowledge and art with the school.


  1. Discuss characteristics for leaf sorting: Introduce vocabulary-serrated, smooth, deciduous, coniferous, etc.
  2. Provide students an opportunity to observe various leaves through a nature walk
  3. Group students to work together and then distribute various types of leaves for students to sort
  4. After students have sorted their leaves have them share the ways they sorted the leaves. Describe the characteristics that helped them sort. Compare and contrast with other groups on ways they sorted the leaves.
  5. Provide an opportunity for students to explore creating a leave rubbing with textured plates or real leaves using crayons and paper.
  6. Create a leaf etching by using an index card to color on with various fall colors. Then color over the whole card with black crayon. The student should choose a leaf they would like to etch on the card using the end of a paper clip. Students should make a practice drawing first.
  7. When the etching is complete the students will prepare it for display by writing about the leaf and the tree it is from.


Students critiqued their work and checked their sorting through cooperative group/class discussion. Student's etchings were displayed in the classroom and around the school, along with written descriptions of the particular tree's importance and uses of the leaves, bark, sap, roots in Ojibwe culture. This lesson could move into a unit on animal habitats.Another closure to this lesson would be a creative writing project. Students could use Ojibwe words to describe the textural, visual and tactile qualities of the leaf and compose a poem using select vocab.


Students will self-assess what they learned and share with each other what they learned about the tree, leaf and culture of the natural resources around us.

Vocabulary Words


The students sorted the leaves without any problem. Having students write down vocabulary to help describe the leaves would be helpful. Most students did fine with the etching. Some did not color firmly enough so the etching did not go through very well. Encourage students to make a practice drawing on a plain white paper of similar size first, and then they can work out any changes before moving to the final card.

Grade Level


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards



Social Studies