Ojibwe Teachings: Adjusting to High School Through Art, Culture, and Storytelling

Lesson submitted by Susan Anderson (Art), Peter Backstrom (7th grade), and Darilynn Ronn (Art) of Northeast Range School.

When freshmen enter high school, they sometimes have difficulties adjusting to the new environment. They have both freedoms and expectations that they may have never experienced before and that they each have to learn how to handle. These issues include dealing with upper classmen, getting to class on time, expressing that they like someone, getting their work done on time, organizing their materials, finding what they need, behaving well in class, and more. There are always new and changing challenges in every school. The art of storytelling to teach life lessons can help the students adjust to high school life. Through group discussion and storytelling, we will help each other work through some of the issues.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


As a class we will talk about issues that students face in 7th and 8th grade. This discussion will start with the question, "What is hard about 7th and 8th grade?" or "What has been hard about coming together as a new school?" As a group they will talk about and come up with a subject to write about.Our community, like many, is a melding of cultures. Northern Minnesota has strong communities of Finnish-Americans and American Indians. These communities have lived in harmony, married, and shared traditions.


Demonstrate how to punch index cards and insert onto ring to use as flash cards.


  1. Students create their flash cards by punching holes into the corner of their index cards and slipping them onto a ring.
  2. Invite students to read traditional Ojibwe and Finnish stories with a moral to get a feel for these two genres.
  3. Students brainstorm story ideas with the writer and/or their teacher based on their challenges of being in 7th and 8th grade, converting their experiences into a fictional story with a moral that is appropriate for younger grade students.
  4. The writer works with each student to come up with their story line. Using the Mad Lib format, the student fills in the blanks about what happens next.
  5. Students decide what words to translate into Ojibwe and Finnish (help students find the English translations). Students write the word on their flash cards with pronunciation pointers, the language (Ojibwe or Finnish) in small type on the bottom of the card, and the English translation on the back. Students memorize Ojibwe and Finnish words and their correct pronunciation.
  6. Students then draw imagery - scenery parts - to go along with their story.
  7. Students type their story on a computer or handwrite it on paper, leaving room for their imagery.
  8. Students write a glossary of Ojibwe and Finnish words, including a pronunciation guide, to go in the back of their storybook.
  9. Help the students craft their text and imagery into a storybook. Handmade books can be bound in a folder, with staples, or with simple stitching.


The students read the book to a Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade classroom, being careful to speak the Ojibwe and Finnish words with correct pronunciation, and talking with students about their story's moral.


Observation of the students as they read their book to the young students. Hearing how they speak the Ojibwe and Finnish words and if they are spoken correctly. Students will be asked to talk to the young students about the moral of their story and how it could apply to them. Hopefully they will urge the young students to practice the moral. Upon returning to class, discuss with the students if and how talking about the subject of the book helped them.

Vocabulary Words


The books can be handmade or digitally published. In our class, we had students send their story line and pictures to the Graphics Arts class (consisting of 11th and 12th graders) to turn this into a digital storybook. The visiting artist helped the Graphic Arts students scan, re-size, and flip the pictures, add type, and create the pages for the book. We also sent the book pages to a printer/publisher. However, if professional publishing is not a possible prospect for finishing the project, there are many handmade book resources on the web that could provide support for first-time book makers.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Areas

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards


Language Arts


Social Studies