Talking Feather

Lesson submitted by teachers Tina Anderson (2nd grade), Kris Dirksen (3rd-4th grade), Pam Ellison (2nd grade), Brian Kemp (4th grade), and Carolyn Olson (Art) of South Ridge School.

Teachers are always looking for ways to encourage students to self regulate their classroom behavior. Students do best when clear structures and routines are in place. The Talking Feather gives us a visual symbol signaling information is now given.

Ms. Joyce LaPorte, a local Native artist, has been working with our students making the Ojibwe Odaminwaagan or Faceless Doll, a doll based on a traditional Ojibwe story. In addition she has spent time sharing other stories founded in the Seven Teachings about growing up - some traditional lessons about what she did as a young girl, young mother and wife, and now elder and widow. These stories will be retold by the students in pop-up books. As she spoke she had a turkey feather in her hands. Traditionally it would have been an eagle feather. Below you will find the story she retold of years ago about listening to the person holding the feather. The Talking Feather was a gift to us from Ms. LaPorte for our students.


  1. To provide a visual symbol for students to quiet themselves and listen to whomever is speaking.
  2. To present an opportunity for students to show respect for other cultures through their response to the feather being used in their classroom.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Ms. LaPorte shares stories about the Talking Feather. Ojibwe language was oral so that when stories were told you had to listen. When Ms. LaPorte was visiting friends at Red Lake, Little Creek told her the story of the Talking Feather. He said that in order for the young ones to hear and retain the knowledge being told to them, they would do a number of things: they would all sit in a quiet area, the speaker would use a quiet voice and hold an eagle feather, and the young ones would listen, almost like they are in a dream - concentrating hard to see the dream in their mind's eye.

Ms. LaPorte recalled her own grandmother talking with her when she was young and living on Madeline Island. She tells of the quiet voice her grandmother used and the quiet place they would sit together as her grandmother held the eagle feather. Ms. LaPorte brought each teacher/classroom a turkey feather.


Demonstrate how when we need to talk to a group, the speaker will use the feather to help the group focus on him/her and retain what they have spoken. Also share the mental imagery resource.


  1. Ms. LaPorte meets with each group weekly. As part of the project she's working on with the children (other projects), she tells stories related to the Ojibe Seven Teachings. As a rule we all sit in a circle when she picks up the feather, signifying that we are ready to listen and learn.
  2. Second grade students write and draw notes in their studio art journal to remember the stories either while she is talking or afterward.
  3. Ask students to recall parts of the story to check for understanding.
  4. Fourth grade students write at least four stories: introduction/beginning (1 paragraph), what happened/middle (3 paragraphs), and conclusion/how it ended (1 paragraph).
  5. Some of the 4th grade students help Ms. LaPorte explain the Talking Feather to the 2nd grade students.


Ms. LaPorte brought a large turkey feather for each of the teachers to use in their classroom. We thanked her many times.


Students are expected to participate in all activities to the best of their ability.

Project Rubric for 2nd Grade Critique of Book Project: Students listen quietly while the Talking Feather is used by the storyteller (75%). Completed journal entry (25%).

Project Journal for 4th Grade Journal Entry: Completed entry in Journal. At least four stories should be written down in their Journals as five paragraph essays: introduction/beginning, what happened/middle (3 paragraphs), and conclusion/how it ended (75%). Correct spelling, punctuation and grammar (25%).

Vocabulary Words


The children love to hold the feather. They respect the tradition and enjoy participating. Teachers were amazed at the attention and recall of their young students after listening to Ms. LaPorte talk with them for 45 minutes. Mr. Kemp asked one of the students, "Why can't you listen to me like you listen to Ms. LaPorte?" They said, "She is interesting." Ouch! - As an extension to this lesson, teachers might incorporate the Talking Feather with the 4th Grade Faceless Doll / Pop-up Books lessons and the 2nd Grade Ojibwe Language Book lesson, all based on the Artist Residency with Joyce LaPorte to practice this listening tradition.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards


Language Arts


Social Studies