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a great totem pole lesson for 5th grade students(could go higher)

updated sat 21 oct 00


Bennett,Samantha on fri 20 oct 00

Hi---I've always thought that every teacher has a few ideas of their own

and the rest are borrowed or stolen. Here's one of my ideas---hope you
like it.

Clay Totem Poles(I do them w/5th grade students)

Discuss Totem poles: talk about the way that they were used to tell the

story of different Native American peoples, families and communities.
Discuss how the story starts at the bottom and moves towards the top.
Look at images of totem poles.

Have students divide into 2 groups per class(the totem poles would be
too tall and therefore unstable otherwise). Have them tell the story of

their school experience(As big, bad fifth graders who "rule the school"
they love this idea). Each person in the group becomes responsible for
one part of the story. (For example, the bottom totems often start
with an activity they did in Kindergarten or !st grade and so forth.)
In the group, one person is the moderator of the group, one person
records the ideas on paper and one person is chosen to make the top
piece of the totem pole which will be the mascot of the school. To keep

the lesson a differentiated experience for all levels, I often tell
students that the project can be as simple as the name of our school
made with dynamic letters all the way to the likeness of a teacher or an

activity in 3D.

To make the totems, students get a "template" which is a piece of paper
that is 5"x14". They then make a slab using a rolling pin(I have
cardboard rolling pins that this template fits around with just enough
extra room to fasten well) rolling over 2 rulers with the slab in
between so that the slab doesn't get too thin. I also show them how to
stretch a slab by dragging it on the table as many find the slab process

difficult to do strengthwise. The slab is trimmed to the shape of the
template, then wrapped gently around the cardboard rolling pin(which has

a diameter of about 4-5in) and scored and joined. They are then free to

add details to create the totemic element that they are representing for

their groups totem pole.

To paint the sculpture, we use acrylics. I show them how to stain the
piece with a brown acrylic to create a wooden appearance and then add
touches of color to emphasize their designs.

The last step is that I use a piece of pvc pipe and bang it into the
ground outside in our ecology center. The groups totem pieces are
stacked to create a cooperative totem pole and the results are
fabulous. At the end of the project we go outside to see the fruits of
our labor and assess/discuss its artistic merits.

At the end of a few months of outdoor display, the students get to take
their piece of the project home.

We have accomplished the Discipline Based Art Education elements of:
history, philosophy, production and assessment. Cooperative learning at

differentiated levels is achieved and best of all kids get a couple of
weeks to stick their hands in clay which we know is the best part of