Winter Counts Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

We think about history in a specific way. With this lesson plan, your students will be introduced to a different way of thinking about how we record history and develop a greater understanding of Native American cultural systems.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define the winter count and its role in Native American societies
  • Discuss different means by which history is constructed/remembered
  • Critically explore the significance of the loss of cultural knowledge as a result of colonialism


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.



  • Start class by showing students an image of a Lakota winter count, but don't tell them what it is. Ask them to describe its physical and artistic traits, including the kinds of images and orientation of images. Ask them to guess what this might be.
  • Distribute copies of the lesson, Native American Winter Counts: Definition, History & Symbols.
  • You will read this lesson as a class. Ask one student to read aloud at a time and switch every paragraph.
  • Using this method, read the sections ''Native American Calendars'' and ''Keeping the Winter Count.''
  • Show students the image of the Lakota winter count again and talk about this in the context of the information you just read.
    • Now that we know what the Lakota winter count is, how does it change the way you see this image?
    • If you live in a society that records its history this way, why is this object important? Why is important to remember history?
    • How does this way of recording history differ from what we're used to?
  • Continue reading the lesson as a class and complete the remaining sections. Discuss this information.
    • How do you reconstruct a calendar like this if the original record-keepers die without passing on their knowledge?
    • How does this help us to understand the legacies of American expansion and colonization of the West? What impact did that have on how many Native American nations were able to maintain their history?
    • What would happen to us if we lost all our history books? What would happen to our identity?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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