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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Lessons & Units

A database of lessons and units searchable by content and cultural standards, cultural region and grade level. More units will be available soon. You can use Acrobat Reader to look at the PDF version of the Cover Sheet for the Units and Self-Assessment for Cultural Standards in Practice.

Working with Willows


BSSD Unit on SURVIVAL - Edible Foods

Theme: Willows

lesson five

Title: Wind in the Willows

A Pen-Pal Project


Authors: Jenna Anasogak, Jolene Katchatag, Mike Kimber, John Sinnok, Nita Towarak, Cheryl Pratt

Grade Level: 5-8 (can be adapted for lower or higher grade levels)

Subjects: Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Science

Context: anytime

Region: NW Alaska

Materials: large craft or chart paper, access to e-mail service, paper and envelopes, stamps


*Alaska Science Standards: A- A student should understand scientific facts, concepts, principles and theories.

Skills and Knowledge: A-15- use science to understand and describe the local environment (Local Knowledge).

*Alaska Standards for Culturally Relevant Schools: D- Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to engage effectively in learning activities that are based on traditional ways of knowing and learning.

Skills and Knowledge: D-3- interact with Elders in a loving and respectful way that demonstrates an appreciation of their role as culture-bearers and educators in the community.



I. Overview:

Students can use this activity to find further information about willows in their region or outside of their region. The students should use their questions from lesson 2 to help create this lesson.

One way of gathering information in NW Alaska is to communicate with Elders and community members of the villages. You will be doing this for this lesson.

Students will prepare questions for Elders and community members in their own village and share their findings with students in other villages. They will ask questions to these students who will hopefully be able to provide further information to compare and contrast.

II. Background and Discussion:

A. Decide ahead of time if you want students to visit these people at their homes or if your class is going to invite them to the classroom.

B. Discuss with students Tips on Working With Elders:

1. Ask questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" answer. Why? How? Where? What kind?

2. Ask one question at a time.

3. Make sure the questions are clearly understood. Be willing to restate it.

4. Give time for thinking. Remember that it is okay for there to be silence.

5. Don't worry or interrupt if the Elder strays from the topic. You can always ask the question again.

III. Getting Ready:

Day One

Brainstorm with the students to answer the first three questions on the table below. Use large sheets of craft or chart paper for each question. Students may refer to their journal from lesson two and read the questions they recorded.

1. What do we know about willow?

List: (samples) Willows are abundant nearly everywhere. They are among the first fresh green in the springtime. They grow one to twenty feet high and up to 7 inches in diameter in our region. They are common along rivers often covering large areas. Willows are important moose and ptarmigan feed. Willows can be used for many medicinal purposes.

(These lists can become very large!)

2. What do we want to know about willow?


3. How are we going to find the answers?


4. What did we learn about willows?


IV. Doing the Lesson:

Day Two

Allow time for the students to visit various home of elders and/or community members to ask their questions. Or, your class may want to invite elders and/or community members into the classroom to help answer the questions.

Day Three

A. Record the new findings onto craft or chart paper to help answer #4 on the charts.

B. Using this new information, students should compose letters to send to students in different villages in Alaska. In the letter they should share the information they have pertaining to ways in which they use willows in their own village. The students can ask for information regarding the use of willow in the Pen-Pal's village. They can address their letters to: Any 5-8 grade classroom, School, City, State, Zip.

C. These letters could also be sent in the form of an e-mail.

D. If and when information is received it can be recorded so students can compare and contrast the different ways in which willow is used throughout the state of Alaska.


ASSESSMENT:Students can be assessed in the following manner:

-participation within the brainstorming sessions to complete chart,

possible 20 points

-quality of the questions prepared for Elders and community members,

possible 20 points

-ability to gain information,

possible 20 points

-ability to work with Elders and community members in an acceptable manner,

possible 20 points

-format of Pen-Pal letter.

possible 20 points

Total Points =



  • Nauriat Niginaqtuat, Plants That We Eat, a very valuable resource by Anore Jones and Manillaq Association, 1983
  • Community Members, esp. Elders in your community
  • Students in other villages of Alaska 

Lesson One - Where's My Willow - a game to play in the willows

Lesson Two - Journey with Journals - journal construction and activities

Lesson Three - Getting the Green Out - a study of willow growth

Lesson Four - Watching the Willows - a study in plant phenology

Lesson Five - Wind in the Willows - a penpal project

Lesson Six - What's in a Willow - nutritional value and edible plant parts

Lesson Seven - Whipping up Willows - gathering, preparing, preserving and sharing


This thematic unit is part of a larger unit on Survival being developed by members of the Bering Strait School District's Materials Development Team. This sections deals mainly with edible plants in the NW Alaska Region.

Whouy Sze Kuinalth
"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"
Tauhna Cauyalitahtug
(To Make a Drum)
Math Story Problems
St. Lawrence Island Rain Parka Winds and Weather Willow
Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village  


Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
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Last modified August 14, 2006