This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner Home Page About ANKN Publications Academic Programs Curriculum Resources Calendar of Events Announcements Site Index This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

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 six

Title: What's in a Willow?

A Study of Nutritional Value and Edible Native Plants


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: Science, Math, Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Physical Education

Context: Anytime of the year

Region: NW Alaska

Materials: Resource materials, Internet access, their Journals from lesson two, poster board, markers, colored pencils


*Alaska Science Standards: D- A student should be able to apply scientific knowledge and skills to make reasoned decisions about the use of science and scientific innovations.

Skills and Knowledge: D-2- understand that scientific innovations may affect our economy, safety, environment, health, and society and that these effects may be long or short term, positive or negative, and expected or unexpected.

*Alaska Standards for Culturally Relevant Schools: B- Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to build on the knowledge and skills of the local cultural community as a foundation from which to achieve personal and academic success throughout life.

Skills and Knowledge: B-3- make appropriate choices regarding the long-term consequences of their actions.



I. Overview: This lesson is written to follow a seven day plan or more to help motivate students and other members of the community to eat a more "balanced diet".

Students will be able to:

  • tell what is meant by a "balanced diet",
  • discriminate between foods that have nutritional value and those that do not,
  • relate how food can affect how they think, feel, and perform,
  • develop a creative presentation for others that depicts food values,
  • evaluate their diet based on a food diary kept for a week,
  • use various library resources to find information about foods and nutrition.

 II. Background and discussion: Willow:

  • Nutritionally the shoots, leaves and scrape are all very rich in Vitamin C, and are good sources of other vitamins. vitamin C is needed by our bodies every day and it is good to know you can find it from the common willows.
  • Nutritionally sura (young willow leaves) is 7 to 10 times richer in Vitamin C than oranges! Totter (1947) found them to contain 544 milligrams of ascorbic acid per 100 grams (about 1/2 cup). That makes sura an important addition to our diets. In fact, this willow is the highest Alaskan plant of those tested in vitamin A and calcium; second highest to Rose Hips in vitamin C.
  • The Inupiat way of storing greens or vegetables in seal oil is an excellent way to preserve the nutrients. Since the oil is stored in a cold, dark place to keep it fresh, the greens are also well taken care of. Furthermore, the oil keep air away which destroys Vitamin C. The oil soluble Vitamins A, D, or E, if lost, go into the oil to be eaten there. The vitamin content of plants stored in oil is quite high, even after long storage.
  • Other than sura, other plants stored in oil include: sourdock, saxifrage, fireweed, wild rhubarb, wild celery, and garden vegetables like celery, carrot, turnip, and parsley.
  • Willow also has many important medicinal uses.

III. Getting Ready:

Introduce the lesson: To study which foods help us to be the healthiest we can be and how the willow and other Native plants can be an important part of our diet.

IV. Doing the Lesson:

1. Ask students to list everything they ate the previous day, including quantities. Encourage elaborate lists.

2. Students can share their lists orally.

3. Introduce the idea of keeping a food diary in their journals.

4. Students will keep a daily food diary for one week.

5. Explain the final goal - to create a presentation for others to learn about healthy food so they can improve their diets too.


1. Students highlight food diaries, identifying healthy foods with green and unhealthy foods with yellow. If they are undecided, they can leave an entry alone. (Save for later use.)

2. Beginning day two and finishing day three, pairs of students using resources and working in a way to complete the assignment within the time frame, participate in a treasure hunt to find meanings and some short interesting information about some or all of the following terms and phrases:

Amino Acids, Balanced Diet, Breads, Carbohydrates, Calories, Cholesterol, Cookbook, Diabetes, Disease, Drugs, Eating Habits, Enzymes, Fat, Fiber, Food Pyramid, Fruits, Healthy Lifestyle, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Hydrogenated Oil, Medicine, Minerals, Native Plants, Protein, Salt, Sugar, Sodium, Soybeans, Vegetables, Vitamins, Water, etc. (You may add or take away from this list any way you like for your students.)

3. Help students make a book or poster with their information that can be used for reference.

4. HOMEWORK: Students will choose their top three favorite store bought foods and find out what the ingredients are when they are prepared. Ask them to bring in food labels if possible. They should have this information ready for day four. Reminder: each day students should keep a food diary in their journals.


1. Review and discuss favorite food ingredients and labels.

2. Discuss the meaning of information on nutritional labels - higher amounts are listed first, serving size, calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.

3. Create a model of The Food Guide Pyramid. Have the students place a quick sketch and label of their favorite foods in the model at the appropriate levels. Discuss where most foods are shown.

4. What foods should be added to this model to help make it more "balanced"?

5. Homework: Students will choose their top three favorite Native foods and find out what the ingredients are when they are prepared. They should ask their parents and grandparents or other community members about the nutritional value of these foods. They should have this information ready for day five.


1. Review and discuss favorite Native food ingredients.

2. Discuss the nutritional values of these foods.

3. Have the students create another model of The Food Guide Pyramid. Have the students place a quick sketch and label of their favorite Native food on the model where appropriate. Discuss where most of these foods are shown and if the ratios are different from the model of day four.

4. What Native foods should be added to this model to help make it more "balanced"?


1. Students will reevaluate their eating habits, using their food diaries within their journals by discussing where possible changes could be made.

2. Students will begin to work in small groups to discuss how they can create a presentation for other students and families to teach that a healthy and nutritional diet is important.

3. Students can begin working on a presentation as small groups or individuals. Guide them to think in terms of active presentations such as skits, role plays, songs, poems, commercials, or other relevant student-generated ideas.

Some students may wish to focus on Native foods only or on one particular type of food such as sura.


1. Students should continue work on their presentations.

You may extend this work for a few days if needed.

2. Presentations can be given to the student body, during a special assembly, a "Growing Healthy Fair", or in the classroom (will need to send invitations).



Students can be evaluated on their final presentations with a rubric style of assessment created by the teacher. You may include food diaries and homework assignments.



  • Nauriat Niginaqtuat, Plants That We Eat, a very valuable resource by Anore Jones and Manillaq Association, 1983
  • Circles of Learning, A Workshop for Developing Culturally Relevant Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Native Students, American Indian Institute, 1993
  • Health text books

food pyramid

 group presentation

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."



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer, educational institution, and provider is a part of the University of Alaska system. Learn more about UA's notice of nondiscrimination.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 18, 2006