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Paiute Storied Rocks

Paiute Storied Rocks

Lesson Summary

  • Read Paiute picture writing and learn some Native American universal sign language.
  • Compose a new song by rearranging parts of a known tune.
  • Compare the English and Southern Paiute languages.

Lesson Plan and Procedure

Lesson Key Facts

  • Grade(s): 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Subject(s): English Language Arts, Music, Social Studies, Native American, Tribe Approved
  • Duration of lesson: Three sessions, 30-45 minutes each
  • Author(s): Dorena Martineau, Shanandoah Martineau Anderson, Emily Soderborg, and Eliza Een
Paiute Logo

The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah’s Tribal Council selected this lesson content in answer to the question, “What would you like the students of Utah to know about you?” Dorena Martineau, the Paiute Cultural Resource Director, and Shanandoah Martineau Anderson, a member of the Shivwits band of Paiutes, represented the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah in crafting the lesson to provide expertise, accuracy, and authenticity. The lesson was then approved by the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah’s Tribal Council.

Before teaching this lesson, please explain to your students that there are many Indigenous tribes in the United States and that this lesson specifically focuses on the five bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and does not represent other Native American groups. It is the hope of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah that other Native tribes will respect their choice to share these aspects of their history and culture.

Session One - Pictography K-W-L Chart

Teacher: We’re going to create a K-W-L chart today. A K-W-L chart has three columns--what we already know, what we wonder, and what we learn throughout the lesson. We’re going to look at several pictures or words that are all related. We will do this first picture all together. As you look at this picture, brainstorm words, terms, or phrases you connect with this picture. 

Pass out individual K-W-L graphic organizers to each student and display a larger K-W-L chart either on the board, a projector, or chart paper. 

Display photograph of Southern Paiute petroglyph.

Valley of Fire Petroglyph

Teacher: Tell me what things you notice. Share words, phrases, or ideas you connect with this picture.

Write down students’ responses in the “K” column while the students write down their responses on their own charts. Encourage students to explain their responses. This is especially important for those statements that are vague or unusual. Ask them what made them think of that connection. 

Teacher: Now, let’s move to the “W” or wonder column. What do you wonder? What do you think you will learn about this picture? Do you have any predictions? What do you want to learn? Are there any questions you have about this picture?

Fill in the “W” column in the chart with student responses.

Teacher: I’m going to share some information about this picture. As you listen, write or draw icons to help you remember what you are learning. Listen for answers to things you wondered about in the “W” column and also pay attention to things you think are interesting. 

Have students identify if the information in the “L” column is either an answer to one of their questions or an idea they found interesting. To categorize, they might put a check mark next to the information that answers questions from the “W” column and put a star next to ideas they found interesting.

Teacher: This photograph shows petroglyphs that were carved into the rock by ancestors of the Southern Paiute sometime between 300 BC to 1150 AD in the Valley of Fire. The Southern Paiute called themselves “Nungwu,” meaning “the people.” Today, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah is a federally recognized Native American tribe. The Southern Paiute language doesn’t have words that are written, however, they have used another form of documentation where pictures and symbols were etched into or painted on rocks, known by the Paiutes as storied rocks. These images communicate the stories, history, and other aspects of life that those who created the pictures felt were worthy of the time it took to record on rocks. Storied rocks were created by many Native American tribes across North America. Even though their spoken languages were different, the images on the rocks were still able to be understood by various tribes. Now, because the Paiute language is being lost, those who can understand the stories on the rocks are trying to share their importance with others. 

Bring students attention to specific parts of the petroglyph as you discuss it with them.

Teacher: This panel that we have been looking at has four people and two mountain sheep symbols. The two figures on the right are full or content and are speckled which represents they are wet or splashed with water. The two thinner figures are narrow and dry. The people are holding hands to represent they are moving together. The two full, wet people are leading the two thinner, dry people to where the mountain sheep have come from. The mountain sheep are regarded as one of the Paiute’s protectors who watch over them through sickness and droughts. Mountain sheep symbols on rocks do not always represent actual bighorn sheep, but can represent the Paiute people themselves or show movement or direction in a story. Because of the symbols in this petroglyph, the Paiutes knew that if they followed this canyon in the direction to the right, it would lead to a water source. If you go to this petroglyph in the Valley of Fire today and follow the canyon, you will still find water at the end of the canyon. 

Teacher: Placing symbols on a rock took a lot of work and required special tools. The symbols were selected carefully to share and preserve things the people wanted to be remembered. Besides having stories or legends associated with the panels, they often had songs and dances associated with them too. Shanandoah Martineau Anderson, a member of the Shivwits band of Southern Paiute, shared that the Mountain Sheep Songs were important territorial songs. 

The people who owned the songs owned the territory with which they are associated. When one approached strangers in their land they would ask, “What song do you come from?” The strangers would then have to sing the song from which their bloodline came to show which land they belonged to. If they did not have a song, it meant they were not from the land or people but may be visiting or passing through. No one could sing the songs of the Mountain Sheep unless they belonged to the songs. To this day, the Nungwu continue to honor the Great Mountain Sheep through song and dance to tell their story. The Shivwits Band of Paiutes still dance in honor of the Mountain Sheep for all that he has given to the people and in honor of his sacrifice to protect and watch over the Nungwu People. 

Show the three images of the Mountain Sheep Dancers. (Mountain Sheep JPG, Hunter JPG, Group JPG)

Mountain sheep dancers         Other mountain sheep hunter


Mountain sheep group


Teacher: Look at the pictures of Shivwits Paiutes doing the Mountain Sheep Dance. What do you notice? We will listen to a Shivwits Mountain Sheep Song sung by Clarence John, a Paiute elder. He is on the far left in this picture. These songs and dances are sacred to the Paiute people and should not be sung by anyone outside the tribe, but we have been given permission to listen to, honor, and appreciate them. 

Play the recording of Clarence John singing. After listening, discuss as a class how we can be respectful of the Paiute culture. 

Bring students’ attention back to the K-W-L chart.

Teacher: What have we learned about this picture so far? What have you put in the “L” column? Have you found any answers to questions you had? What has been interesting to learn?

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Teacher: It is important to recognize that picture writing, or pictography, is able to communicate anything, aside from sounds, that the writer could say in a spoken language. The Paiute want to preserve their language and culture and share what they feel is appropriate with others, but at the same time, the songs, dances, and legends of the Southern Paiute need to be respected. The traditional song and dance shared today were approved to be listened to, honored, and appreciated, but should not be sung or performed by anyone besides tribal members. However, to provide an appropriate experience while still respecting the Paiute traditional stories and songs, a Southern Paiute tribal member named Shanan Martineau Anderson has put together symbols found in Paiute rock writing to represent a story you might already be familiar with, in a manner similar to translating English into another language. As you look at this picture, brainstorm words, terms, or phrases you connect with this picture.  

Display Paiute pictography story symbols for “Mary Had a Little Lamb” without sharing the title. Give the students the opportunity to process what they initially observe without any additional explanations. 

Pictograph story


Teacher: Tell me what things you notice. Share words, phrases, or ideas you connect with this picture. 

Have students draw a line underneath what they have already written on the K-W-L chart and then write their new ideas below the line in the “K” section.

Teacher: Now, tell me what you wonder about this picture. Do you have any predictions? Are there any questions you have about this specific picture writing?

Write these ideas in the “W” section of the K-W-L chart.

Teacher: I’m going to help you read these symbols. Listen and see if it is something you are familiar with.

Sing the first two verses of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or play the first 26 seconds of the USBE elementary songbook recording. Point to each symbol during the part of the song it represents, so students see the correlation. Sing the song again, having the students join in.

Teacher: Sometimes you can write a story in rock writing in one or two symbols without reading from left to right. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” can be written with just two symbols, a picture of the girl and another of the sheep but we can also break it down to provide greater details. 

Teacher: As we look at each picture, I will also be showing you the Native American universal sign language. The Paiutes, along with most other tribes, used sign language to communicate with each other. The purpose of Native American universal sign language is to use the simplest signs so that anyone, of any language, can understand. The symbols used in Indian pictography are based upon the sign language, so understanding one helps to understand the other.

Use the document “’Mary Had a Little Lamb’ pictographs and sign language” as a resource to teach the sign language and explain the picture writing. 

Teacher: Let’s finish filling out the “L” column. Which of our questions have we answered? What has been really interesting to learn? 

Sing through “Mary Had a Little Lamb” again while doing the Native American sign language.

Session Two--Gallery Walk

Review from the previous session by viewing the picture writing for “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Sing through the song while doing the Native American universal sign language.

Teacher: We are going to go on a gallery walk. I have several pictures and word strips placed around the room. You will have ten minutes to walk around the room and look at each of these items. Near each visual, I have a small K-W-L chart. Look at the item, and in the “K” column write words, phrases, or ideas you connect to it. Then in the “W” column write things you wonder, things you want to learn, predictions, or questions you have. We will add to the “L” column after we finish the gallery walk. For the gallery walk, I will assign students to initial stations. You will only have a short time at your station, so work quickly. When I give a signal, each group will rotate to the next station.

Paiute Gallery Walk 

  • Pictograph
  • Petroglyph 
  • Storied Rock Panel 
  • Pictography--An example of picture writing on another surface other than rock 
  • Picture of vandalized rock writing 
  • Tumpituxwinap (word strip) 
  • Picture of Paiutes from the past 
  • Picture of Paiutes in the present 
  • Paiute homeland geography 
  • Map of Paiute reservation lands 
  • Bighorn Sheep 
  • Ideograph (word strip) 
  • Egyptian/Chinese characters

Have students return to their seats. Display each item one at a time from the gallery walk. For each item, go through the “K” column and the “W” column. Share the short paragraph for each item and have students add answers and interesting facts to the “L” column as you write on the K-W-L chart from each gallery walk item. 

Compare and Contrast with a Picture Book

Teacher: If you didn’t know the story of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” how well would you understand the story from just reading the Paiute picture writing and seeing the sign language? Continue to think about that question as we listen to more of the song. 

Sing through the entire song or play the recording from the USBE Elementary Songbook.

Teacher: What details do we get from the English words in the song? Are there different details we get from the Paiute picture writing? 

Mary had a little lambTeacher: I have a picture book here of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The author of the poem we have been singing and reading was Sarah Josepha Hale. She wrote the poem in 1830 for children. It was quickly set to music but became even more famous when it was added as a school “reader” lesson in 1837, only seven years later. In 1984, this book was illustrated by Tomie dePaola. As we sing through this book, see if his illustrations provide different details about the story than we learned through the written words and the Paiute picture writing. 

Note: The USBE recording is missing two verses that are included in the book. One missing verse fits in before the last two verses in the recording. The other missing verse comes after the last verse of the recording. You can still sing with the recording, if that is helpful, but be aware of the missing verses. The preferred method would be to sing with the students—unaccompanied—which will allow more time for them to view the illustrations and process the experience.

Teacher: How did the illustrations add different details? 

Ideograph Compositions

Teacher: As we have been learning about storied rocks, we have learned that pictures, instead of words, communicate the meaning. The sign language and rock writings were used by many different Native American peoples because the pictures could be understood even when languages were different. This form of ideographic writing has been around for a long time in lots of places around the world. But it is also something we do today. Have any of you seen pictures used to communicate instead of using words? When have you seen or used pictures to communicate?

Listen to student responses.

Teacher: Emojis are also ideographic writing. All over the world, no matter what language people speak, they can use emojis. If you use emojis, people will be able to understand what is written by looking at the pictures selected and putting them in context based on the other pictures used. Let’s read “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in emojis.

Show “Mary Had a Little Lamb” ideograph cards in the correct order and sing through the first verse of the song.

Mary emojis formatted

Teacher: Each emoji in this ideograph represents a specific part of the song. What do you notice about the two “Mary” parts and the two “had a” parts? They are identical. What about the “little lamb” parts? They are alike in rhythm and words, but are different melodically. That’s why we used arrows to show the repeated phrases where the melody was slightly different. What about “fleece as,” “white as,” and “snow”? They are each different from any other part of the song. If I mix up the symbols, the emoji still represents that same initial part of the song, but we have created a completely different composition or song. Listen to how this composition sounds when the emojis are in a different order.

Mixed up emojis

Model singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with the emojis mixed up. (Recording available if you do not feel comfortable singing.)

Teacher: Now it’s your turn to sing this new composition of the mixed up “Mary Had a Little Lamb” emojis.

Have students sing the same order that was just modeled.

Teacher: I’m going to have one student come be our composer by switching the emojis around to create a different pattern that we will all sing together.

Have a student rearrange the emojis and then sing through the ideograph as a class.

Teacher: Is there someone who thinks he or she can read our ideograph all by himself or herself?

Have one or two students sing individually.

Teacher: We have been using all the parts of the song, arranged in various orders. However, we could also use some emojis repeated and not use other emojis from the song to have even more ways we could create ideograph music compositions. 

Select eight students to choose any emoji from the song. Place their emoji choices in order on the board to create a new class ideograph composition. Sing through the class composition together, and then have a few individual students sing the composition individually. 

Teacher: We are now going to create individual ideograph compositions using the emojis from “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Here are the steps to help you be successful creating your new song.

Write the rubric on the board for the students to follow:

  • I picked 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 emojis to use in my ideograph composition.
  • I glued the pictures to my paper in the order I selected.
  • I wrote a title for my composition at the top of the page and wrote my name as the composer of the song underneath the title.
  • I sang through my own composition and then had someone else sing through it.

Note: If technology is available, these compositions could also be created in an email or as a message. Each interface has slightly different emojis. Free, open source emojis can be accessed at

Apple emojis: 

apple emojis

Google emojis: 

google emojis

Have each student create their own composition by cutting out their selected emoji icons and gluing them to their blank paper. Remind the students to check the rubric to see if they have met all the criteria.

Invite the students to perform their composition either for the whole class or in small groups, depending on how much time you have.


Explore rocks and tools needed to create petroglyphs and pictographs. Classify different kinds of rocks based on patterns in their observable properties. Examples could include sorting materials based on similar properties such as strength, color, flexibility, hardness, or texture. This could include sorting rocks that would be used as tools, rocks that would have the petroglyphs pecked into them, rocks that would be good to paint on, rocks that wouldn’t work for any of these purposes, and so on. 

Have students create emoji ideographs for other favorite songs. 

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Learning Objectives

  • Compare writing in the English language with writing in the Southern Paiute language.
  • Learn about the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.
  • Use a map to see where the reservations for each band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah are located.
  • Read iconic notation (ideographic writing) for a song.
  • Create a new composition using emojis (ideograms) representing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by arranging them in a different order and combination.
  • Sing simple songs in tune.
  • Use music to connect learning in social studies and language arts.
  • Use information gained from the illustrations and words in “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to demonstrate understanding of the poem.

Utah State Board of Education Standards

This lesson can be used to meet standards in many grades and subject areas. We will highlight one grade’s standards to give an example of application.

Grade 2 Social Studies

  • Standard 1 

    (Culture): Students will recognize and describe how people within their community, state, and nation are both similar and different.

    • Objective 1 
      1. Explain ways people respect and pass on their traditions and customs. 
    • Objective 2 
      1. Identify various cultural groups within the state and the nation. 
      2. Compare and contrast elements of two or more cultures within the state and nation (e.g., language, food, clothing, shelter, traditions, and celebrations)
  • Standard 3 

    (Geography): Students will use geographic tools and skills to locate and describe places on earth.

    • Objective 2 
      1. Using a map or a globe, link cultures/nationalities within your community to their place of origin.

Grade 2 Music

  • Standard 2.M.CR.2: Demonstrate and discuss personal reasons for selecting patterns and ideas to represent expressive intent, and organize personal musical ideas using iconic notation or recordings.
  • Standard 2.M.P.4: Sing folk, traditional, and call-and-response songs in tune, using a natural, unstrained voice.
  • Standard 2.M.CO.1: Describe how music relates to personal, social, emotional, and intellectual development, use life experience and additional content knowledge to inspire and respond to music, and deepen understanding of another content area through music.

Grade 2 English Language Arts

  • Reading, Literature Standard 7: Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
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Equipment and Materials Needed

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Additional Resources

This lesson was created thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Utah Division of Arts & Museums.

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Image References

Image 1:

Image 2: Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

Images 3-4: Shanandoah Martineau Anderson.

Image 5: Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

Images 6-7: Shanandoah Martineau Anderson.

Image 8:

Images 9-10:

Images 11-12: Emily Soderborg.

© Brigham Young University and Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah