Lesson Plan for Studying the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola

Lesson Plan for Studying the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola
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The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush can be used when you are studying Tomie dePaola books, doing a Native American Unit, or even when you are studying the southwestern states. In this lesson, students will learn techniques for unlocking new vocabulary, find out about the legend of Wyoming’s state flower and create a story using symbols.

Before Reading

1. Discuss author Tomie dePaola, famous for his illustrations and writing. Are your students familiar with other books by dePaola: Strega Nona, Oliver Button is a Sissy, The Popcorn Book or The Art Lesson? He often writes about children who are different from the norm. These dePaola characters have inner strength and courage to follow a different path in life, providing an inspirational message for readers.

2. Use a map of the United States and point out the area of the Plains. (Prairie and grasslands east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River)

3. This book is a legend, which is retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. Explain to the children what a “retold” legend means. A legend, in this case, is a story that is passed down over the years about a historical event or person. It may or may not be true.

4. For vocabulary work, there is always an opportunity to incorporate reading activities for Tomie dePaola books. In this case, we are learning what to do when coming upon an unfamiliar word when reading.

Write the following words on the board:






Look at each word individually and say it out loud. Ask if anyone has an idea of what each word might mean. Tell students that when they come across an unfamiliar word they can look for clues in the pictures and read the sentences around the word to help them find out its meaning. Remind the students to listen for the words as you read the book to them.

When you come upon one of the words, ask students to look at the pictures and listen again to the sentences around the word. Is the meaning of the unfamiliar word more clear?

Discussion After Reading

1. What traits did you admire in Little Gopher?

2. What really are Indian Paintbrushes?

3. The Indian Paintbrush is the state flower of Wyoming. How can we find out the name of the state flower for our state?

Follow-up Project


12”x18” construction paper in tan or light brown. You can also cut pieces of brown wrapping paper.


Water color paints or colored pencils

Reference materials that show common Native American symbols:

For example:

Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies by Robert Lake-Thom


Students should cut or tear the edges of the paper to make it resemble an animal hide.

Use common Indian symbols and create some of your own to illustrate a short story. Examine pages 13 through 16 of the book as an example.

Extra Activities

1. Each child can choose a state and draw a picture of the state flower.

2. Read another Tomie dePaola book: The Legend of the Bluebonnet, about the state flower of Texas.

3. Make a dream catcher.

4. Create a picture of what your own dream-vision might look like. (Pages 5-9) You may want to be a dancer, an athlete, a nurse, etc. What tools would you need to achieve your goal?

The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is meaningful in several ways. It reinforces the idea that not everyone is suited to do some things. Find your strength and build from there. You may follow a different path from your peers. Students will also learn the beautiful Indian legend and may be interested to research more.

Reading Activities for Tomie dePaola books are always easy to plan. In this case, the students will learn techniques to unlock unfamiliar words they come upon when reading.