An exploration of the symbolism and imagery of corn and environment as manifested in Hopi song and traditional dances. Students analyze examples of historical and contemporary Hopi song and examine images of Hopi dance in order to expand cultural awareness.
A close study of the poetry of contemporary Hopi artist and poet, Ramson Lomatewama. Students analyze Lomatewama’s masterful use of figurative language that creates a sense of place and describes his intimate relationship with the land and his experience of corn.
A guided exploration of “Hopitutskwa,” the Hopi homeland, through maps and place names. Using English translations, students make inferences about the Hopi cultural relationship to landscape and place. They examine regional place names of their own home communities and create personal maps by identifying and naming places of importance in their lives.
Hopi corn farmer by Kurt Lomawaima.
Credit: Reproduced with permission, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, all rights reserved.
In my culture, we sing songs to show our happiness. We sing while we do our chores because songs seem to make the work go quickly and easily. We believe that when we sing songs, we are sharing our feelings of happiness with nature. Since the corn plants are also our children, we sing to the corn, too. Our elders tell us that when we sing to our corn children, we make them happy. When they are happy, they grow better.
I was also taught that wherever there is singing, there is life. So when songs are sung, they too are born, just like people.
— Ramson Lomatewama, poet
In the summer of 2015, President Barack Obama made headlines when he officially returned the traditional Athabaskan name, Denali, to the largest mountain in North America. This act may have come as a surprise to some in this day and age when the importance of place names can be lost amid our modern technocracy. Many place names across our nation are imbued with history, culture, power, and significance that is often overlooked—but, through them the very essence and spirit of a place can be understood. Returning the name Denali to the mountain was a way of recognizing and honoring the relationship Native Alaskans have had with the mountain for centuries.
This English Language Arts unit has students delve into the “language of place.” Through a careful study of various literary forms—place names, poetry, song and traditional dance—students can explore the landscape and culture of the Hopi Tribe from the southwestern United States. Through these forms of expression, student will have the opportunity to “read” the products of Hopi culture and engage in their rich cultural heritage through one of the Hopi’s most fundamental natural resources—corn!
In Lesson 1, students will explore “Hopitutskwa,” the Hopi homeland, through maps and place names (using English translations) to make inferences about Hopi cultural relationships to landscape and place and uncover the importance of naming places in their own lives. Lesson 2 involves a study of contemporary Hopi poet, Ramson Lomatewama. Corn is a favorite subject of Lomatewama’s poetry, which is rich in figurative language describing the poet’s intimate relationship with the land. Lesson 3 has students experience traditional dance and song of the Hopi to further their understanding of this culture’s relationship to place.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3: Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.9 Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
The Hopi Tribe is a sovereign nation inhabiting over 1.5 million acres in northeastern Arizona. The tribe has a rich connection with the landscape, place, and environment, where most Hopi people call home. The Hopi name for their homeland is “Hopitutskwa.” Part of the Colorado Plateau, this region is known for its high deserts, scattered forests, stark mesas, deep canyons, as well as for the Grand Canyon. The Hopi have lived here for centuries.
Today, some Hopi people continue the traditional subsistence practice of dry land farming, especially to grow specific corn varieties that are highly valued for their spiritual and practical significance. Each variety of corn is used to make different traditional foods. This challenging task—growing corn in a dry, unirrigated, short-growing season environment—requires an intimate knowledge of the land, environment, crops, weather, and the ecology of the high desert. A profound knowledge of the northeastern Arizona environment pervades Hopi culture and language. A rich reverence and respect for corn cultivation is apparent in the art, poetry, songs, celebrations and culture of the Hopi people. The metaphor “corn is life” or “corn is our children” is often used to explain the dynamic Hopi relationship with corn and dry land farming.
Taken together, three Hopi language forms: place names; poetry; and song and traditional dance; can be an avenue to explore the centuries-old cultural relationship the Hopi people have with their land and the process of growing corn. Such rich descriptions allow readers and listeners to imagine and envision the landscape and environment of Arizona’s high desert. The language of place found in the place names, poems, song, and dance expressions open a window into Hopi culture and act as a springboard for further explorations into diverse relationships to landscape, environment and place.
Extended background: See the following pdf’s for valuable contextual background information on these topics:
National Museum of the American Indian (images of Hopi corn-based artifacts and art):
The following websites sponsored by the Hopi Tribe, its affiliated educational partners, as well as the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, offer additional information to supplement your classroom study of the Hopi and include images of villages, corn fields, and high desert environment:
The following picture books may be useful references:
Gerald Dawavendewawas, The Butterfly Dance (Tales of the People). (New York: Abbeville Kids, 2001).
Ramson Lomatewama, Songs to the Corn: A Hopi Poet Writes about Corn, illustrated by Jeffery Chapman. (Crystal Lake, IL: Rigby, 1997).
Challenge students to research a poem or song that explores relationships between people and place.
Note: The Poetry Foundation offers a poem sampler, Native American Poetry and Culture, which contains a selection of poets, poems, and articles—many deal with place and landscape. Here are some options from the Poetry Foundation sampler that may work with your students:
Students should analyze the poem they have selected to write a short (3–5 paragraphs) explanation of the poem’s sense of place.
In preparation for their writing, have them complete the following:
Creative Writing Option
Ask students to write their own poetry or songs about a landscape or place that is important to them. Poems should include:
Hopi corn is available from heritage seed companies. Large and small grocery stores often sell products made from blue, white, yellow, and red corn. Challenge students to learn more about Hopi corn, its varieties, and the traditional (and nontraditional) foods that are made with heritage, native corn varieties. Cook at home or in class with recipes using blue corn. Taste-test many of the commercially available foods made from native corn varieties.
Assignments could include:
Hopi culture has many elements that have continued or remained constant over time and many elements that have changed. Educational resources available on Crow Canyon Archaeological Center’s website support students as they research how Pueblo culture, which led in part to Hopi culture, has changed over the course of time.
This lesson undertakes an analysis of the story, "Adventure,” which depicts the character Alice Hindman, and her progress (or regression) from “normal” to grotesque. Students then work independently through other stories in the cycle to analyze examples of the grotesque among Anderson’s more minor characters.
This lesson focuses entirely on the central character of George Willard, who can be seen as the protagonist of Winesburg, Ohio, as a whole. Six stories are read and analyzed to see what they nuances they reveal about George’s personality and his relationships with Winesburg’s inhabitants.
The first lesson provides an introduction to the concept of “the grotesque” and to Anderson’s understanding of this concept in his prologue story. One short story in the Winesburg, Ohio story cycle, “Respectability,” is examined.
Portrait of Sherwood Anderson
Credit: Photo, Carol Van Vechten, 1933. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
The book is, of course, in no sense a burlesque, but it is an effort to treat the lives of simple ordinary people in an American Middle Western town with sympathy and understanding…. Certainly, I did not write to make fun of these people or to make them ridiculous or ugly, but instead to show by their example what happens to simple, ordinary people—particularly the unsuccessful ones—what life does to us here in America in our times—and on the whole how decent and real we nevertheless are.—Sherwood Anderson
Winesburg, Ohio presents a galaxy of strange and distorted characters in a small town in Sandusky County, not far from Cleveland, well over one hundred years ago. Even a casual glance through a few of the stories leads inevitably to the question: Why are these people all so weird—so grotesque? By contrast, the central character of this short story cycle, George Willard, seems a perfectly normal young man on the brink of maturity and poised to make the life-changing decision to leave Winesburg behind.
This curriculum unit includes three lessons. The first lesson introduces students to the concept of the grotesque, central to the Winesburg, Ohio story cycle, through a close reading of two stories: “The Book of the Grotesque” and “Respectability.”
The second lesson focuses on character development within the short story sequence to analyze the experiences of the character, George Willard. While George is not mentioned in a few of the stories and figures only fleetingly in others, he dominates much of the action across the story cycle and serves as the central thread running throughout the text. This lesson has students focus on the evolution that George undergoes in the course of the following stories: “Mother;” “Nobody Knows;” “An Awakening;” “Death;” “Sophistication;” and “Departure.”
The third lesson returns to the concept of the grotesque and with teachers modeling an analysis of this literary element in the story, “Adventure.” Students are then given the opportunity to independently investigate additional stories in the cycle for applications of this literary element. Extending the lesson activities provide a host of additional research, creative writing, and project opportunities.
Winesburg, Ohio demonstrates Anderson’s belief that people are neither simple nor easily classified. Often distorted by life experiences, his grotesques nevertheless possess a “sweetness of the twisted apples” that evokes our understanding and empathy rather than distaste.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Grade level Standards
Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin a story) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Since its publication in 1919, the name “Winesburg” has become synonymous with small town life in the American Heartland. The stories in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio depict a variety of residents, past and present, and center on George Willard, a young newspaper writer, coming of age in the first decade of the 20th century. The scenes and people in the short story cycle were drawn from Anderson’s formative years in Clyde, Ohio. His experiences there left an indelible mark on his consciousness—only to re-emerge many years later in this fictional narrative.
Sherwood was born in 1876 into a family that was less than prosperous. His family moved frequently around the state of Ohio, settling in 1884 in Clyde, a frontier town where he lived for twelve formative years. As a boy, he was a voracious reader known for accessing books through his school library, as there was no public library in the town at that time. He had a reputation as a hard worker and was nicknamed "Jobby" for taking on a variety of odd jobs around town which occupied him upon dropping out of high school at the age of 14.
After a short stint in Chicago as a laborer, Anderson enlisted with a Clyde unit and served in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Upon discharge, he attended Wittenberg Academy in Springfield, Ohio, and then moved back to Chicago, where he soon gained some success as an advertising writer. He took a wife and began to raise a family, while running a business in Elyria, Ohio. Anderson continued on that track until the fateful day, November 28, 1912, when at the age of thirty-six, he walked out of his office as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Company in Elyria, Ohio, and threw off the accoutrements of middle class success to embark on an uncertain career as a writer. This event, the stuff of literary legend, is chronicled in an autobiographical essay entitled, “When I Left Business for Literature.”
Viewed from the outside, Anderson’s personal life appears to have been tumultuous. Three of his marriages failed and he rarely saw his children and grandchildren. He did find happiness in his fourth marriage, though, and during that later phase of his life, he also achieved financial security, and set up a homestead in Virginia. He purchased the Marion Published Company, and became editor and publisher of two regional weekly newspapers. His life was cut short while on a vacation trip with his wife to South America. The inscription on Anderson’s grave reads, “Life, Not Death, Is The Great Adventure,” suggesting he had acquired insight into and made peace with the choices that had shaped his life.
Information on Sherwood Anderson’s Influence on Modern America Literature can be found here.
Write an essay providing a vivid explication of the nature of the grotesque that Anderson develops in his short story cycle, Winesburg, Ohio.
In your response, discuss Anderson’s use of story elements—setting, plot structure, and character development. Be sure to use at least five of the characters from the short story cycle, including George Willard. Use evidence from the text in your response.
Worksheet 7 provides a rubric that may assist teachers in developing, revising, and assessing student essays.