Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 1. Hopi Place Names

Created November 17, 2015


The Lesson


Language of place: Hopi planting corn

Hopi corn farmer by Kurt Lomawaima.

Credit: Reproduced with permission, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, all rights reserved.

The sovereign Hopi Nation officially occupies over 1.5 million acres in northern Arizona. Traditionally though, the Hopi Tribe lived and traveled in a much more extensive area, including parts of southern Utah and Colorado and into eastern New Mexico. Places sacred to the Hopi extend far beyond the Arizona reservation borders to encompass the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Though many important places in this area have been assigned Spanish or English language names, some are still known by their Hopi names.

In this lesson, students practice map-reading skills to find important places in Hopitutskwa, “Hopi Land.” Students then use English translations of Hopi place names to deepen their understanding of the Hopi landscape and to make inferences about relationships between Hopi people and their land.

Additionally, students examine local and regional maps from their home and make inferences about the relationships their community has to its land. Finally, students illustrate their personal geographies, creating maps of the important and meaningful places in their lives.

This lesson is part of a three lesson unit on Hopi Language of Place and it may be taught in sequence or on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit with Guiding Questions, Background and Summative Assessment. Lesson 1 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.7.

Learning Objectives

  • To interpret information from maps of Hopi Land and make inferences about relationships between Hopi landscape and culture
  • To explain the significance of a place name and to describe the values that place name infers for a community

Preparation and Resources

Prepare to display or distribute a map of your school’s community on a scale large enough to include all students’ homes as well as areas that students may frequent.

Prepare to display, distribute, or make accessible additional maps of Northern Arizona. Students can use the maps to cross-reference additional places of importance to the Hopi people in Activity 1.

Reference the unit overview for general background on the Hopi culture and the pdf Language of Place: Extended Background for additional information on Hopi place names.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Map of Hopi Lands

Show students or distribute copies of  a map of the region surrounding your school. Ask students to identify (with a partner or in a large class discussion) areas they know well, places they like and care about, or places that are important to their community. Ask students what someone reading the map may infer about the people who live in this region. “Based on the information in this map, the names of places, the names of streets and parks, what would someone think is important to us?”

  • Suggested Answers:
    Answers may vary. Streets or neighborhoods may be named after historical figures, important landscapes in town may be emphasized (lakes, coastlines, rivers, creeks), or evidence of cultural connections (i.e., place names in languages other than English) may be apparent.

Distribute Handout 1. Map of Hopi Lands and preview it with students. Examine some of the place names. What do students know about Northern Arizona? What landmarks do students recognize?

Distribute Worksheet 1. Hopi Place Names. Here, students will use the Map of Hopi Lands and a list of Hopi place names to translate and then to identify on their maps. Pair students or have them work independently to complete the assignment.

Provide students with additional maps of Northern Arizona they can cross-reference to add more places of importance to their Hopi Land maps. Depending on time, you may wish to assign students only a few place names to locate. Review student answers. Worksheet 1. (teacher version) presents suggested responses.

Follow-up discussion questions:

President Obama declared that Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, be officially given back its original name, Denali, from the Athabaskan languages of Alaska’s native people. Lead a discussion with students to consider: Why would this act be an important national news event? Why do the names that we give to a certain place matter? Why might some people oppose this act?

  • Suggested Answers:
    Student answers may vary, but they might include comments about this geographic feature being important because it is the highest peak on the continent. They may refer to the importance of respecting the rights and cultures of Native peoples, honoring past and current inhabitants of a place, making regional connections between people and place through the names of locations. Place names matter because they can respect and honor people, ideas, events, or even cultures. They help us understand history. Place names can reflect the values of a culture or group of people.

As Arizona State University's Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon website funded by NEH notes, the Grand Canyon is an important part of Hopitutskwa, but it is not included in the Hopi Tribal Reservation. Should the original Hopi name, Ongtupqa, be returned to what is now known as the Grand Canyon? Why or why not?

  • Suggested Answers:
    Student answers may vary in support or against this idea.

Ask students to revisit maps of their school community. In small groups or as a large discussion, have students select a few place names from their community and identify the meaning of those place names. How is your local community’s approach to naming places similar or dissimilar to the Hopi people? What can we infer about your regional culture based on regional place names?

  • Suggested Answers:
    Answers will vary depending on your region, but they might include place names referencing important events, regional plants or animals, or regional cultural groups/individuals that influenced the development of your community. Perhaps your community’s place names are not as tied to the landscape as the Hopi people; perhaps they are equally connected.
Activity 2. Maps of Home

Ask students to think about their home, community, and places that matter to them as individuals.

Distribute Worksheet 2. Maps of Home. Support students as they work through the worksheet, providing them with additional paper, colored pencils, crayons, or markers as needed. Challenge students to label the places on their maps with meaningful names—this may mean inventing new and original names for common places (“library” to “place of quiet reading,” “school” to “daily work zone”). Worksheet 2. Maps of Home (teacher version) is included with suggested responses. Ask students to share maps with the class.

Follow up questions:

What do your maps say about you as an individual? What matters to you?

  • Suggested answers:
    Student answers will vary but might include an importance of family, friends, or individual interests/activities.

What were your original or invented place names like? What did they reference? Why?

  • Suggested answers:
    Student answers will vary but they may include references to important people in students’ lives, activities they enjoy in certain locations, or emotions students feel in certain places.

How are your maps of home similar to or different from the map of Hopitutskwa? Explain.

Student answers will vary.


Identify 23 local or regional place names in your region and ask students to research the meaning or significance those names have within their community. Ask students to write a paragraph explaining the meaning or significance of the place name and to describe the values that place name infers for their community.

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Folklore
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Musical analysis
  • Poetry analysis
  • Anna Gahl Cole, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (Cortez, CO)
  • Dee Lomawaima, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (Cortez, CO)


Activity Worksheets