Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 3: Hopi Traditional Dance and Song

Created November 18, 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.

Hopi culture is deeply rooted in the arid landscapes of northern Arizona and the practice of dry-land corn farming. Hopi corn farmers depend upon natural precipitation and experienced, gentle, hands to grow corn. “Corn is life” and “corn are our children” are common metaphors used to explain the culture’s historic, physical, and spiritual commitment to farming corn in such a challenging environment. Hopi songs and traditional dance, including the symbolic costumes the dancers wear, demonstrate the importance of corn and the environment to the Hopi people.

In this lesson, students explore the cultural significance of corn to the Hopi people through careful examination of a few Hopi songs and a traditional dance to find evidence of corn imagery and other natural phenomena important to this culture. Through examining Hopi dance costumes and images from traditional dances and listening to Hopi songs—whether informal or made to accompany dances—students can find additional evidence of Hopi values and observe how these people stay connected to their homeland, Hopitutskwa.

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 2 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.9


Learning Objectives

  • To review the concept of “symbol” as displayed in seasonal cultural celebrations
  • To recognize the symbolic nature of corn by examining examples of Hopi traditional dance and song
  • To analyze features in examples of Hopi song, including repetition; rhythm and meter; imagery; and figurative language

Preparation and Resources

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

Teachers may want to preview the media for the Butterfly Dance (Activity 2) to share with students:

Note: Typically, it is not permitted for Hopi dances to be videotaped or photographed by outside visitors; however, the Hopi Tribe does authorize some limited sharing with the public through selected photos and video. In these authorized images, it is possible to see symbols of Hopi land and environment as evidence of the tribe’s cultural reverence for and value of Hopitutskwa:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Symbols in Seasonal Cultural Celebrations

Review with students the definition of symbol.

Ask students to think about cultural traditions they use to celebrate different national and religious holidays in their own families. Have them identify the symbols that are related to those celebrations. A classic picture book you may want to use to illustrate this idea is Charlotte Zolotow, Over and Over, illustrated by Garth Williams. (c. 1957; repr. New York: HarperCollins, 1995).

Suggested Answers:

Fourth of July: fireworks, flags, red, white and blue, BBQ, watermelon, picnics
Halloween: corn stalks, pumpkins, ghosts, spiders, witches, candy, orange and black
Thanksgiving: turkey, squash, harvest, Pilgrims, American Indians, food
Christmas: nativity, tree, holly, wreaths, lights, ornaments, candles, gifts, red and green
Hanukah: menorah, dreidel, gifts, blue and silver
Easter: baby animals, rabbits, eggs, candy, pastel colors, flowers
Ask students, to think if any of these symbols are related to our environment? How? Why?

Suggested Answers:

Fruit and other food items that are used to celebrate holidays are grown regionally or seasonally based on environment. Natural plants and trees such as we buy at Christmas often come directly from local or regional farms. Flowers and baby animals at springtime celebrate the season of rebirth and new growth.

Activity 2. Symbols in Hopi Traditional Dance and Song

Explain to students that the Hopi people come from an area of Northern Arizona where dryland corn farming is practiced. This challenging farming technique requires natural rain and expert care for crops to grow. Farmers must understand the land and environment deeply. The Hopi people have a great deal of respect for the landscape, environment, plants, animals, and weather upon which they have sustained their culture. Emphasize the fact that corn is of utmost importance to the Hopi culture.

Introduce The Butterfly Dance as one example of a seasonal cultural celebration where corn and other symbols of the Hopi environment are represented. (See the extended background of this unit and the Preparation and Resources section of this lesson.)

Share images and text from Circle of Dance exhibition of the Hopi Butterfly Dance, available from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Ask students to look carefully through the images of the costume and of the dancers for symbols of corn, butterflies, other animals, and items from the natural world and share their observations.

Suggested Answers:

The girls’ kopatsokis have images of corn stalks, corn, butterflies, and birds. The dancers carry pine boughs. The girls’ feet are painted like eagle’s feet. Bird feathers are worn by many dancers.

If possible, visit the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website to play a sample of the “Butterfly Dance Song” from the album Hopi Katcina Songs and Six Songs by Hopi Chanters. Ask students to describe what they hear. 

Suggested Answers:

One drum is heard. One lead voice begins the song, and a chorus calls back. It is very rhythmic and fast.

(Here is another rendition of the Hopi Butterfly Song from Drumhop.com)

Explain to students that different features of songs can be described using specific terminology. Review with students the following terms and their relationship with song lyrics: repetition, rhythm, imagery and figurative language (i.e., personification, metaphor, simile). Each is defined in the EDSITEment Literary Glossary.

Activity 3: Hopi Song Analysis

Distribute Handout 3. Hopi Song Samples

Distribute Worksheet 6. Lyric Analysis. As a whole class, work through the handout with students modeling the lyric analysis for first song example, “Corn Stalk Girls.” See Worksheet 6. Lyric Analysis “Corn Stalk Girls” (teacher version with song #1. example).

Distribute new copy of Worksheet 6 to students.

Assign students to small groups or pairs and challenge them to complete their own analysis for the second song, “Korosta Katzina Song,” and prepare to share their analysis with the class.

[Suggestion: Teachers may want to save the third song, “He-Hea Katzina Tawi” for the lesson assessment and save their analysis for individual evaluation. Otherwise, students can be assigned to work on either the second or third song as classwork or homework.]

Worksheet 6. Lyric Analysis (teacher version with song #2 and song #3 examples) provides sample analyses and answers, though students will interpret the songs in different ways.


Option 1. Use the third song, “He-Hea Katzina Tawi,”from Handout 3.

Have students complete Worksheet 6. Lyric Analysis for that song. Save students’ completed worksheet analysis for individual evaluation.

Option 2. Find the lyrics (and ideally a recording) of a song that describes a place students know and have strong feelings about. There are many “love songs” to cities, states, regions, or the country (i.e. “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “West Virginia, My Home”). “America the Beautiful” or “This Land is your Land” make great examples for the whole country.

Challenge students to complete Worksheet 6. Lyric Analysis for that song. Have them compare the way authors write about places they love and the symbols and imagery they include.

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Common Core
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Folklore
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Music
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Critical analysis
  • Cultural analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Media analysis
  • Musical analysis
  • Summarizing
  • Writing skills
  • Anna Gahl Cole, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (Cortez, CO)
  • Dee Lomawaima, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (Cortez, CO)