Differing World Views: Humans and Animals

House Partition with Shakes Family Crest
Artist not known, Tlingit
About 1840

Students will use the Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest to guide their learning about the Tlingit people’s views on animals and their relationship to humans. Students will then explore their own views on animals, as well as those of their culture, and compare them to those of the Tlingit people. Students will research an animal to learn more about its habitat, means of survival, and status (e.g. endangered or not).

Intended Age Group
Elementary (grades K-5)
Standards Area
Language Arts
Lesson Length
Three to four 45 minute lessons

Students will be able to:

  • describe how the Tlingit people view the relationship between humans and animals;
  • discuss their own views on human-animal interactions;
  • identify the animal used in the Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest, and at least three wild animals in their own school/home community;
  • use at least one written and two electronic sources of data to research a wild animal of their choosing (may be provided by the teacher for younger students); and
  • create a brochure or oral “infomercial” (in a manner appropriate for students’ ages and developmental levels) on the habitat, means of survival, and status of the animal researched that reflects students’ opinions on how the community should respond to the animal.


Day 1

  1. Warm-up: To help students realize that there is more than one way to look at things, and to challenge their assumptions and how they look at the world, engage them in the following activity:
    • Have students sit in a circle on the floor. They should all be able to see you and the pencils you will be placing on the floor.
    • Sitting cross-legged, place the pencils in a random pattern on the floor. Take great care to make it seem like how you are placing the pencils is really important (the more showmanship you use here the better!).
    • VERY nonchalantly place you fingers close to your legs with a certain number of fingers sticking out. Look at the pencils and around at the students the entire time. Do NOT look at your fingers.
    • Ask students what number you made (they will be focusing on the pencils not your hands!).
    • Make another number, dramatically laying out the pencils. Do so two more times before giving a “hint.”
    • This time, tap your fingers while they are trying to decide what number you made. Some students will be picking up on the fingers by now. Encourage them to keep quiet if they figured out how to tell what number you made. Allow students to “make” numbers. They love it!
    • Share the secret with all students. Tell them that often people make assumptions without carefully exploring everything around them when trying to learn about something.
    1. Display or pass out the picture(s) of the Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest. Ask students: What is it? What do they see in the piece? Where would they like to put it in their house? What would it be like if all of the doorways in school looked like this?
    2. Tell the students about the piece using information from the About the Art section.
    3. Read two Tlingit stories about humans and animals aloud (see “Materials” section for suggestions). Link the concept to students’ own lives by discussing the following: What kinds of animals are they connected to? (In their homes, on their land, and/or wild in their neighborhoods) Do their cultures honor animals? Nature? How or how not? How do their views differ from those of the Tlingit people?
    4. Tell students that starting tomorrow they are going to choose an animal to research (from a preplanned list for younger children, if you are providing the materials).

    Day 2

    1. Have students select the animals they will research. You may have them work with partners or individually.
    2. Review any research strategies and brochure/“infomercial” presentation formats that you like to use with the students.
    3. As a warm-up for the research, remind them about the activity yesterday and have them share why it was hard, and how they can work to not make the same mistake while they gather their information.
    4. Allow students time to research.
    5. About midway through, take a “brain break” for fun. A fun activity is to give students a brain teaser. Here’s one, but you can use an old favorite:
    • A man leaves home. He takes a right, a left, another left, and another left and arrives back home to find a man in a mask. (Say all of these slowly, with pauses, so students’ imaginations kick in). Where is he? Allow students to ask yes/no questions to help them solve the riddle. Say that when they think they know the answer to come whisper it in your ear so other students can still try to solve the riddle. Remind them that they have to ask a lot of seemingly “dumb” questions in order to solve the riddle. (Answer: He’s a baseball player and returns to home base.)
    • For older students, ask them: If you have never seen a baseball game, or didn’t know about baseball, could you possibly solve this riddle? What beliefs do the Tlingit people hold that are hard for them to understand because they don’t have the context for them?
    • Have students continue their research. Tell them to organize the information and be prepared to create their piece in class the next day.

    Day 3

    1. Warm-up: Ask students to think about what they ate for breakfast. Then have them imagine that a bear or hummingbird was at the breakfast table. Have students write down, or tell a partner, how he or she imagines the animal would have eaten the breakfast.
    2. Review your expectations for the written or orally presented piece the students will be working on during class. Please make certain to encourage students to include their opinions. They should use data to support these opinions and influence their classmates on the actions they should take. By making personal connections to, and judgments about the information, students develop more intricate critical thinking pathways upon which to draw in the future.
    3. Allow students time to work on their pieces, assisting and giving time countdowns as needed.
    4. You may allow students to finish the work at home if you are limited on class time.
    5. Have students share their oral pieces with the entire class or in small groups. You may choose to have them share the written pieces as well.


    • Map of the United States and Canada
    • Six pencils (or any straight object—markers, pens, etc.)
    • Two stories from the Tlingit people, we recommend these books:
    • At least one computer with Internet access to age-appropriate websites for information on animals
    • Library/classroom magazines or books with information on animals
    • Paper and pencils/pens for writing as needed, or access to word processing and printing resources
    • About the Art section on Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
    • One color photocopy of the Tlingit House Partition with Shakes Family Crest for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


    CO Standards
    • Visual Arts
      • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
      • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Language Arts
      • Oral Expression and Listening
      • Research and Reasoning
      • Writing and Composition
      • Reading for All Purposes
    21st Century Skills
    • Collaboration
    • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
    • Information Literacy
    • Invention
    • Self-Direction

    House Partition with Shakes Family Crest

    About 1840

    Artist not known, Tlingit

    About 1840

    15 ft. X 9 ft.

    Native arts department acquisition funds, 1951.315

    Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2008. All Rights Reserved.

    About the Artist

    This partition comes from the house of Chief Shakes of Wrangell, Alaska, who belonged to the Nanyaayi clan of the Tlingit tribe. The Tlingit lived in groups or villages along the Pacific Coast of what is now southern Alaska and northern British Columbia. Each child was born into one of two groups, called moieties. Within each moiety, there were several smaller groups called clans. The Tlingit were skilled artisans and master woodcarvers, known for their elaborate totem poles, bentwood boxes, and canoes. They had extensive trade contacts and dealt in many different types of goods, which were made by their own tribe as well as others. Animals played an important role in the Tlingit belief system. The Tlingit believed that animals and humans were closely related and that every animal had a soul. They also believed that an animal could take on the form of a human, as is evident in many of their stories. Some stories involve animals and humans changing from one species to the other, while others tell of animals and humans living together and sometimes marrying one another. Even though the Tlingit people had to rely upon hunting and fishing for survival, no animal was ever killed needlessly. Hunters followed strict rituals and asked for forgiveness at the end of the hunt, thanking the animal for giving its life.

    What Inspired It

    Screens like this one were used in large wooden houses to separate the clan leader’s sleeping area from the central areas of the house. Clan houses were large and there could be up to six families living in each one. Screens fronting the sleeping quarters of nobility were painted with important family crests, which are symbols used to represent individual families. The clan leader would enter and exit the room through the hole in the center of the crest—a symbol of rebirth from his ancestors. Sometimes the screens were removed to open up the space for ceremonies. In front of these private rooms was a platform where the owner and his family sat. The image of the brown bear represents the crest of the Shakes family, which memorializes a clan myth in which two brown bears escaped death in a flood by climbing a mountain. The Indians killed one of the bears and took its head and skin to wear as a family crest during festivals. In another clan story, during the time when animals and humans were believed to have married, a male ancestor is said to have been captured by bears and forced to marry the female bear. Having managed to escape, he kept the bear symbol as a clan symbol.



    Faces appear at the joints, eyes, nostrils, and hands of the bear. The small bear figures inside the ears distinguish the crest of the Shakes family from other groups within the clan.


    The formline delineates each of the forms. Usually the formline is painted in black; however, this screen’s formline is red.

    Ovoid & U Forms

    These are the building blocks of Northwest Coast art. Ovoid is the most common shape—a kind of rounded rectangle. This shape is used to form the face, eyes, and small faces that appear at the joints. U forms are usually thick on one end, thinner on the other.

    Low Relief

    The screen was carved in low relief, meaning that the design projects only slightly from the surface of the wood; it is not three-dimensional. The design was then painted with red and black, which are fairly traditional colors.

    Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

    The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.