This page provides a downoadable teachers' guide in pdf format.
Go to What Are Winter Counts page Links to exhibit of Lakota winter counts contained in the Smithsonian collection Who are the Lakota? Links to information about the social structures of the Lakota people, circa mid-19th century. Links to information about the environment of the plains that the Lakota inhabited druing the times these counts were kept. Learning Resources

The Teachers' Guide

Lakota winter counts — pictographic calendars of a community's history — provide a unique look into the history of the Lakota Sioux people during the 18th and 19th centuries. Unlike historical accounts recorded by European settlers and explorers, winter counts represent a rich Lakota tradition of oral history and storytelling. Community historians, known as winter count keepers, maintained and used these pictographic records as mnemonic devices to remember the sequence of events that marked each year. By referring to the winter count, members of a Lakota community could mark events in their own lives. The Smithsonian's collection of winter counts documents the history of several Lakota communities over a 200-year period.

Primary sources expose students to multiple perspectives on events and issues of the past and present. Incorporating winter counts into the classroom can allow students to develop visual literacy skills, greater analytical abilities, and a deeper understanding about the Lakota people and their culture. By dealing directly with archival records, students engage in asking questions, thinking critically, and developing reasoned explanations and interpretations of events, issues, and peoples of the past and the present. Many teachers in the U.S. and Canada are already using winter counts as focal points for lesson plans in math, history and social studies.

This Teachers' Guide was created to help you incorporate Lakota winter counts into your curriculum. It includes relevant background information, visual material, topic suggestions, sample lesson plans and resource lists, along with instructions on navigating the Lakota winter count online exhibit. Before using this material, please review the guidelines for teaching culturally sensitive material, developed by the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History. The Teachers' Guide includes a glossary with definitions for anthropological terms and Lakota words. The Audio Glossary in the online exhibit provides pronunciation for Lakota terms.

Download the Teachers' Guide

Download the entire Teachers' Guide (2MB) or the following individual chapters:

What Are Winter Counts?
Background information on the Lakota winter count tradition, including winter count keepers.

Using the Online Exhibit
Descriptions of the the three main features of this online exhibit and instructions on how to use them.

Cultural Considerations
Guidelines for teaching about the winter counts in your classroom.

In the Curriculum
Suggestions for topics to discuss when incorporating the winter counts in natural sciences, U.S. history and language arts curricula.

Lesson Plans
Grades K-4 (Recording Your Community's History)
Grades 5-8 (Oral Histories)
Grades 9-10) (Using Primary Sources)

Who Are the Lakota?

The Smithsonian Collection


An annotated list of recommended texts for both teachers and students. This list also includes the URLs for several related online exhibits.

Downloadable Images

Map of the Great Sioux Reservation (1868-1889)

Chart: "Peoples of the Great Plains"

The Winter Counts

Lone Dog
Long Soldier
Page from Battiste Good
Page from Cloud Shield
Page from American Horse
Major Bush



This Teachers' Guide was developed, written and designed by Anh-Thu Cunnion while completing her M.A.T. in Museum Education at The George Washington University. Under the supervision of Candace Greene, Ms. Cunnion worked with a dedicated group of ethnologists and educators in order to create a comprehensive guide for teachers that can enhance their curriculum and inspire their students for years to come.

The following people were instrumental in the development of this teachers' guide and deserve special thanks for their advice and support:

  • Candace Greene, Christina Burke, and Martin Earring for supplying historical and cultural background.
  • Robert Leopold and the Lakota Winter Count online exhibit team at INVIONI for their work with the content crafting, design and technological components of the online exhibit and the Teachers' Guide.
  • Ann Kaupp, Lynn Alstat and Genevieve Simermeyer for their help in compiling the Bibliography and Cultural Considerations sections.
  • Ruth O. Selig, Susan Sprenke, and Joshua Winterhalt for providing their educational expertise in developing the In the Classroom and Lesson Plans sections.
  • The Smithsonian Women's Committee provided the funds that made both the Lakota Winter Count online exhibit and this Teachers' Guide possible.

  • Last updated March 3, 2005.