Making a House a Home

Lesson Plan


Students will work in groups to discuss and debate the many factors that make a house a home rather than simply a shelter. Working individually, students will create an artistic representation of their ideal home.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 50 minute lessons

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • present information that supports their choice of home;
  • make decisions about how to establish credibility with an audience;
  • reflect on how different cultures have defined homes;
  • gather data, make inferences, and draw conclusions about geographical information; and
  • demonstrate how key concepts, issues, and themes in the visual arts can solve problems with real-world applications.


Day 1

  1. Show students the image of the Tipi and ask them to point out what they see, including all of the details. Ask student to use their background knowledge from social studies classes and other sources to discuss what they think they know about this object. Share with students information from the About the Art section. Point out who is believed to have made the Tipi. Discuss how the construction of the home was a good fit for the environment in which it was built and the lifestyle of the people who lived in it.
  2. Ask students to describe the drawings they see on the outside of the Tipi. Share with them that these images tell a story about military exploits. Explain that the drawings they see on the Tipi are a way to keep history alive.
  3. Divide the class into small groups and ask students to discuss what this home tells us about the people who made and lived in it. Ask them: What makes a house a home. Is a home the same as a house? Does the artwork on this Tipi make it more of a home than a house? Have the small groups report back to the rest of the class.
  4. Students will then work individually to answer the question of what they feel makes a house a home. Thinking about how the Lakota artist(s) decorated the Tipi in a manner that described their tribe, what would the students want their home to say about them?
  5. As students sketch ideas, remind them to factor in issues of climate, geography, food supply, and ease of movement if the home is mobile or structural stability if the home is not. How would their home be constructed, what materials would they use to make it, where would it be located, and how would it be decorated? Does it conform to the environment or stand out?

Day 2

  1. Have students share the designs for their homes made the previous class period. Ask them to explain the choices they made and what they say about them as individuals.
  2. Then, tell students they are going to make an artistic representation of their home. Ask them to choose a medium--they might try sculpting it out of clay or drawing or painting an image of it.
  3. Students should write an artist statement sharing the thought process behind their work.


  • About the Art section on the Tipi
  • Color copies of the Tipi for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • Sketch paper and writing implements for notes
  • Art media for students to create artistic representations of their homes


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Evaluate and analyze sources using historical method of inquiry and defend their conclusions
    • Geography
      • Understand geographic variables and how they affect people
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art



about 1880

Attributed to Standing Bear

Who Made It?

This tipi was made by a Lakota artist. The Lakota people lived on the Great Plains, an area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada. Many, but not all, of the tribes who lived on the Great Plains used tipis as their primary form of residence. In most tribes, women were generally both the makers and the owners of the tipis, although men sometimes provided assistance in their construction. They were often made from the skins of buffalo that the men hunted. Women tanned the skins and then sewed them into a pattern to create a semi-circular one-piece covering. The name “Standing Bear” is written on the Denver Art Museum’s tipi, but we are not sure whether this is the name of the artist or possibly the identity of one of the figures depicted. It was not a Lakota custom for artists to sign tipis.

What Inspired It?

The tribes who lived on the Great Plains moved frequently as they hunted for food and required homes that could be erected quickly and transported easily. The earliest tipis were relatively small but increased in size after Europeans introduced horses to the area, which allowed tribes to carry larger and heavier loads. The materials used to construct tipis were dictated by what was readily available. The tipi covering, for example, was originally made from buffalo hide. The decimation of buffalo herds in the mid- to late-1800s, along with the availability of trade goods, caused a shift to tipis made of canvas. Later, with the building of western-style housing on reservations, tipis as a primary dwelling completely disappeared.

The construction of tipis varied slightly among the different tribes. Generally, three or four foundation poles are tied together near the top while they are lying on the ground. The tripod is then lifted upright and the poles are spread at the base. Additional poles are added to create an oval floor plan. The cover is then attached to the top of a pole and spread across the frame. The two edges of the cover overlap and are secured with wooden pegs. Smoke flaps are controlled by the use of two longer poles. During the hot summer weather, the sides could be rolled up to allow air to flow in and out of the tipi. Extra warmth was gained in the winters by banking snow outside the tipi. An inner layer was also added to the tipi and grass was used as insulation between the two layers. The Denver Art Museum tipi may have been used as a decorative outer cover for another smaller cover, since it lacks evidence of smoke at the top.

The images painted onto the tipi cover probably represent battle scenes. The establishment of reservations ended the nomadic and warrior lifestyle of the Lakota. Military exploits of earlier years became more significant for the Lakota and artists kept the stories alive through their drawings. Enemy tribes, such as the Crow and the Pawnee, are painted in great detail, allowing the viewer to recognize them by their distinctive clothing and hairstyles. Tipis like this one now serve as a historical record of the lives of those who created it.



This tipi is made of canvas, with wooden poles for support. Canvas was more readily available than the traditional buffalo hide (buffalo were becoming increasingly rare) and it made the tipi much lighter and easier to transport.

Narrative Painting
Narrative Painting

This style of painting, referred to as narrative painting, depicts a military scene. Military paintings were done exclusively by men, while women painted abstract patterns. By the late 1800s, Lakota drawings began taking on more realistic proportions. Paintings were not typically painted in chronological order. Images were arranged according to the artist’s preference, recording the essence of an event and not the specifics of time or place.


Red, green, and yellow horses circle the tipi. Artists often painted horses in a more decorative manner, in colors not normally attributed to the animal. In Lakota society, horses were an important symbol of power and wealth. Artists frequently depicted them as trophies secured in battle or as the prized possession of a rider.

Enemy Tribes
Enemy Tribes

Warriors from the Pawnee and Crow tribes are recognized by their distinctive hairstyles and clothing. The Pawnee warrior is shown wearing high fashioned black moccasins.

Funding for lesson plans 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.