Moving House

Lesson Plan


Students will examine and discuss the connection between geography, climate, and the food supply needs of people who lived in the Tipi. They will use the same considerations to create a written or visual description of an ideal movable home for themselves.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies


Students will be able to:

  • read and interpret information from geographical tools and formulate geographical questions;
  • use visual and textual information to explain a concept and idea;
  • identify geography-based problems and examine the ways that people have tried to solve them; and
  • compare factual historical sources with works of fiction that students will create about the same topic.


  1. Show students the image of the Tipi and ask them to point out what they see, including all of the details. Share information from the “Details” section of About the Art. Have students identify on the image of the Tipi where these details are located.
  2. Review and share with students information from the “Who Made It?” and “What Inspired It?” sections of About the Art. Explain who is believed to have made this Tipi and where the Lakota lived during the time this Tipi was used. Locate these areas on Google Earth or on a map of the United States, specifically highlighting areas of Colorado where the Lakota lived. Point out where your school is located. Is it similar to where the Lakota people lived?
  3. Point out the construction methods used to create the Tipi and how the process differed depending on warm or cold weather. Discuss why this type of home was a good fit for the tribes of the Great Plains region. Think of the geography of the area, the food supply, and other factors that would influence the design of their homes.
  4. Ask students to imagine that they could pick up their home and carry it with them anywhere on Earth. Ask them to consider the following questions: Where would you want to go and why? How would your home need to be constructed for movement, or to protect you from the climate of where you are going to move your house?
  5. Have students write a paragraph describing how their home would fit their preferred new geography and climate, and how they would gain access to a food supply. Students may want to draw their movable homes and label certain details that make it appropriate for its location. What are the similarities and differences between their home the Tipi?


  • 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
  • Access to and a way to display images from Google Earth, or United States maps on which you can trace a route from the students’ school to the Lakota Territory


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Become familiar with Colorado historical eras, groups, individuals and themes
      • Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
      • Analyze historical sources using tools of a historian
      • Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, ideas and themes
      • Become familiar with United States family and cultural traditions in the past and present
    • Geography
      • Become familiar with Colorado geography
      • Become familiar with United States geography
      • Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
      • Use geographic tools and sources to answer spatial questions
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • 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

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.