Sentence Beads

Lesson Plan


Students will segment sentences by identifying the number of words in a sentence. Students will then string a bead representing each word in a sentence to make a necklace or bracelet.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 35 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • listen with comprehension;
  • use language to express ideas in complete sentences; and
  • demonstrate an understanding that sentences are made up of a number of words.


  1. Show students images of the Horse Outfit created by artists of the Crow tribe. Ask them to describe what they see. Show students details from the “Details” section of the About the Art section. Draw attention to the beautiful beadwork, especially the isosceles triangles that are a hallmark of Crow design. You might consider having students make an isosceles triangle on the floor with rulers or sticks, or even with their bodies. Point out that every time you or the students describe what they see they are using words in a sentence. Show students words that form a sentence somewhere in the room.
  2. Give each student access to a variety of large beads. Ask the students to say a sentence describing something they see in the Horse Outfit. For every word they say, they are going to lay a bead on the floor or table to create a line representing the spoken words in the sentence (It may be helpful to explain to the students that this is just an activity they are doing to learn about sentences, and that the beads and patterns on the object do not represent sentences like their beads will). Give them an example, such as, “The horse has a saddle.” For every word you say, set down a bead at the same time. Ask a student to do the same thing making a different sentence represented by beads near the one you made. Keep going until everyone who wants to has a chance to create a sentence and all of the most important aspects of the Horse Outfit are mentioned. Notice if the beads made a pattern.
  3. Give each student a piece of yarn and show them how to string beads onto it. Again, relate the number of beads to the number of words in a sentence they create.
  4. Tie the yarn into a necklace or bracelet to remind students of their sentence.


  • About the Art section on Horse Outfit (included with the lesson plan)
  • Color copies of Horse Outfit for students to share or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • A jar of beads; each student should have enough to equal the number of words in an average sentence
  • A piece of string for each student


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Recognize change and sequence over time
  • 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

About the Art

Horse Outfit

Horse Outfit


Artist not known, Crow Tribe

Who Made It?

These elaborate horse trappings were decorated by an unknown Crow woman. The Crow are an American Indian tribe who originally lived on the Great Plains, an area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada. Beadwork is one of the dominant Crow decorative art forms. Various design elements distinguish the Crow style of the late 1800s from designs used by other tribes. During this time, Crow beadworkers used mostly geometric forms including rectangles, diamonds, and triangles in their art. The isosceles triangle (with two sides equal in length) is a hallmark of their style. This shape appears either alone or as two triangles joined at the tip, forming a shape that looks like an hourglass. Beadworkers used a wide range of colors and often outlined solid shapes with beads of a contrasting color. The woman (or women) who decorated these horse trappings, for example, outlined the shapes with white beads. Black was very rarely used in Crow beadwork.

What Inspired It?

Horses were re-introduced in North America by the Spanish in the 1500s, and the Crow began acquiring horses through trade in the 1700s. The arrival of horses allowed nomadic tribes to carry heavier loads and travel greater distances, covering more ground when they hunted. As horses became increasingly appreciated, functional horse trappings, like saddles and bridles, evolved into beautifully decorated costumes for show at parades and celebrations. Horses were outfitted in costumes like these only on special occasions. Though the Crow developed their own style for decorating horse trappings, ornamental gear continued to bear some resemblance to Spanish trappings from the 1600s.

Beads were also acquired through trade with Europeans beginning in the early 1700s. Crow women used the beads to decorate everything from clothing to horse trappings, and they became well-known for their skillful beadwork. They developed their own unique style, which changed over the years from more geometric patterns (like those seen on this horse costume) to floral-based designs. Beading revolutionized American Indian art, allowing for tremendous variation in design and color.



The first glass beads came all the way from Venice and Czechoslovakia, where they were manufactured. Beadwork was popular among the Crow, and women excelled at creating beautiful, colorful patterns.

Isosceles Triangle
Isosceles Triangle

The isosceles triangle is one of the hallmarks of Crow beadwork from the late 1800s and can be found throughout the entire horse outfit. White beads outline the triangles, separating the various bright colors that were used. Notice how the triangles appear in many different sizes.


When the Crow traded for horses with the Spanish, they sometimes received horse equipment as well. The form of this saddle was inspired by the construction of Spanish saddles.

Rawhide Containers
Rawhide Containers

The Crow painting style of the 1700s greatly influenced their geometric beadwork. The painted designs on the two cylindrical containers that hang off of the saddle are made up of isosceles triangles, similar to patterns in the beadwork on other parts of the outfit. The triangles are outlined by areas of the surface that were left unpainted. These containers were used to store and carry special possessions. The long fringes attached to one of the containers added to its attractiveness when it was suspended from a saddle, as seen here.


The ropes are made of out leather and bison hair and are used for securing loads onto pack horses. Notice the decorative ball-shapes at each end of the rope.


Once the horse was saddled and the rider was in position, only the ornamental bands on this saddle blanket would be visible.


The Crow used woolen trade cloth extensively, both for practical purposes and as a design element. Pieces of cloth were often integrated into beadwork designs to save time in dealing with large areas and to provide variation in color and pattern.


The bridle is covered in more geometric beading. Attached to the bridle is a circular piece that lies on the forehead of the horse. This piece is also decorated with beads and is edged with stiff horsehair. A triangular section made of tassels falls above the horse’s nostrils. The metal fringe that hangs down below the horse’s mouth shows a Spanish influence.


The forked pommel tells us that this is a woman’s saddle.


Women sometimes added ornamental flaps to the outside of their stirrups, while men’s stirrups were typically not decorated—more evidence that this horse gear was made for a woman.

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.