Symbolic Understanding

Lesson Plan


Students will work collaboratively to research and respond to the use of symbols in the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug and what those symbols can tell us about the history of the people and the artist who created it.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 60 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies


Students will be able to:

  • work in collaborative, productive groups;
  • demonstrate knowledge about symbols;
  • apply that knowledge by analyzing symbols in the Eyedazzler Blanet/Rug and researching historical and geographic connections to those symbols and the Navajo people;
  • synthesize what they have learned by creating a report; and
  • practice oral skills by participating actively in whole-class and small-group discussions and presenting their work to the class.


  1. Preparation: Review the information from the About the Art section for background knowledge of the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug prior to the lesson. Do not share this information with students yet.
  2. Divide students into cooperative groups.
  3. Project the image of the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug or give each group a quality color copy of the image for reference.
  4. Ask students inquiry-based social studies questions, such as: What materials do you think were used to make this art object? How do you think it was made?
  5. Using information gathered from their previous studies of different cultures, students should try to determine what culture the person who created this work of art came from. What information did they use to determine this? How would they describe the basic design of this work of art? Do they think the design is meant to communicate an idea? If so, what?
  6. Ask students what a symbol is and discuss the meaning of the term. Discuss everyday symbols, such as street signs and hand gestures, to help further students’ understanding of how symbols can be used.
  7. Ask thought provoking questions such as: What images symbolize love, hatred, peace, freedom, or confinement? How do these images make you feel? What power do images have?
  8. Assign each group a symbol found in the blanket/rug. It could be helpful to make a separate copy of each group’s individual symbol.
  9. Ask each group to look at the symbol they were assigned and try to interpret its meaning.
  10. Provide time for students to conduct research about the symbols on the blanket. Provide each group access to information from the About the Art section as well as other sources such as library books or the Internet.
  11. Each group should find information that supports or contradicts their original assumptions. Older or more advanced students might consider researching their assigned symbol beyond just its meaning. For example, students who are assigned the flag could research information about trade during the time frame the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug was made as the flags were incorporated to appeal to potential customers. Additionally, the geography plays an important role in the story of the Blanket/Rug. Ask each student to find at least one reference on a map or in another resource that relates to their symbol, such as where the inspiration for its design came from, where it was made, where the supplies came from, etc. Students may use other resources as available and appropriate. Each group should consider how geography is associated with the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug.
  12. Once the class is done with their research, have each group hold up their symbol, identify where it can be found in the Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug, and share with the class what they learned about it.
  13. Optional: Have students write a paragraph about their findings or create a presentation using PowerPoint or Prezi.


  • Access to maps of the United States
  • About the Art section on the Eyedazzler, Blanket/Rug (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • Color copies of the Eyedazzler, Blanket/Rug for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • (Optional) Access to a word processor or writing materials
  • (Optional) Access to computer presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • Geography
      • Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
      • Use geographic tools and sources to answer spatial questions
    • History
      • Analyze historical sources using tools of a historian
      • Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
      • Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, ideas and themes
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer

21st Century Skills

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

About the Art

Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug

Eyedazzler Blanket/Rug

About 1885

Artist not known, Navajo, United States

Who Made It?

This blanket/rug was likely the work of a female Navajo artist. Loom weaving was a woman’s art among the Navajos after they learned the skill from their Pueblo neighbors in the 1600s, but today both men and women weave.

Navajo weavers are justly famous for the excellence of their textiles. This style, known as an eyedazzler because of its vivid colors and dizzying design combinations, was popular during the later years of the Transitional period in Navajo weaving (1868–90), when artists began weaving for the tourist market rather than solely for home use. Brightly colored “Germantown” yarns, widely available through newly established trading posts on the Navajo Reservation, made it possible to produce these vibrant masterpieces.

What Inspired It?

During the Transitional period (1868–90) when this blanket/rug was created, Navajo weavers began to produce patterns compatible with the tastes of traders and patrons. Eyedazzler weavings are uniquely Navajo innovations, created to take advantage of a range of commercially made colors not previously available. In some ways you can think of these artists as testing a new product on a new audience.

Although this rectangular weaving is called a blanket or a rug, the decorative fringe and cotton warp (cotton is less durable than wool) suggest that its maker knew it was more likely to be displayed on a wall for decoration than to be used.


The Bold Red
The Bold Red

The red wool used throughout the background is a kind of commercially manufactured yarn called Germantown, named after a town in Pennsylvania that produced these yarns using synthetic dyes.

Saltillo Diamond
Saltillo Diamond

Navajo artists borrowed the serrated diamond motif from New Mexican Saltillo serapes. The Navajo people became familiar with the motif when they were incarcerated at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico (1863–68), where they received Saltillo-style blankets from the United States government.


Five flags appear in this eyedazzler. Notice how the artist used them to mimic the look of the American flag but not duplicate it exactly. Navajo weavers of this time often used flags in their textiles as design elements to appeal to non-Navajo customers.


Artists often included cross-shaped designs in their eyedazzlers. Despite the obvious association with Christianity, these designs may have been derived from traditional Navajo women’s dresses.

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.