What’s in a Story?

Lesson Plan


Students will examine The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself and write a story about the piece.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • identify The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself;
  • list essential components of a story;
  • provide constructive and supportive feedback when peer editing;
  • explain the importance of revising their writing based on feedback; and
  • feel comfortable taking creative risks with their writing.


  1. Preparation: Read the About the Art section on The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself.
  2. Warm-up: Conduct a group storytelling activity. Ask the students to stand in a circle. Start a story with one sentence. The student to your left will then say, “Yes, and…” and add the next sentence to the story. This continues until everyone has shared at least one sentence. Make sure the last few students know they need to start wrapping up the story. You may want to go around the circle twice. Reflect on the different parts of a story that emerged in this activity (character, setting, action, conflict, and resolution)
  3. Show students pictures of The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself. Ask them to imagine how the kosha’s (the character featured in the sculpture is a kosha) ear broke and share their ideas with a partner.
  4. Tell the students that they are going to write a story about the piece. They need to include all the parts of a story (beginning, middle, end, characters, and setting), and include how the kosha found the needle and thread and how he was able to sew his own ear. Did he need to look in a mirror? You could even have the students look in a mirror and experiment with how they might attempt to sew their own ears.
  5. Allow students time to brainstorm several different ideas. Once they write down these ideas, tell them to come up with three different beginnings (how the ear broke) and three different endings (what happens after the kosha sews his ear).
  6. Have students share their ideas with a partner, critiquing each one and helping each other choose which beginning and end to use for their full story.
  7. Give students time to write their stories. When they are done, have them work in groups of 3–4 to critique what they’ve written. Does the story make sense? Do they use vivid words wherever possible? Does the story capture the reader’s attention? Allow time for revisions as needed.
  8. Call on volunteers to share their final, revised versions.


  • Pencil or pen and paper for each student
  • Copies of the About the Art section on The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • Color copies of The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Writing and Composition

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

The Things I Have To Do To Maintain Myself

The Things I Have To Do To Maintain Myself


Roxanne Swentzell, United States

Who Made It?

Roxanne Swentzell was born in Taos, New Mexico in 1962. Her mother was a potter, writer, and scholar from Santa Clara Pueblo, and her father was a New Jersey native of German descent who was a philosophy professor in Santa Fe. Growing up in Santa Fe, in a household that was filled with clay and artwork, Roxanne took to art-making at an early age. As a child, she struggled to express herself verbally. In order to let others know how she was feeling, she would sculpt small figures that represented her emotions.

Roxanne attributes much of her success to guidance from her family, particularly her mother, Rina, and her uncle, Michael Naranjo, a blind sculptor. From 1978-1980, before graduating high school, she attended the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Today, she spends much of her time at Tower Studio, twelve miles north of Santa Fe. Continuing her interests in nature and preserving the earth, Swentzell founded the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, “a research and education organization that relates to permaculture…a way of looking at the world based on the laws of nature.”

Swentzell believes that it is extremely important for her work to have a direct connection with reality. Her art must be a full expression of herself and her experiences and observations of life. She says, “I learned to listen to myself and not be so influenced by what other people wanted me to make. I am going to present the world through my eyes—and not as somebody told me I was supposed to.” She also aims to communicate with all people through her artwork—both Native and non-Native—about the things we share as humans. “With my sculptures I try to reach people’s emotions so they can remember themselves,” says Swentzell.

What Inspired It?

This sculpture is a representation of a clown, called a kosha in Tewa [TAY-wah], the language of Santa Clara Pueblo. In the Pueblo creation story, the kosha were the first to emerge onto the surface of the earth, climbing up from the underworld and out of the womb of Mother Earth. As they surfaced, each was facing one of the four cardinal directions. The people of the earth followed, dispersing to all parts of the world and becoming the different races. Kosha continue to play a part in Santa Clara ceremonies and stories. One of their main roles is to teach lessons about life. Kosha teach by imitating human behaviors; it is then up to us to recognize when those behaviors are flawed.

This kosha sits deep in concentration, mending his broken ear. With this sculpture, Swentzell references the idea that humans are in a constant state of development. An individual makes choices as he/she creates him/herself. Swentzell is also asking us to consider the importance of a seemingly mundane act. “I like to make the mundane significant, because that’s the way we go throughout days. This piece is about all the little things we do to make things possible. It’s an appreciation of something that’s not always acknowledged,” says Swentzell.



The black and white stripes on the body of the kosha represent balance, one of the important life lessons that are taught by kosha.


The kosha is deep in concentration. Notice how he carefully threads the needle with an extra-thick piece of yarn. His eyes are focused, his lips are pursed, and even his toes are curled tightly together.


Swentzell makes her sculptures out of clay, using the techniques of a potter. Unlike other potters in her family, she uses purchased clay, in part due to the large amounts that she uses. She uses coils to create the body and makes cuts where she will add limbs, which are made with coils as well. The body and limbs are hollow, while the toes and fingers are solid. She sculpts the face. The figure must dry for about two weeks before it is ready to be fired in a kiln.

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.