ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

A Listening Doll

Create traditional Native American storyteller dolls


Key Staff

This lesson can be taught by the classroom teacher but will be enhanced by collaboration with the visual art teacher.

Key Skills

Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


The Pueblo people have a great tradition of clay sculpture; they were especially good at creating small figures of people or animals. The Pueblos combined their sculpture skills with their love of storytelling and began a tradition of creating "storyteller dolls." Students will discuss the process of storytelling and listening to stories, then create a listening doll in the tradition of the Native American storyteller dolls.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn about Pueblo Indian storyteller dolls.
  • Create a storyteller doll.
  • Understand the basic ways of working with clay.
  • Be able to explain good listening skills.
  • Discuss the process of storytelling.
  • Discuss and assess the various listening dolls created by the class.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Hands-On Learning
  • Discussion

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Since the students will be discussing the importance of storytelling, teachers may want to begin the lesson by reading a story to students. Preface this activity by asking students to think carefully about what they like best about listening to stories.

For more information on Native American culture and traditions, visit the National Museum of the American Indian.

To learn about the different types of clay and how to use them with this handout.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with Native American culture and their oral traditions and the following list of vocabulary:

  • Listening dolls
  • Ceramics
  • Storytelling
  • Sculpture
  • Oral Tradition
  • Native American

Physical Space

  • Visual Arts Studio
  • Classroom


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction


  • Copy handouts
  • Procure enough clay (your choice of type), string, fabric, glue and tools for all students
  • Cover tables with tablecloths or newspaper

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Discuss with the students what they like best about listening to a story. Ask them:

  • How do you like to sit, stand or lay when you listen to a story?
  • Where do you like to listen to stories?
  • What do you like to wear best when you listen to a story?

2. Tell students that, traditionally, storytellers held a place of great importance in Native American Pueblo communities. The older members of the tribe would help preserve the culture and heritage of the tribes by telling traditional folktales and historical stories to the younger generations. You can also use the gallery in the resource carousel above to provide visual of Pueblo communities.

3. Tell students that the Pueblo people also have a great tradition of clay sculpture. They were especially good at creating small figures of people or animals. The Pueblos combined their skill at sculpture with their love of storytelling and began a tradition of creating "storyteller dolls." A storyteller doll was usually a small clay sculpture of a man or a woman. The figure always was depicted with its mouth open to indicate that it was entertaining listeners with songs or stories that conveyed the culture of the people. The storyteller was always accompanied by several “listener figures.” Usually, these listeners were children that were being taught by the elder storyteller.

Build Knowledge

1. Give students a physical description of storyteller dolls.

  • A storyteller doll was usually a small clay sculpture of a man or a woman. The figure always was depicted with its mouth open to indicate that it was entertaining listeners with songs or stories that conveyed the culture of the people. Many times the expression on the dolls face conveyed the mood of the story.
  • Use the listening dolls gallery in the resource carousel above to show some examples of the dolls.

2. Give students a description of listening dolls and the role that they played in Native American culture.

  • The storyteller was always accompanied by several “listener figures.” Usually, these listeners were children that were being taught through the story by the elder storyteller.

3. Discuss with students the qualities of good storytelling. Using this handout on qualities of good storytelling make sure the students understand and are able to recognize what makes a great story. Go back to the story you read at the opening of the lesson and see if they can use the above chart to find the elements in that story.

4. Make sure that students are able to recognize and use good listening skills. Go over the following list of listening skills and discuss how they may help you understand a story. Again, using the story read at the beginning of the lesson have students break into cooperative learning groups and discuss the following listening skills. In the information that they remembered about the story did they relate their recall to any of the following points.

  • Focused on content not delivery
  • Asked mental questions of themselves while the story was being read
  • Had good eye contact between the storyteller and the listener so that their was active participation
  • Avoided distractions in the class and focus on what was being said
  • Understanding what you were told
  • At the end clarifying and evaluating what was said with the storyteller
  • Making an effort to concentrate and remember what was being said
  • Emotional involvement in the story
  • Relating to the story or recognizing a connection to you and your life


1. Tell students that they will be creating their own listening dolls. Demonstrate how to roll, mold, and attack pieces of modeling clay.

2. Distribute clay to the students. Remind students that the listening dolls should be small and portable. The target size should be between 5 and 7 inches, from head to toe. Direct students to begin shaping the body of the doll. After the figures are completed, students should create clothing by gluing fabric to the doll. Students may add additional details such as other features.


1. Place all finished dolls in one area of the room as if they are all listening to a story. Let students examine each of the dolls without touching them, paying specific attention to details and expressions on each of the dolls. Assign one doll to each student and ask him/her to answer the following questions in writing or orally. Available is a Peer Assessment handout of these questions located within the Resource Carousel.

  • How did the artist express "listening" in the doll (Look at pose, expression, color, clothes, etc.)?
  • Can you tell by looking at the expression and pose of the doll what kind of a story it is hearing?

2. Have students to discuss their findings/opinions with the rest of the class.


Using the closure activity, ask each student to evaluate his/her own work based on the Assessment Rubric, to be used by both the students and the teacher. Students can also assess the work of their peers.


Extending the Learning

Have students read a story to their dolls, or have the dolls listen with the students when the teacher reads a story to the class.

Allow students to create an environment in which to house their dolls.

Allow students to create a companion storyteller doll.

Talk about different types of sculpture:

  • Freestanding Sculpture is finished on all sides. It can stand-alone. Many freestanding sculptures
    are placed in an indentation in a wall called a niche. These are freestanding sculptures; however,
    they cannot be viewed on all sides.
  • Relief Sculpture projects from a background. Reliefs are classified by their degree of projection;
    high relief indicates that the objects project at least half of their natural circumference from the
    background and low relief indicates the figures barely project from the background.
  • Kinetic Sculpture is sculpture that moves either by air currents such as mobiles or by a power
    source installed by the artist.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Joyce Payne
Original Writer

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