Sunday, July 14, 2013

Meet Kaya Reading Guide

If you'd like to have your kids do some vocabulary and comprehension work alongside their reading of the Kaya Series of books, this set of words and questions should work well for most elementary school students between third and fifth grade who might read, Meet Kaya.  This is a single reading guide from a whole unit that includes history, art, and language arts elements centered around Kaya and her people.  To access more lessons and resources, check out the Unit Home Page.  For a description of historical inaccuracies and resources regarding those inaccuracies as well as how to approach teaching about American Indians without perpetuating stereotypes, please see Pluses and Minuses.

First, a discussion of the words the Nez Perce and their neighbors used to describe them: Nez Perce Website Page regarding the name, "Nimiipuu"

I suggest having kids finish each of these prompts for each chapter.

Before Reading

I predict this chapter is about _______________________________________ because . . .

While Reading - the first prompt is about visualizing while the second is about asking questions.  The first, helps a child realize they are imagining things in response to what they read, slow down and notice what they are picturing and learn how to communicate those pictures.  The second prompt can ask questions that are "real life" like "wonder what camas bulbs taste like."  OR it can be about what will happen next, "wonder if speaking rain will survive the river."

When I read, "______" it made me picture or imagine . . .

When I read, "______" it made me wonder . . . 

After Reading  This helps kids practice the critical skill of summarizing - something that is very difficult to do btw so be patient.  You might help them by creating a chart where they fill in the subject or predicate underneath.  You'll also need to point out they are  supposed to include the most important experience or struggle in the chapter not just any experience or struggle.

Summarize the chapter:  In this chapter (person)  (experience or struggle) as a result, I wonder . . .

Meet Kaya

Let's Race


  • beloved
  • buckskin
  • reined
  • glanced
  • travois (this is actually the french word)
  • serenade
  • boast
  • deed
  • dismounted
  • tule
  • disguise
  • skittish
  • nickering
  • hesitantly
  • plunged

Questions to Answer:

  1. What season is it when the story begins?  Use a quotation that shows how Kaya describes the season, then decide whether you think it is summer, winter, spring or fall and cite evidence to support your answer.
  2. Who was Kaya asked to do watch?
  3. What is a Travois for?
  4. Why does Kaya race Steps High even though Toe-ta told her not to?
  5. Raven tells a story with some chord and his fingers.  Like a myth, the story is meant to entertain and to teach all at the same time.  What does the story teach the twins?

Try It



  • gaze
  • responsibility
  • bough
  • discipline 
  • wyakin
  • fingercake
  • crier
  • witness
  • pranced
  • clenched

Questions to answer

  1. Do you think the stick people are real?  Why or why not?
  2. Why does Kaya do the looking while Speaking Rain does the listening?
  3. When the author writes, "The boys were clinging to the trunk like raccoons" she is using a simile by comparing the boys to something else to help create a picture in our minds.  The two boys are good at climbing (because raccoons are good at climbing).  Find another simile in the chapter and write what you think the simile is trying to show us.
  4. What is worse for Kaya - the fact that she got whipped or the fact that because of her all the other children also got whipped?  Use evidence from the book to support your answer.
  5. What do you think about the idea that what one person does affects all the rest?  How is this true for Kaya and her tribe?  How is it true for you?  Do you think it fair that all the children got the switch because of Kaya?
  6. Kaya has to learn to control her boasting.  Have you ever had a bad habit you needed to break?  How did you do it?

Try It

Try the shooting game the boys in the book were playing. 

Make your own Bow and arrows or use a Nerf shooter.  Then make the hoop target using the instructions below (you can also just use a Hoola Hoop).   Have a friend throw the hoop into the air and see if you can shoot through it.
For your hoop you will need:  a pool noodle, duct tape, used toilet paper roll, and hot glue gun and glue rods.

  1. Glue the toilet paper roll into one end of the noodle and make sure it is secure.  This will require a lot of glue.
  2. Bend the noodle so it loops back around and put the other end of the noodle over the toilet paper roll.  
  3. Again, use the glue generously and hold in place until the glue has set completely.  
  4. Wrap the seam where the two ends of the pool noodle meet with duct tape to be sure it is fully secured and your target hoop is complete.
If you choose to make your own bow, you'll simply need a long piece of PVC you can bend into a bowed shape.
  1. Use a drill to cut a hole in one end of the pipe and a fine hand saw to cut a slit in the other end.  The slit will need to be at least a couple inches deep.
  2. Thread a strong chord through the hole and tie it off securely.  You may even want to wrap some extra chord around this spot so it runs over the bow string some to make sure you bow string can snap tightly without coming untied. 
  3. Bend your pipe so you can measure how long the string needs to be in order to be tight and make the bow the right shape.  
  4. Tie a heavy bead tightly at this point on the string and trim the excess chord/string.  
  5. Pull the bead up and over the end of the pipe and thread the chord into the slit you cut with your saw.  
  6. Tape or tie more string at the slitted end of the pipe to secure the bead.  
You now have a bow.  Accompany this with some lengths of dowel that fit he size of the bow.  The dowel must be long enough that you can pull the string back and still have the dowel rest against the bow.  For fun add some feathers to one end of each dowel - be careful to keep the weight and size of the feathers balanced and even around the circumference of the dowel - the flight of your arrow will be affected by these feathers.
For safety, you might want to cover the end of the dowels with foam or small rubber balls.  Depending on the length of your bow and how tight you've strung your chord - this bow and "arrow" can cause injury if it hits someone in the wrong spot.  Always make sure no one is in your line of fire. Only allow kids to use while supervised.

Courtship Dance


  • courtship
  • sinew
  • antibodies
  • elk
  • quill
  • porcupine
  • parfleche
  • rawhide
  • shied 
  • steadied

Grandma's Story

Horses did not exist in North America until they were brought over from Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors.  Spanish Europeans Landed and explored in the Southern and Western regions of what is now the United States before English Settlers were very prevalent even along the Eastern seaboard.  When Aalah speaks about the time before horses it is because she lived through the changes brought about by these Spanish Explorers.  The Spanish explorers brought goats, sheep and horses with them.  They also brought diseases the American Indians had never been exposed to and had not developed antibodies for. 

1.  What do we learn from Aalah's tale about the time before horses about how the explorers affected the Nimiipuu?  

2.  Culture, traditions and many ways of life changed dramatically for those American Indians that did survive the sickness and were left with the horses that had gone wild left by the Conquistadors.  Research another of the horse tribes and find out how their clothes, migrations, food, and shelter changed by comparing what you learn about their way of life before and after the arrival of horses to North America.  How does the story of the tribe you study compare to Aalah's?  

Try It

Try your hand at weaving!  There are any number of looms available on the market or you can make your own.  Circle weaving is simple and fun - plus the kids can make their own Rosettes this way if they wish.  You can also make your own tule mat.  If you don't have tule, rafia or other reeds will also work.  Just remember the story of Coyote and the Tepee.  Some things can't be done fast or they will fall apart.

Rescued from the River


  • Surge
  • flailed
  • churning
  • angled
  • withers
  • admiration

Questions to Answer

  1. Why Does Kaya run her horse even though she isn't supposed to in this chapter?  Why is this different from what happened in the first chapter?
  2. Why is it so important that Foxtail called Kaya by her name rather than magpie - what is the meaning in this gesture?

Looking Back

You can either use the "Looking Back" section, OR "Chapter 1: We The People" from Welcome to Kaya's World for this portion of the lessons.  Start by describing that myths are stories people tell to either explain natural phenomenon or to teach important lessons.  Then, read the tale, "How Coyote created the Nimiipuu."  If you have "Welcome to the World of Kaya" you have access to the complete story in the first chapter of the book.  If not, you can read the synopsis of it in "looking back" at the end of "Meet Kaya."  Then, introduce your students to a few other myths - Alice is familiar with a number of Greek and Roman myths as well as the Myth of Oster and Tammuz, so I stuck with American Indian Myths and only reminded her of myths from the European and Asian cultures she already knew.  

Some possible Myths to use:
American Folklore has quite a list of mythology available online at Native American Myths.
Welcome to Kaya's World also has "How Bear Helped Nimiipuu"
There are more myths in the Looking Back sections of, Kaya's Escape which has "Ant and Yellow Jacket"and Kaya's Hero which has, "The Glutton."
The Legend of the Blue Bonnet as retold by Aliki
Storm Boy - this is not a genuine American Indian myth from long ago, instead it is a modern myth written and illustrated in a style akin to that of the coast Salish communities (Pacific Northwest Natives).
Borreguita and the Coyote - Again, this is not a traditional tale, but rather a twist on the "trickster" tales common in Native mythology. In many regions the Coyote was the trickster, but where I grew up, I also encountered trickster tales centered on the Raven.  I don't know how prevalent the use of Crow as trickster is.
Arrow to the Sun - This is now a Pueblo Classic in classrooms across the country having won a Caldecott Honor.

After you've read a few different examples of myths from a variety of cultures, go ahead and ask your students to brainstorm phenomenon to explain, or important lessons every child has to learn.  Then have your kids work together, or separately to write their own modern mythology.

If you will be reading on:

Teacher/Parent - Create a table with four columns and many empty rows.  Then, with your child/students, go back through the story and find as many examples of foods Kaya and her community eat as you can.  Fill in the first column on a table titled, "Foods by the Season."  Label the top of the column, "Summer."  Then, as you read the next story, continue to collect examples of foods discussed in the book in the next column.  Lable the top of the second column "fall."  Continue filling out the table so your food samples fall into the correct columns for each season.  For example, Kaya eats fresh huckleberries in the late summer/early fall, and she dries them so they will have dried huckleberries to eat through the winter. 

Don't forget to also use the American Girl's Website sheet "Nature's Supermarket"

To Return to the Kaya Unit Home Page: Click Here.

For Similar Activities, Vocabulary and Questions for the rest of the Books in the Series: Click Here.

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