[BEARS: Imagination and Reality.  At the San Diego Natural History Museum from October 21, 2000 through January 2, 2001.]

Teacher's Guide
Classroom Activity: Hunt for the Bear Above

Astronomy, art, language arts, science

By using their imagination to illustrate a native American legend, students will demonstrate an appreciation of the importance of legends, myths, and imagination in explaining the world; and a knowledge of the use of bears and human imagination in myth and legend in Native American astronomy.

45 minutes

Bears have often played an important role in helping humans understand their relationship to the natural world.

Critical thinking, drawing, imagination

ochalkboard and chalk
ocolored pencils, crayons, or colored markers-classroom set
odrawing paper—1 sheet per student
oone large piece of paper (butcher paper, poster board, art paper, or newsprint)—optional

Constellation—a group of stars that seem to form a pattern in the sky in the shape of an animal, a person, a dog, or an object. Constellations have been named after animals, gods and goddesses, and objects.


Exhibit Overview

Background Information


At the Museum

Pre- and Post-visit Activities


bear drawing


1. This activity uses a visualization or a guided imagery experience to retell an old Native American legend about hunting a bear.

Visualizations should be read in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. Visualizations should be read more slowly than most stories. The three dots ( . . . ) represent pauses. It is important that you read the visualization before you use it.

2. Throughout human history many cultures have studied stars, created maps of the night sky, and recorded the movements of the visible planets. Groups of stars in the sky, as well as the apparent seasonal changes in the position of these groups, become the basis for a variety of fascinating stories and myths.

There are several Native American stories about two groups of stars that involve bears. One of these groups of stars is the constellation Northern Crown, a small half-circle of stars. In the stories, it is the den of the bear. The other constellation is the Big Dipper. The stars of the handle are the hunters and the stars of the cup or bowl represent the bear.

3. Tell students that you are going to read a Native American legend about two groups or constellations of stars. See vocabulary above for a definition of constellation.

4. Ask students to name any groups or constellations they may know.

5. Use the diagram of the Northern Crown and the big Dipper on the Star Chart to draw the two constellations on the chalkboard.

6. In the spring the Northern Crown is above the big Dipper. Prepare your students for the story by asking them to relax in their seats. Throughout the story, point out the constellations and the stars.

7. Tell the story "The Den, Hunters, and the Bear in the Sky." (story below)

8. After the story, tell students that they are to close their eyes again to find one place in the story that they would like to draw. Tell them to close their eyes, find that place, and look for all the details, e.g., the time of year, what the hunters were doing and/or what the bear was doing.

9. When you think they have had enough time, show them the art materials and ask the students to illustrate the part of the hunt they have chosen. You may wish to read the story again, but do not answer questions about details. Reflect questions back to the students, e.g., say "What do you think may have happened?" or "What do you imagine it might have looked like?"

10. Display the pictures around a diagram of the two constellations, the Northern Crown and the Big Dipper.

The Den, Hunters, and the Bear in the Sky

Imagine that it is a long time ago and you are in a Native American village. It is a clear night in early spring when the stars can be seen. . . . You are going to hear a legend about hunting a bear. . . . This is also a hunt that you can see in the sky above. . . . To do that you must know two groups of stars. . . . One is the Northern Crown, a small half circle of stars. . . . It is the bear's den. . . . The other is the Big Dipper. . . . The four stars that make up the cup of the dipper are the bear. . . . The four stars that make up the handle of the dipper are the hunters. . . .

They say that a bear woke up from its long winter sleep. . . . What do you think the bear felt like? . . . The bear was very hungry and left its den in search of food. . . . Three young hunters and a little dog were also searching for food. . . . The little dog was named Hold Tight. . . . They saw the bear off in the distance and started to chase it. . . .

The hunters chased the bear all summer long. . . . Night after night they tracked the bear. . . . Sometimes they ran. . . . Will you run out of breath? . . . Sometimes they stalked the bear as quietly as possible. . . . What must you look out for? . . . But the bear always managed to escape them. . . . How do you think the bear always managed to escape them? . . .

Finally, in late fall, the hunters caught up with the bear. . . . The bear stood up on its hind legs with its paws extended, ready to defend itself. . . . How did the hunters and Hold Tight feel? . . . Before the bear could defend itself the hunters killed it and it fell over on its back. (In the fall, the Big Dipper is upside down, see diagram.) . . .

The hunters piled up maple and sumac branches and used the pile of branches to butcher the bear on. . . . That is why those leaves turn blood-red in the fall. . . . The hunters took the meat and bear skin, leaving the bear's skeleton behind. . . .

All winter long the bear's skeleton can be seen in the forest. . . . But the life spirit of the dead bear has entered the body of a baby bear sleeping in the den. . . . It sleeps during the long, cold and snowy winter. . . . In the spring the bear will leave the den to search for food and the hunters will once again begin their hunt for a bear. . . . The hunters and the little dog can never rest. . . . That is the end of that story.

Close your eyes and imagine the bear sleeping in its den and the hunters and Hold Tight waiting for the long hunt to begin again. When you are ready, open your eyes.

Questions for Discussion

1. What are some things this story may tell us about the Native Americans who first told it?
They were hunters. Leaves changed color in the fall. They had an explanation for why certain leaves changed color. Bears could walk upright like humans. Hunting bears required great skill and persistence.

These Native Americans noticed that the positions of the constellations changed in the night sky from season to season and they had an explanation for it. Bears were thought to die each fall and be reborn each spring. This was proof of their power.

2. What are some reasons that the bear may have been so hard for the hunters to kill?
Bears tend to avoid people; they are naturally afraid of them. Bears can hear very well and also have a great sense of smell so it is difficult to get close enough to them to kill them with a bow and arrow.

3. What are some reasons that the hunters may have finally been able to kill the bear?
Because the bear had been chased so long, it may not have been able to get enough to eat; the bear may have become weak and tired.

Taking it Further

1. Ask students to find out what signs a hunter searches for while looking for a bear.

2. Ask students to find out what kinds of food a bear eats and the kinds of food traditional Native American hunters ate. How are they similar and how are they different?

diagram of spring star chart

See star charts for all seasons.

Teacher's Guide | Bears | Exhibits