Lesson plan

Learning About Maria Tallchief

This engaging lesson plan provides students with an opportunity to learn all about America's prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

First and second graders get an inspiring introduction to America's first prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief. Students will practice taking notes while watching a short video and reading an autobiographical book about the Native American dancer, comparing the sources and discussing important vocabulary terms such as "prejudice" and "adversity" along the way. After learning about Maria Tallchief, children will brainstorm things they may want to be when they grow up and reflect on their interests in a drawing and writing activity.

  • Students will be able to comprehend informational texts.
  • Students will be able to recall information from their lives to answer a question.
(5 minutes)
  • Gather the students together in a whole group.
  • Explain to the students that today they are going to learn about one of America's most famous ballerinas, Maria Tallchief.
  • Ask students to turn and talk to their elbow partners about what they know about ballet, or other famous ballerinas they have heard of (e.g., Misty Copeland).
  • Allow a few students to share their ideas with the class.
(20 minutes)
  • Pass out copies of the Note-Taking From a Video worksheet. Explain to the students that they will watch a short video about Maria Tallchief to learn more about her. Guide students to fill in the Topic and Video Title sections on their worksheets. Give the student a few minutes to fill out the "I already know" portion of the worksheet.
  • Allow a few students to share out their ideas.
  • Explain to the students that they will fill out the "Facts I've learned" section as they watch the video, and the "Questions I still have" section after watching the video.
  • Play the Maria Tallchief video for students. Project your copy of the Note-Taking From a Video worksheet so students can observe you filling it out as you watch the video. Pause the video to model filling in interesting facts from the video.
  • When the video discusses the prejudice that Maria Tallchief faced because she was Native American, discuss what it means to be prejudiced in student-friendly language. For example, explain that when someone has a prejudice against someone else, they dislike them because of their race, gender-identity, or religion. Explain that people didn't hire Maria Tallchief because she was Native American.
  • Encourage students to share out ways they can stand up against prejudice when they see it. Use the Ways to Take a Stand worksheet to guide your ideas, and explain that when someone is mean to another person, they can be a buddy to them, interrupt what's going on, speak out and tell that person what they are doing is wrong, and tell someone they trust.
  • Watch the rest of the video and allow students to share out what they learned from the video. Clarify or elaborate on facts as needed.
  • Give students a few minutes to record questions they still have in the last section of their worksheet.
(15 minutes)
  • Get out your copy of the Tallchief book. Show students the cover and do a brief "picture walk" by turning through the pages to show students the illustrations. Allow students a few minutes to brainstorm what they think they will learn about Maria Tallchief by listening to the book read aloud.
  • Explain to the students that Maria Tallchief wrote the book. Ask the students to turn and talk to discuss why it's important to know who wrote the book (e.g., why might the book be most accurate if the person it's about writes it themselves?)
  • Read the book aloud to the students, and pause throughout the story to allow the students to record answers to their questions on their Note-Taking From a Video worksheets.
  • Point out examples of Maria Tallchief overcoming adversity throughout the book. Clarify that adversity is a difficult situation, misfortune, or tragedy.
  • Ask students to share one interesting thing they learned about Maria Tallchief with an elbow partner.
(20 minutes)
  • Pass out the What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? worksheet to each student.
  • Explain to the students that when Maria Tallchief was very young, she already knew she had a passion for dancing.
  • Elaborate that everyone has interests, which are just things they really like to do.
  • Allow students a few minutes to brainstorm ideas as a whole group and jot their ideas down on the board.
  • Give students time to complete their worksheets.
  • Rotate around the room to support students as needed.


  • Extend student learning by having small groups read Who Was Maria Tallchief? by Catherine Gourley and create a presentation to share with the rest of the class.
  • Challenge students to collect more research on Maria Tallchief. Next, have students research Misty Copeland. Ask students to compare/contrast their findings on both famous ballerinas.


  • Allow students to work in a small, teacher-led group during Independent Work Time.
  • Provide students with a short mini-lesson on Maria Tallchief to provide context prior to the lesson.
  • Provide students with the opportunity to practice watching a short video and taking notes prior to the lesson.
  • Collect student worksheets and use them to assess student ability to answer a question using their experiences.
(5 minutes)
  • Bring students together as a whole group.
  • Invite student volunteers to share their What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? worksheets with the rest of the class.
  • Close the lesson by explaining to the students that when we learn about people who have done amazing things in their lives, it can inspire us to do the same. Remind students that they can be anything they want to be!

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