Native American Communications

Grade Level: 4-6

Study and replicate the many forms communication that were used by Native American Indians. How do you think Native American Indians communicated with each other? to find out, read below.


In Mexico and Central America, the Maya's writings were "glyphs" (symbols) which were carved in stone. Aztec writings consisted of pictographs, most of which were pictures of objects. Some tribes used pictures or wampum beads to keep records of events in a person's life or a tribe's history, or the passage of time. These drawings were done on walls, animal skins, or tree bark.

Draw a four frame storyboard with symbols to show special events that have taken place in your life.


The number of different tribes found on the Plains, each with its own language, created another form of communication, sign language. Indian tribes of the Plains developed a series of commonly understood gestures for trade and other basic information exchanges. A discussion could begin on the more complex sign language that's used by deaf or hearing impaired people today. To find out more about sign language, click here.


Unspoken signal:

Perhaps the most familiar form of communication to students is smoke or drum signals. This was used for very simplistic messages between individuals or tribes and was most commonly some type of warning.

You may write about an important ceremony using pictographs or tell a story using sign language, or make a drum.

Traditional drums of the American Pueblo and Plains Indians have their own character and sound. The drums are made from the native woods of New Mexico. The wood is peeled, slowly dried and hollowed. The skins are cleaned and carefully scraped in the traditional manner and the rawhide lacing is hand cut and stretched. These drums often have different pitch and tone. Generally more humid environments than the Southwest can cause a lower pitch. Drum heads may be tightened by warming them by the fire, sunlight, or heater.

Drums are measured by diameter x height. Diameter is calculated by the greatest shell width across the top. Drums may vary in size. The wider the diameter of the drum, the deeper the pitch and resonance. Also, for drums over 12" in diameter, the deeper the drum, the greater the resonance. Weight may be an important consideration for drums over 15" x16" in size if they are to be used as musical instruments.

Traditional double headed drums from the native Americans from our eastern coast. Eastern Woodlands hand drums with complex rawhide lacing. Made with selected skins.

If you would like to learn more about Native American drums, and to see images of drums, click here.

Alaskan Fire Drums

Alaskan Fire Drums are designed after the style of the Northern Tribes (Eskimos). Similar to the drum in Dancing With Wolves. These drums have a thin solid Red Oak hoop with a calfskin head pulled very tightly over the frame. Their vibrato resonance must be experienced to be truly appreciated. There is a strong oak handle attached through the frame. Strike the head of the drum, rotate your wrist back & forth while holding the handle to create amazing deep phasing sounds. Rotating the drum changes the pitch of the note. Both the head and the rim of the drum are played.



Resources For Additional Activities:

Cobb, Vicki (1980). The Secret Life of School Supplies. J.B. Lippincott Company, NY. Test different writing devices, pp.36-37; make your own chalk, pp. 46-48.

Wilt, Joy and Terre Watson (1978). Look! 70 Visual Experiments for Children: Including 35 Toys and Projects. Creative Resources, Cincinnati, OH. Invisible writing, pp. 54.