Lorna Loy, Brenda Beyal
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary
  • Landforms
  • Legend of the Sleeping Ute
  • Lesson Plan
  • Native American Culture
  • Native American Story
  • Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
    Media Formats:

    Legend of the Sleeping Ute: A Ute Mountain Ute Tale

    Legend of the Sleeping Ute: A Ute Mountain Ute Tale


    Our earth has so many different intersting facts about land formations and the impact of those landforms on our communities. Students will practice identifying different landforms and focus on one landform through a Native American story - "The Legend of the Sleeping Ute: A Ute Mountain Ute Tale"

    The Ute Mountain Ute people are one of three Ute tribes living in southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado. The Ute Mountain Ute tribal headquarters are located at Towaoc, Colorado.



    "The Legend of the Sleeping Ute" originally told by Russell Lopez and adapted by Merry M. Palmer and Mary Jane Yazzie. Lesson revised by Lorna Loy and Brenda Beyal. 

    Time Frame: 

    Two (2) 45 minute sessions


    Whole group


    Goals and Outcomes


    As a result of this activity, students will accomplish the following:

    • Improve literacy comprehension through reading the story, "Legend of the Sleeping Ute."
    • Identify and show where the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is located. 
    • Identify the different land forms in Utah and on the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe reservation. 
    • Share at least two things they learned about the Native American reservations or storytelling. 

    Background Knowledge

    Teacher Background Knowledge

    Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

    Ute people live in Utah. There are three sovereign Ute tribal nations - 1) Uintah-Ouray Utes in northeastern Utah, 2) Southern Ute in Colorado, and 3) the Ute Mountain Utes in southern Utah, southern Colorado and New Mexico. Approximately 2,200 Ute people live on, work on and use these lands. The largest portion of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe reservation is in Montezuma County, which is bordered by Mesa Verde National Park to the northeast, the Southern Ute Tribe to the east, the Diné (Navajo) Nation to the south and west, and a mix of US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands and private lands, including the city of Cortez, to the north. Tribal Headquarters are located in the town of Towaoc at the base of Sleeping Ute Mountain in the southwest corner of Colorado. There are approximately 2,200 tribal members living, working and using these lands. The Ute Mountain Tribal Park contains some of the nation's most spectacular ruins and supports a thriving heritage tourism business today. 


    Explain to students that most American Indian groups did not believe people owned land and thus you could not buy or sell it; it was just yours to use. They were merely stewards of the land, much like students and their desks. They do not own the desks, but they are theirs to use. However, the settlers and the US government had very different perspectives.

    In the United States, there are three types of reserved federal lands:  military, public, and Indian.  A federal Indian reservation is an area of land reserved for a tribe or tribes under treaty or other agreement with the United States, executive order, or federal statute or administrative action as permanent tribal homelands, and where the federal government holds title to the land in trust on behalf of the tribe.

    Approximately 56.2 million acres are held in trust by the United States for various Indian tribes and individuals.  There are approximately 326 Indian land areas in the U.S. administered as federal Indian reservations (i.e., reservations, pueblos, rancherias, missions, villages, communities, etc.).  The largest is the 16 million-acre Navajo Nation Reservation located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The smallest is a 1.32-acre parcel in California where the Pit River Tribe’s cemetery is located.  Many of the smaller reservations are less than 1,000 acres.

    Some reservations are the remnants of a tribe’s original land base.  Others were created by the federal government for the resettling of Indian people forcibly relocated from their homelands.  Not every federally recognized tribe has a reservation.  Federal Indian reservations are generally exempt from state jurisdiction, including taxation, except when Congress specifically authorizes such jurisdiction.

    Other resources about Native American Reservations:

    Native American Storytelling: The Legend of the Sleeping Ute 

    Read the story and become familiar with the tale. The purpose of Native American storytelling is not only to provide entertainment, their primary purpose is to educate. There may be a given time, place, and person to tell a given story. Oral histories and other special kinds of stories were often the prerogative of particular families, elders, chiefs, and medicine people. These individuals had roles that required specific kinds of knowledge. These storytellers were teachers who shared the history and memory that contained the tribe's collective wisdom; they were trained to present stories in ways that reflected ancient knowledge. Their audience was expected to listen attentively from beginning to end, to learn these stories for future generations, and to maintain the continuity of the story through time. See background information about Native American storytelling in the attachments of this section. 

    Why Mountains Are Sacred To The Native American Indians

    For tens of thousands of years, the sky and Nature, the mountains and the Plains, served as a vast sheltering cathedral for Native Americans' spiritual worship. There are literally thousands of sacred places across our continent that were and are regarded as sacred by different tribes. Mountains have a significant role in Native American culture, many story explaining a profound connection to the land. Read the attached background information about "Why Mountains Are Sacred To the Native American Indians" to assist you in this lesson. 


    Related Resources:

    Utah American Indian Digital Archive

    History To Go: Ute Tribe

    Map of Tribal Nations within Utah

    Data.Gov: Tribal Nations Maps

    Ute Mountain Ute Tribe: Official Website

    Smithsonian Institute: Native Knowledge 360

    Lesson Preparation

    Initial Preparation

    1. Preview the story and/or significant message of the story. 
    2. Determine how your class or how your students might relate the story to their own experiences. Think of an experience of your own that you can share with the class. 
    3. Read the section Background Information and choose how to share information about Native American storytelling and information about the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. 

    Student Background Knowledge

    • The students should know and be familiar with the different types of landforms. 
    • The students should know where the Four Corners area is located and be able to recognize where Sleeping Ute would be found.
    • They should also understand the genre categories so that they can determine that this is a fable.

    Materials Needed

    • Globe, map and/or Google Earth
    • Projector
    • Digital copy of the Ute Mountain Utes tale/fable/legend The Legend of the Sleeping Ute
    • Art supplies if you choose to have your students draw a landscape
    • Paper and pencils if you choose to have your students write a shape poem
    • Writing paper and pencils if you choose to have your students write about a landform they would like to visit and explain why.
    • Other books for you students to discover and explore behind the different landforms. These books can be both fiction and non-fiction. 

    Strategies for Diverse Learners

    Students who struggle with writing their ideas down can be paired or grouped with other student to complete the assignment(s). Students can illustrate, draw, paint, color different landforms. 

    Lesson Procedure

    Sleeping Ute Mountain Tale


    1. PRIOR to this lesson, you will have introduced your students to the different features of the Earth's land and surface. Students should be able to describe different types of landforms on Earth and the variety of ways they are formed (oceans, deserts, lakes, rivers, canyons, plateau, islands, plains, mountains, bays, peninsulas, etc.). 
    2. Review the different features of the Earth's land formations. Using Google Earth, project the North American continent and invite students to point out the different landforms. You may ask:
      • Which landforms is the highest? (mountain)
      • Which landforms are flat? (plateau, plain, coastal plain) How are they different? (One is high, one is low and close to the coast)
      • Which are bodies of water? (bay, lake, river, etc.)
      • Can you name other landforms that you do not see clearly on this map? (small streams, creeks, waterfalls, small islands)

    Lesson Procedure:

    1. Using Google Earth (or other map resource), project the landform map of Utah. Identify Utah landforms. Review and identify Utah's three (3) regions - 1) The Great Basin - basin is another word for bowl. The important thing to remember about the Great Basin Region is that any water that falls for flows into the region does not flow out. The water is evaporated in this region. The Great Salt Lake is in the Great Basin Region. The reason the Great Salt Lake is so salty is that the water flows into it, the water evaporates leaving behind all the sediment of salt. 2) the Colorado Plateau - contains all of Utah’s national parks. 3) The Rocky Mountain region - it covers the most mountainous areas of the state. 
    2. Next, focus on the mountain regions in Utah, the Rocky Mountain region. The Rocky Mountains region includes the Rocky Mountains and mountain ranges close by. Utah’s mountains are only a small part of this large region. Utah has two ranges in this region, the Uinta Mountains and the Wasatch Mountains. Tell the students that there are several Native American Tribes who believe all these mountain ranges are sacred places. The mountains provide food, shelter, clothing and other materials needed for everyday life. 
    3. Review and/or identify the 5 different historical tribes of Utah.
      • the Utes, the Paiutes, the Goshutes, the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, and the Navajo.  
      • Show a map of the historical lands of the 5 tribal groups within Utah. Historic Indian Lands - Map  The tribes lived all throughout Utah, moving with the season to hunt, fish, gather and live. 
      • Compare that map to today's map of the current reservations for these 5 tribes. Utah Native American Reservations Today
        • Explain - Utah is filled with a variety of state and federal land designations, all of which share a connection with Native American Nations. It is important to understand that there are strong Native American ties, past and present, to these lands. 
    4. Tell your students that there are three Ute sovereign nations. Locate and identify two of the three nations of Ute tribes with your students. The Uinta-Ouray Utes are located in northeastern Utah (Vernal area) and the Southern Utes are located in southern Colorado near the northern New Mexico state line.
    5. Now introduce or identify the third band of Utes that live near Ute Mountain. The Ute Mountain Utes located in southern Utah extending into Towaoc, Colorado and a small part in northwestern New Mexico.  
    6. Locate and describe Ute Mountain also known as Sleeping Ute Mountain or Ute Peak. Ute Mountain is a small mountain range in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It is on the northern edge of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation. The Reservation forms the southwestern corner of the state and of Montezuma County.
      • If needed, you can explain what a Reservation is by explaining to students that most American Indian groups did not believe people owned the land and thus you could not buy or sell it; it was just yours to use. They were merely stewards of the land, much like students and their desks. They do not own the desks, but they are theirs to use. However, the settlers and US government had very different perspectives. As more non-Native settlers moved further inland and to the west, they settled into Native territory. In order to prevent and stop fighting, the U.S. government reserved land for tribes through treaties. Some Natives were able to keep their original homelands as reservations. Others were forcibly removed from their original lands and placed on reservations throughout the United States. Not every tribe has their own reservation.  
      • Looking at Ute Mountain on Google Earth or another picture and using the "Sleeping Ute Drawing" (see attachment), tell the students - "If we look carefully at the mountain, you will see the warrior Ute. His head points toward the north, his arms are folded across his chest; his stomach, legs, knees, feet (even toes) are all clearly visible.
    7. State to the students, "The Ute Tribe live near the Ute Mountain. The Utes call this mountain "The Sleeping Ute Mountain" it is a sacred place for the Ute people. The story we are going to read originated long ago and it was a form of oral storytelling. Storytelling to the Native Americans were important." Review the background information on Native American Storytelling (see attachment). 
    8. Read - Legend of the Sleeping Ute
    9. Follow your structure for reading stories (predicting, beginning, middle and end of story elements). 
    10. After reading the story, look at the Sleeping Ute Mountain picture or Google Earth. Ask your students:
      • Can you find the headdress? The face? The arms crossed over? The chest? The ribs? The Knees? The Big Toe? Find and describe examples of different landforms on a map or globe. 
    11. Have the students name the landforms or mountains surrounding their home town. They can do several activities with this lesson: 
      • Have the students explore or discover the stories behind the different landforms. Share some of those stories with the class. 
      • Write a shape poem about a mountain. 
      • Write about a landform you would like to visit and explain why. 
      • Draw a landscape that includes a landform. 


    1. This lesson can be taught as a TALE or FABLE. After a lesson on tales or fables the students can build and write their own stories on landforms in their area as tale or fable. 
      • Have the class engage in a storytelling activity. Ask students to imagine that they are spellbinding tellers of tales. Have read the tale or fable they created or have them choose a favorite fable and retell it in their own voice and words in front of an audience of listeners. Give students an opportunity to plan the main events from the story and practice how they are going to tell the story to their audience. For example, tell them to change their pitch or volume of voice or the speed of delivery.
    2. Students can draw the landscape of the Sleeping Ute Mountains. 
    3. Students can write a poem about the Sleeping Ute Mountains using vocabulary words for the unit of landforms. 
    4. Teach the season words used by the Ute tribe. Page five of the book "The Legend of the Sleeping Ute" talks about spring and follows through with the other seasons on pages six, seven and eight
    EnglishUteSounds Like

    Students could also compare the colors from the story to the colors we see in our seasons.


    • steward
    • reservation
    • emerald
    • mantle
    • roamed
    • woven
    • tale
    • fable




    Informal Assessment

    Make Use of Prior Knowledge

    Our students bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences with them to school. By asking questions that draw on what students may already know, we can help them make use of their prior knowledge to understand and learn from what they’re reading. Having students turn and talk with a partner about what they already know helps them activate their prior knowledge. This activity also integrates cooperative learning, another research-supported strategy, into the process.

    Concept Sort

    1. If your goal is to teach a concept such as landforms, gather 10-15 objects or pictures that represent the different lanforms. Or, if your goal is to teach a concept or vocabulary that is presented in a book/story, choose 10-15 relevant, important words from the book/story.
    2. Working individually, in small groups or as a class, have the students sort the cards or objects into meaningful groups. The groups (or categories) can be pre-defined by the teacher (often called a closed sort) or by the students (often called an open sort).
    3. Discuss the categories used within the different groups. Describe why certain cards were placed within certain groups.


    1. List all the words from the story that are likely to be unfamiliar to students.
    2. Analyze the word list:
      • Which words can be categorized as Tier Two words?
      • Which of the Tier Two words are most necessary for comprehension?
      • Are there other words needed for comprehension? Which ones?
    3. On the basis of your analysis, which words will you teach?
      • Which will need only brief attention?
      • Which will you give more elaborate attention to?
    4. For the words you selected, have your students list some characteristics of the words. Have student define the word in thier own words. Have students draw the word. 

    Cultural Learning

    • Can the student show on a map the approximately where the 5 Bands of Utes are located?
    • Can the student describe, write, list, or select the correct meaning of what a reservation is?
    • Can the student locate on a map the 5 tribes of Native Americans in the state of Utah?
    • Can the student relate several reasons why storytelling is important to Native Americans?


    Additional Resources

    Additional Resouce for the subject of Native Americans

    PBS: Circle of Stories - Circle of Stories uses documentary film, photography, artwork and music to honor and explore Native American storytelling.

    BYU ARTS Partnership: Arts Reaching and Teaching in Schools - Founded as an initiative in the BYU-Public School Partnership, the BYU ARTS Partnership works to increase the quality and quantity of arts education in Utah elementary schools. 

    Utah Division of Arts & Museums: Native American Teaching Artist Roster - This new Native American Teaching Artist Roster has been established with help from Brigham Young University and their Native Curriculum Initiative. As tribal leaders guide this curriculum initiative, they are equally forthcoming identifying those that best present their songs, dances, stories, baskets, weavings and other art forms important to them. UDAM is delighted in supporting this initiative and in welcoming artists new to our state agency.