Honeeshgish A Navajo Legend

Honeeshgish  A Navajo Legend


Time Frame: 2 Class periods of 30-45 minutes


  • Read aloud - whole group
  • Discussion and activity - whole group or small groups

Authors: (if others contributed to the creation of this lesson) Orignal lesson by Brenda Whitehorse, modified by Brenda Beyal and Lorna Loy.



Goals and Outcomes

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

  • Use reading strategies to better comprehend the text.
  • Gain an understanding of Navajo culture by reading "Honeeshgish."
  • Understand Indigenous cultures regarding fire - there are traditions and cultural norms that guide the use of fire.

Background Knowledge

Teacher Background Knowledge

Navajo Tribe in Utah (Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona)

The Navajo people are the second most populus of all Native American peoples in the United States. The Navajo Nation extends into the states of Utah , Arizona and New Mexico , covering over 27,000 square miles of unparalleled beauty. Diné Bikéyah, or Navajoland, is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America.

Visitors from around the world are intrigued and mystified when they hear the Navajo language – so, too, were the enemy during World War II. Unknown to many, the Navajo language was used to create a secret code to battle the Japanese. Navajo men were selected to create codes and serve on the front line to overcome and deceive those on the other side of the battlefield. Today, these men are recognized as the famous Navajo Code Talkers, who exemplify the unequaled bravery and patriotism of the Navajo people.

Today, the Navajo Nation is striving to sustain a viable economy for an ever increasing population that now surpasses 250,000. In years past, Navajoland often appeared to be little more than a desolate section of the Southwest, but it was only a matter of time before the Navajo Nation became known as a wealthy nation in a world of its own. 

Traditional Navajo wisdom recognizes spirituality as the foundation of all knowledge necessary for achieving harmony, or hozho, the Beauty Way of Life. This foun­dation is as relevant today as it ever was, and could serve as the basis of an approach to teaching which avoids the separation of secular and spir­itual knowledge that characterizes Western society. 

The Navajo Creation Story would be good background knowledge for teachers. A brief overview is that the Navajo people first emerged through four worlds, and it is believed that we are in the fourth world.

Honeeshgish Baahane' - Fire Poker

Honeeshgish baahane' originates at the beginning of time, the story is told as it relates to the stars during the journey from the four worlds. Fire was put into place in the fourth world as a substance and life sustaining element. by the Navajo deity. When the initial fire was lit and started, the deity noticed that the fire could not start properly. The Holy People wondered why it was doing that, the Holy People and Coyote finally determined that it was a wrong procedure, so they figure it was due to the laying out of the firewood and its type and species. At the instance, they decided that it required a crisscrossing of the female and male species in the logs used, where initially they were trying to start the fire with one type of firewood. When that was finally figured out that it required both elements in female and make firewood, they laid out the female and male logs in a combined crisscross manner and the fire started. but when the fire started, it started crackling out of control and shooting sparks in all directions. As the Holy People watched the fire burn, they began to notice that the hot ember and the ash was beginning to pile up and widening out. they did not know what to do to control it and it was getting really hot, so they decided at that time they needed something to control the fire and the forming of the ember and ash pile. They went and fetch a particular kind of wood and brought it back. They learned how to use the wood and control the fire and the fireplace. Fire is known as an element of life, it serves us in many ways and is considered sacred because of it origin and empowerment. It is the reason our grandparents/ teachings stress the importance in respecting fire as a household element; thay you always acknowledge the fire on a daily basis, in your prayer, upon your cooking and that you do not play or fool around with fire because fire is life - fire serves you as an element of life, yet it can also burn you if you misuse and abuse it. 

Fire to the Navajo People (and Native Americans in general):

Sacred fires have been used for generations as a way to heal, bond together, and begin sacred ceremonies, events, or rituals. Not only do sacred fires have a variety of unique benefits, but the sacred fire itself has traditions and protocols that are followed in order to uphold the integrity and sacredness of the fire. There are many lessons associated with fire. Fire offers remembrance, healing, and togetherness. A sacred fire is sacred because it is used as an Indigenous traditional wellness approach. A sacred fire is an important part of indigenous spirituality, communication with the spirit realm and our ancestors. It is a sacred practice meant to make individuals feel open, grounded, and connected with people on Earth and those who have moved on. A sacred fire is built by indigenous people who are gathering for an event, ritual, or ceremony. Usually, there is a firekeeper who builds, maintains, and keeps watch over the fire so that it is never unattended. Traditionally, men are the firekeepers who maintain and watch over the sacred fire, while women attend the ceremony. This can vary depending on Tribe or Nation and the type of ceremony taking place. The most important part to understand is that there are certain people assigned the role of Firekeeper and they are the only people allowed to disturb the fire and stand watch throughout the ceremony.

Related Resources: 

Lesson Preparation


Student Background Knowledge

  • The student will need to know how lighting and fire were developed, understood, and used.
  • Fire has a role in the ecosystems.
  • People need to be careful with fire. 

Materials Needed:

  • PDF Version of the book: Honeeshgish: A Navajo Legend
  • Optional: fire poker, fire spade, and/or fire tongs
  • Optional: chart paper and makers for KWL chart or Venn diagram

Lesson Preparation:

  • Preview the story for the theme and/or significate message of the story. The Navajo people believe that the Holy People blessed the fire, gave it to the Navajo people to use in thier fireplaces, their homes, and gave them fire for their ceremonies. 
  • Determine how your students may relate the story to thier own cultures or experiences. Think of an experience of your own that you can share with the class. 
  • Be prepared to guide the student through activies BEFORE, DURING and AFTER reading. 
  • Read the background information and choose how to share the information in that section on Native American storytelling and the Navajo tribe. 

Strategies for Diverse Learners:

  • Group students who are hands-on learners and that have varied abilities by learning style, not by ability. 
  • Students love to talk! As a teacher you can incorporate this preference into your teaching strategy. Immediately after modeling a thinking strategy or steps to solving a problem, allow students to speak for two minutes about the content and the process used to support learning the content. This “dialogue time” between modeling and students working independently or in pairs allows students to “think aloud” to confirm and affirm their thinking. Some students need to verbalize to internalize.

  • Modify assignment as needed. Modifying the assignment(s) as needed will allow all students to be successful and participate in the class content. Some common modifications include adjusting the difficulty of questions or problems, altering the number of questions or problems, and providing alternative tasks or materials. Each student’s learning style should be considered when making these changes. 


San Juan School District Media Center

Lesson Procedure

Vocabulary: cautiously, charred, flickered, protection, symbolic

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Set a purpose for reading: This lesson can be used within a Fire Safety, Fire Ecology Curriculum. 
    • "Is fire hot or cold?" [Right, it is hot.]
    • "What happens if you touch fire?" [Yes, it will burn you.]
    • "There are different kind of fires, what do you see fire doing?" [There are campfires, stove fires, cigarette fire, some things can burn like trash and even houses.]
    • Are fires good or bad? Why or why not?" [Fire can be both good and bad. Fire is good for our ecosystem. Fire is bad when it is deadly, destroying homes, wildlife and polluting the air.]
    • "How do we use fire today?" [For cooking, clearing land, generating heat and light, etc.]
    • "Today we are going to read the Navajo legend 'Honeeshgish,' which refers to how the Navajo people view fire and its elements. As we read, we will ask questions and think about the story to make sure we are understanding the text."
  2. Read Aloud: Teacher will read the story, stopping periodically to ask students comprehension questions, and encouraging students to ask their own questions as they read the text. Make predictions. 
  3. "We have tools to tend to a small fire. Do you know some of those tools?" [fireplace, yule log, spade, tongs and a fire poker]
    • Generally you’re using the poker to adjust the wood and coal burning levels. This ensures that oxygen can flow freely around the fireplace by moving the logs around.The end goal is to keep your fire burning for longer.

    • People do need to be careful with fire. 

    • Fires have been used for generations by Native Americans as a way to heal, bond together, and begin sacred ceremonies, events or rituals. Not only do Native peoples call it a fire but they call it a sacred fire. Sacred fires have a variety of unique benefits, but the sacred fire itself has traditions and protocols that are followed in order to uphold the integrity and sacredness of the fire. You could say Native Americans have two kinds of fire, fire for everday purposes like cooking and keeping warm and the second kind of fire is the sacred fire for ceremonies. 

  4. Culminating Activities:
    • Invite a firefighter to present on fire safety and prevention.
    • Visit your nearest national forest and talk about fire safety and prevention. 

Lesson Extentions

  • Venn diagram - fill out and use diagram to show the two types of fire or uses for fire. 
  • Challenge Learners: Under strict supervision, the teacher can do a cookout where the students are required to cook their own food (hot dogs, marshmallows and smores).
  • English Langauge Learners: Ask students to create fire safety posters to display around the school.
  • Navajo Culture Connections: Students can study other aspects of Navajo culture, such as Navajo cooking techniques and foods, and other cultural connections, such as the creation stories.
  • Use the book "Coyote Steals Fire" to make text-to-text connections with"Honeeshgish."


Step 4 - Assessments


Literacy Skills:


  • Does the student's prediction make sense to the story?
  • Can the student support thier prediction with text, feature or picture evidence?
  • Can the student monitor and reflect on whether thier prediction was correct or incorrect?


  • Retell. Have students demonstrate understanding by retelling or describing the text in their own words. Use the beginning, middle, and end framework to help students remain concise and on the right track. This can also be done orally. 

  • Sequence. Assess reading comprehension using a sequence of events timeline or plot diagram. Both will let you know if students have a solid grasp of the text. If you want students to demonstrate understanding with a timeline of events, set the number of events ahead of time. Five to seven events should be enough to assess understanding. Limiting the number of events will provide students with structure and cut down on the assessment time. 

  • Visualize. Strong readers are able to visualize what they read. Creating mental imagery while reading helps students understand, remember, and take away meaning from the text. Assess comprehension with a quick visualization exercise. First, have students draw a picture that appeared in their mind while reading. Next, have students describe their drawing using one to three sentences. You can do this exercise on blank paper.

  • Connect. The ability to make authentic connections with the text is a strong indicator of comprehension. Students often struggle with comprehension because they have a hard time connecting the text to a concrete idea or experience. Use the sentence frames below to quickly assess understanding. Students can make a text-to-text, text-to-self, or text-to-world connection. 


    • _______________ reminds me of _________________ because ________________.
    • _______________ is similar to ________________ because _______________. 
    • ______________ makes me think of _______________ because _______________.

Cultural Learning Assessment

  • Can the student show on a map approximately where the Navajo Nation reservation is located?
  • Can the student relate reasons why storytelling is important to the the Native American people?