National Navajo Code Talkers Day Lesson Plan

By Annie Thornton 07.11.2017 blog

Navajo Code Talkers are often regarded as a “Secret Weapon” that helped the Allied Forces win World War II.  But today, the traditional Navajo language is in danger of dying out. Recently, Disney and the Navajo Nation Museum teamed up to help keep it alive with a Navajo-language edition of “Finding Nemo.” Channel One News offers a behind-the-scenes look at creating the film and then presents a look at why Indian languages are dying out and the efforts underway to preserve them.

Opening Activity:

Play this audio recording of the Pledge of Allegiance for students. Do not display any video or images. (Note External link).

  • Think-pair-share: Ask students to guess what language is being spoken.
  • Introductory questions: Is anyone familiar with Native American languages? Has anyone in class attended a traditional Native American festival or celebration or visited a museum dedicated to Native American history and culture? What did you see, do and learn?

Words in the News: 

oral tradition (noun): Information and traditional stories and songs passed down through the generations by word of mouth rather than in writing.

Heard on the Air: “Our oral tradition really is very dynamic, very descriptive, and they’re great stories.”


Channel One News “Translating Nemo” video


  • Why was it hard to cast the part of Nemo in the Navajo edition of “Finding Nemo”?
  • What was the purpose of creating a Navajo-language version of “Finding Nemo”?
  • What are some reasons for preserving the Navajo language?


Share this slideshow to provide students with information about efforts to preserve Native American languages:

Image Credit: CBS Newspath

Eleven-year-old Quinton Kien is among the youngest fluent speakers of the Navajo language — and now he’s the star of a new, Navajo-language translation of the hit animated film, “Finding Nemo.” Making a Navajo edition of “Nemo” is just one small part of an effort to keep Native American languages alive.

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

To understand this mission, let’s travel back 500 years. Europeans had yet to establish colonies in North America. The continent was home to hundreds of Native American tribes, and each tribe had its own culture, traditions and language. But all that would change when Europeans began arriving in North America in large numbers and establishing permanent settlements here. Click for a larger, more detailed map from the USGS.

Image Credit: Library of Congress

By the 1800s the United States had become a country. The U.S. government had confined most tribes to reservations and sent many Indian children to federally funded boarding schools. These schools were established for the purpose of forcing Native American youth to assimilate into European-American culture — which meant speaking English only. Native languages began to die out.

Image Credit: HHLtDave5/Bigstock

Today, more than 50 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas and speak English in their daily lives. Even on reservations, only a few traditional languages are still in regular use, and most are spoken only by tribal elders. But about 150 to 170 native North American languages have at least one speaker — and efforts are underway to keep those languages alive.

Image Credit: BILLPERRY/Bigstock

The Enduring Voices Project is a joint effort of the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. This project sends linguists around the country and the world to meet, record and film the last speakers of languages on the brink of extinction. In addition, Enduring Voices supports communities in revitalizing their traditional languages and cultures.

Image Credit: Pamela Au/ Bigstock

And today, the U.S. government works for — instead of against — preserving traditional languages. The Native American Languages Act of 1990 recognizes the language rights of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 — named for a linguist and storyteller from the Tewa people of New Mexico — funds language immersion programs.


Student respond to the following writing prompt: Is it important to preserve languages that people no longer use in their daily lives? Why or why not? Support your argument with details from the video, slideshow and your own ideas.

Media Literacy:

Have students read and analyze this primary source document from the U.S. National Archives, then answer the following questions:

  • What is the date of this document? Where was it written?
  • Who wrote this document? Who received it?
  • What is the main idea of the document? Provide two quotes from the document that help support the main idea.
  • Why do you think this document was written?

Closing Activity:

Ask students the following question and have them share their thoughts on an exit ticket:

  • Other than movies, what are some ways to interest kids and teens in learning and preserving traditional languages? Share an idea.

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