Lesson Plan

Inupiaq Sea Ice Language

Patchy sea ice and clouds in vivid blue colors as seen from an airplane
Sea Ice forms seasonally on the Bering Sea in the Arctic
NPS / DeAnna Von Halle


Bering Land Bridge National Preserve protects an expanse of land remaining from the prehistoric “land bridge,” also known as Beringia, which spanned from modern-day Asia to North America over 12,000 years ago. The bridge was up to 1,000 miles wide, and was a land mass that allowed for the exchange of human, flora, and fauna populations between continents. In this unit, students explore Beringia—the movement of living things, geology and special places inside the Bering Land Bridge Preserve.


  1. Identify words for snow and ice in the target language. 
  2. Explain what shallow and deep culture is. 
  3. Make language and cultural comparisons between English, the target language, and Inupiaq. 
  4. Demonstrate understanding of the importance of the Inupiat language, especially within the context of hunting from the point of view of the Winton Weyapuk. 
  5. Demonstrate understanding between the Sea Ice Dictionary and the Inupiat culture.


"Knowledge of language is important to our culture because our language describes the things that are important to us: emotions, the environment and rituals."- Lan Capelle, 9th grade, Kiana

Knowledge of Language
Noorvik 8th grade

Beautiful spoken, written expression
Belongs to culture, tradition, tribe and me.
Language is love.
It helps make friends, communicates and excites.
Language needs words, people, a voice, a history
and a tongue.
Language fears lying, scoldings, negative thoughts
and dying.
Language is learning, books, radios, CB’s,
computers and people.
Language is us!

From the Alaska Native Knowledge Network Website.

Inupiaq is considered by some to be an endangered or a dying language. Technological changes have impacted life in Native Alaska villages, and in turn, the language use. For example, many now used motorized boats instead of skin boats. Villages have runways and access to more outside products and services. Another change is that schools are taught in English.

Those changes and more have affected people’s relationship to language. The new technologies are called by their English names. Children no longer have a deep knowledge of Inupiaq language as their elders once did, and consequently, they are also challenged to learn and deeply know the cultural knowledge that is embedded within the language. One example of knowledge embedded in language is words for sea ice. Hunters must know the different types and properties of ice and snow by Inupiat name, and its impact on a safe hunt or a potentially dangerous and deadly situation. This information is not as readily conveyed in other languages. This lesson helps students explore an important linguistic and cultural concepts.


Inupiaq is spoken throughout much of northern Alaska and is closely related to the Canadian Inuit dialects and the Greenlandic dialects, which may collectively be called "Inuit" or Eastern Eskimo, distinct from Yupik or Western Eskimo.

Alaskan Inupiaq includes two major dialect groups: North Alaskan Inupiaq and Seward Peninsula Inupiaq. North Alaskan Inupiaq comprises the North Slope dialect spoken along the Arctic Coast from Barter Island to Kivalina, as well as the Malimiut dialect, which is found primarily around Kotzebue Sound and the Kobuk River. Seward Peninsula Inupiaq comprises the Qawiaraq dialect, found principally in Teller and in the southern Seward Peninsula and Norton Sound area, as well as the Bering Strait dialect spoken in the villages surrounding Bering Strait and on the Diomede Islands.

Dialect differences involve vocabulary and suffixes (lexicon) as well as sounds (phonology). North Slope and Malimiut are easily mutually intelligible, although there are vocabulary differences (tupiq means 'tent' in North Slope and 'house' in Malimiut; iglu is 'house' in North Slope) and sound differences ('dog' is qimmiq in North Slope and qipmiq in Malimiut). Seward Peninsula and North Alaskan dialects differ significantly from each other, and a fair amount of experience is required for a speaker of one to understand the dialect of the other. For example, each uses a completely different verb stem for 'talk' ('they are talking' is qaniqtut in Seward Peninsula but uqaqtut in North Alaskan). Sound differences are also numerous ('they are cooking' is iarut in Seward Peninsula but igarut in North Alaskan). The name "Inupiaq," meaning "real or genuine person" (inuk 'person' plus -piaq 'real, genuine'), is often spelled "Iñupiaq," particularly in the northern dialects. It can refer to a person of this group ("He is an Inupiaq") and can also be used as an adjective ("She is an Inupiaq woman"). The plural form of the noun is "Inupiat," referring to the people collectively ("the Inupiat of the North Slope"). Alaska is home to about 13,500 Inupiat, of whom about 3,000, mostly over age 40, speak the language. The Canadian Inuit population of 31,000 includes about 24,000 speakers. In Greenland, a population of 46,400 includes 46,000 speakers.

Information from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Native Language Center http://www.uaf.edu/anlc/languages/i/


The materials in this lesson include books, CDs, and illustrations. Students will need a pen and paper. Teachers will want to have a piece of ice or snow available for demonstration.



Show students a handful of snow and ask then what we call it. (You could use an ice cube if you don’t have snow) Ice…ice cube? Hit it with a hammer and ask them what they call it? Crushed ice. What other words can they come up with for forms of frozen water?

Link to World Language

If you teach a world language, provide some vocabulary in the target language for snow and ice. 


  • Snow=la nieve 
  • Ice=el hielo 

Compound forms: 

  • Powder=nieve en polvo 
  • Thick layer of snow/accumulated snow (fig)=Capa de nieve 
  • “driven” mounded snow=Nieve amontada 
  • Spring snow=La nieve primaveral 
  • Wet snow/sleet=La nieve húmeda or aguanieve 

The bottom line=in Spanish you use the base word and then use adjectives to describe snow in more detail. (Inupiaq will be different)

Sea Ice Dictionary 

Whole group conversation. Show the table of contents of the Sea Ice Dictionary (provided in material #1) Why might the book be divided like this? 

Ask students which pages look interesting; which would they like to see in more detail? Look through and discuss a few pages together. The illustrated pages help foster a deeper understanding of what the snow and/or ice looks like. 

Turn to pages 61-63, Dangerous Spots. 

What do you notice about these pages? Why might it be important for the authors to highlight some of these situations in the book? 

Overall-Think, pair, share. Why do you think there is whole dictionary just about sea ice? Have students write their answers individually and hang onto them.

Use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast the language and culture with a) your target language and Inupiaq or b) your first language and Inupiaq or c) all three. Students can choose to work individually, pairs, or in small groups.

Look at the deep shallow culture map

Where is language? Why is it part of “deep” culture? What part of the lesson helped you understand the most deeply about Inupiaq culture and language? How important is authentic perspective in increasing cultural and/or linguistic awareness?

Why do you think there is whole dictionary just about sea ice? Have students draw a “line of learning” on their paper and rewrite their answers. OR make revisions to their original answers using a different color pen/pencil.


  1. Observe students answers as you progress through the lesson. 
  2. Why do you think there is whole dictionary just about sea ice? Have students write their answers individually and hang onto them. 
  3. Collect Venn Diagrams/review together—can take ideas to make a whole class diagram on large paper. 
  4. Collect paper with students answering the question AND revising their answers to? Why do you think there is whole dictionary just about sea ice?

Park Connections

The Inupiat communities of Shishmaref, Wales, and Deering are located just outside the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. These communities have traditionally have used, and continue to use, the lands located within the preserve for traditional and sacred purposes.


  1. Discuss the Inupiat student writing about what language means to them with students. 
  2. Learn the Inupiaq word of the week! https://www.youtube.com/user/inupiaqword?feature=watch 
  3. Use the Phrases and Conversations book/CD to learn how to pronounce Inupiaq words, phrases, and expressions that sound fun to your class!
  4. Use the on-line dictionary to learn more Inupiaq words http://www.alaskool.org/language/dictionaries/inupiaq/dictionary.htm 
  5. Learn more about other endangered and extinct languages. 
  6. Watch the documentary “The Linguists” about dying and extinct languages and the race of some linguists to record them before it’s too late. 
  7. Have students write about how it would feel to be the last speaker of a language. 
  8. Show students the Alaskan language tree. What languages are related to Inuiak?

Additional Resources

Learn Inupiat and other endangered languages at the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/esk


Dialect, Language extinction, subsistence