Lesson Plan

Freeing the Elwha (Salmon the Life Giving Gift)

A salmon carcass floats in the river.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Preston
Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
American Indian History and Culture, Biology: Animals, Language Arts, Literature, Social Studies, Writing
Two Class Periods
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Washington State Standards:
Social Studies Component 3.2:
2.4.1, 2.4.5, 3.4.3
EALR 1, EALR 3, 4.1.2


Salmon play a crucial role in the lives of Pacific Northwest Native people. How are salmon truly the “life giving gift’’ to the Elwha River and the Klallam People that live along its banks?


  • Identify the purpose of the Homestead Act;
  • Decide what was needed to move west during the 1800s;
  • Describe the day-to-day life of homesteaders;
  • Explore who moved onto the Olympic peninsula;
  • Develop a time line for events and developments along the Elwha River and Port Angeles, WA.


Students will be given a handout to read which includes an Introduction, an account by a Salmon Priest of the Skagit River, and two legends. Students will examine the two stories for the themes of greed, sacrifice and renewal. They will then investigate the relationship of the Klallam Tribe to the salmon of the Elwha River before the dams were built and after the dams were built. Students will organize information into a chart. Using the information they have gathered from the stories and on their chart, students will use the writing process to compose their own story about how the salmon returned to the Elwha River.


  • Reflection Journal pages (printable handout)
  • Salmon stories (printable handout)
  • Story questions (Printable hanout)
  • Student page (printable handout)
  • Organizational Chart (printable handout)
  • Research materials / Internet Access


Remind students of Essential Question and introduce guiding question.

Hand out the first reflection journal page. Have students take a couple of minutes to answer the reflection journal questions. Questions they generate can add to their research.
Hand out Story Guide 1 and the stories. Go over the questions and have students complete the handout as they read the two stories Fish Spear and Coyote Spreads Salmon along the Columbia River.
Hand out Story Guide 2. Review theme in literature. A theme is an idea or message about life, society, or human nature. Have students work individually, with a partner or as a class to brainstorm some possible common themes for the two stories. Students should come up with something that approximates greed/selfishness, sacrifice and renewal.
Have students look for common examples of greed, sacrifice, and renewal in the stories. The handout will guide them through some literary elements of the two stories.
Students will then work individually, in partners, or in groups to research the relationship of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to the salmon before and after the arrival of the two dams. Student(s) will use charts to cite their sources then organize their information.
Once the student(s) has read the handout and gathered information his/her task is to compose a story about the return of the salmon to the Elwha. The story should contain some of the elements of Native American Mythology as well as some themes common to the stories read.
Students should take a moment to respond to the final reflection page for the lesson.


Reflection Pages rubric
Story Guides handouts
Final story Rubric