Lesson Plan

The Arrowhead: Emblem of the National Park Service

NPS Arrowhead
What do the different pictures on this emblem mean?
NPS Photo


In this lesson students will learn about the mission of the National Park Service and how it relates to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore through a guided exploration of elements represented on the NPS Arrowhead. Older students will also learn the difference between sites administered by the National Park Service and those administered by state and local governments.


After completing this lesson, the student will be able to

  • explain the meaning of the five elements represented on the NPS Arrowhead emblem.
  • give examples of each of the elements as they apply to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.


There are two versions of this activity aimed at different age/ability levels. The version for younger students involves viewing a PowerPoint about the Arrowhead emblem and Sleeping Bear Dunes, then creating their own emblem. The version for older students involves reading a brief piece about the significance of the Arrowhead, then visiting the park website to find out how the Arrowhead relates to Sleeping Bear Dunes. 4th and 5th grade teachers should examine both versions and decide which best matches the ability level of their students.

Although this lesson is intended as a pre-visit activity for field trip groups, it could also serve as an introduction to any NPS-related classroom activity such as research projects for older students.


The two versions of this lesson (one for grades 2-4 and one for grades 5-8) use the downloadable worksheets and introductions provided below.


Grades 2-4

Part 1 – After distributing copies of Arrowhead Worksheet (grades 2-4) to each student, present the Arrowhead Intro PowerPoint (grades 2-4) to the class using a data projector or similar means. After each slide is shown that explains a particular element of the emblem, brainstorm as a class how that element might relate to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Depending on your proximity to the Lakeshore and whether or not students have visited previously, students may or may not be able to generate ideas. If they are having difficulty, leading questions or other hints may be helpful. For each element, after some ideas have been generated, proceed to the next slide, which will show some specific examples of how the element applies to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Allow students time to list examples on the worksheet for each element as you work through the slide show. Before showing the “pop quiz” slide, have students turn their worksheets over so they will have to try to describe the elements from memory.

Part 2 – Remind students that the NPS emblem was designed to represent ALL sites in the National Park system, and that many sites don’t actually have any of the examples represented on the emblem, such as bison and sequoia trees. Tell students to imagine that they have been hired to design a custom emblem that’s just for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They will need to include each of the five elements, but using examples that can be found at Sleeping Bear Dunes. As they begin to plan, you may want to go back through the slides to help them visualize elements of their design. Have students draw their designs on the blank arrowhead provided on the back of the worksheet. Remind them that neatness counts, and that effective use of color can make a design more attractive.


Grades 5-8

Part 1 – Print copies or use a data projector to display the document titled Arrowhead Background (grades 5-8), and have volunteers take turns reading.

Part 2 – Divide the class into five equal-sized groups. Each group will be responsible for performing online research to answer questions about one of the elements on the NPS arrowhead emblem as it relates to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. When the groups have been established, assign each group one of the elements and distribute copies of the appropriate worksheet to each member of that group. The URL address of each webpage is provided on the worksheet, but the webpages may also be accessed by using the navigation labels on the left side of this page: www.nps.gov/slbe (answers to the CULTURE questions are found under History & Culture; all others are found under Nature & Science). The extent to which groups are allowed to work cooperatively in completing their worksheet is up to the teacher.  

Part 3 – Each group should share a summary of their findings with the rest of the class. The culminating question at the end of each worksheet can serve as the basis for a verbal summary by a representative from each group, or the teacher may elect to require a more elaborate method of reporting, such as a brief PowerPoint highlighting the group’s findings.



Grades 2-4

Students can demonstrate what they have learned by sharing and explaining their designs with the class.  (If a document camera is available, designs should be displayed via data projector as they share.)  After designs have been shared and collected, the teacher may elect to give a quiz by again displaying the real NPS emblem and having students describe briefly in writing what the elements represent.


Grades 5-8

A basic assessment of student learning can be as simple as having students write descriptions of the meaning of each element of the Arrowhead emblem, and giving one or two examples of how each applies to Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Depending on the method of group reporting, the teacher may also choose to incorporate an effort grade to reward active participation.

Park Connections

Learning the significance of the NPS arrowhead emblem creates a context for students and helps them appreciate that park policies and regulations exist for the purposes of resource protection and preservation.


 Grades 5-8

  • During the process of hunting for the answers to their questions, many students will find other things about the Lakeshore that intrigue them. Have students choose a park-related topic to investigate in depth, then create a product such as a poem, the retelling of a story, a drawing, report, etc.
  • Have students explore statistics about the various types and numbers of parks within their county, state, or country.

Additional Resources

In-depth information on many park-related subjects can be found in an excellent series of Visitor Guides provided by Friends of Sleeping Bear at friendsofsleepingbear.org/projects/booklets/.