Teach your students about the history of Native Americans and present-day Native American cultures with interactive online activities, book resources, games, and art projects.
- Learn about the Navajo Code Talkers and their contributions to WWII
- Write codes using the Navajo Code Dictionary
- Decode messages written using the Navajo code
- Book(s) about the Navajo Code Talkers, such The Unbreakable Code by Sarah Hoagland Hunter (for grades 3–5) or Navajo Code Talkers by Nathan Aaseng (for grades 6–8)
- Computer with Internet access
- Helpful websites about the Navajo Code Talkers, such as Navajo Code Talkers, the Navajo People's Navajo Code Talkers History, Diné Bizaad Yee Atah Naayéé' Yik'eh Deesdlíí', or searching “Navajo code talker” on the Central Intelligence Agency or Naval History and Heritage Command websites
- A whiteboard or projector
- Navajo Code Dictionary printable
- Paper and pencil for each student
- If you opt to use a book in the lesson, pre-read the book.
- Preview and bookmark websites you will be using in the lesson, such as Navajo Code Talkers, the Navajo People's Navajo Code Talkers History, Diné Bizaad Yee Atah Naayéé' Yik'eh Deesdlíí', or searching “Navajo code talker” on the Central Intelligence Agency or Naval History and Heritage Command websites.
- Write a message in Navajo code on the board or use your computer and a projector.
- Make a copy of the Navajo Code Dictionary printable for each student.
Step 1: Write a message using Navajo code on the whiteboard or use your computer and a projector. Ask your students to guess what it says.
Step 2: Ask students why people might use a code. Why and when would a code be helpful?
Step 3: Tell your students that the message is written in a secret code used by the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II. Tell the class:
The Navajo Code Talkers were very important in WWII; we are going to learn about their contributions. The Navajo language is not a written language. Very few people that are not of Navajo descent know how to speak it.
Step 4: Read The Unbreakable Code by Sarah Hoagland Hunter or a section of Navajo Code Talkers by Nathan Aaseng (or another book of your choosing). Discuss the book with the class.
Step 5: Use the bookmarked websites to share more information about the Code Talkers, or have students conduct research in books or online.
Step 6: Tell students they will be creating their own messages in secret code. Give an example of how the code would work. Explain that you decipher the code by translating each word, then noting the first letter of the translated word. For example:
Shush Ne-ahs-jah Tsah-as-zih
How to Decipher
Shush = bear = b
Ne-ahs-jah= owl = o
Tsah-as-zih = yucca = y
The code spells “boy”
Students will use the handout titled Navajo Code Dictionary to create their own messages. Students will write 3–4 short messages on a piece of paper.
Note: For simplicity, this lesson only uses the alphabet section of the code. There are many other parts of the code that use word association.
Step 7: Students will switch papers with a partner and decode the partner’s message.
Step 8: Review the codes with the class. Was it easy to read the codes? Was it easier or harder to decipher the codes?
Step 9: Have students write a summary of the Navajo Code Talkers and their contributions in World War II.
Students may create their own secret code. Students will create a dictionary or key with each symbol’s meaning.
- Did the student write 3–4 short messages correctly using the code?
- Was the student able to accurately decipher his or her partner’s messages?
- Was the student able to summarize the Code Talkers role in WWII?
Lesson plan written by Sarah Denton. Sarah Denton taught PreK and first grade. She was ESL-certified and the PreK-2 member of her school's Instructional Leadership Team.