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Supplementary Lessons - Grade 3

Learning Outcomes

Grade 3
Focus: Communities
Topic C: Special Communities

The customs or traditions kept by people may change.


It is important to introduce students to the concept that language and the way in which people communicate changes over time. Prior to contact, Aboriginal people kept no written records as history, stories, legends, etc. were all transmitted orally. The development of syllabics emerged in the 1840s and became a way for Aboriginal people to communicate. It is a unique method of language/communication that is related to Aboriginal culture.



  • Students will identify forms of communication >
  • Students will recognize that Aboriginal people have a unique method of communicating called syllabics
  • Students will become familiar with the concept of syllabics
  • Students will learn about the Cree syllabics formation and history


  • Students will create, write, and illustrate a story and transcribe it with their own form of syllabics
  • Students will identify new words that relate to syllabics through writing and comprehension


  • Students will appreciate the various means of communication that exists in the world
  • Students will develop respect and understanding of Cree culture

Teacher Information

The development of the syllabics writing system is credited to James Evans, a Methodist missionary. Evans developed the writing system in 1840 initially for the Ojibwa language. It was later adapted to Cree and translated to all Cree dialects. Most dialects in Cree can be written with just 12 basic signs. Each sign can be written facing four different directions relating to the vowel attached to it. Currently, there are four different versions of Cree Syllabics, which are related to the different dialects in Cree. The Cree syllabics system has also been modified to write Siksika (Blackfoot), Carrier, Dene Tha, Naskapi, and Inuktitut.

Unfortunately, there are not very many people left who are fluent in Cree syllabics.

Introductory Activity

Ask students to give examples of different ways in which people communicate. Write these on the board. Students may or may not suggest communication through symbols, so make sure that it does get added onto the list. Inform students that another word for symbols is syllabics. Syllabics are characters or symbols that have alphabetical (consonants and vowels) sounds attached. Hold up some examples of syllabics and translate their meaning, each symbol represents a consonant or vowel. You can download and print off the syllabics chart here. Hang these in the classroom. Ask the students if they have ever noticed syllabics before and wondered what it meant.

Share with students the information in the Teachers Zone about the development and meaning of Cree syllabics. Explain a brief history of the Cree people as well.

The students will be responsible for creating a storybook with illustrations and their own syllabic system. Students may borrow ideas from the Cree syllabic system but they should try and create their own as well. The book is only expected to be a few pages long, but must include a book cover page and a key to their syllabic system. Students may even wish to give their new language system a name. To aid students in the book development you may wish them to follow this process:

  1. Think of an idea for a story and write your story down.
  2. Once you have your story, create a system of symbols (syllabics) to represent the words in your story.
  3. Begin illustrating your story.
  4. Write and translate (copy) your story from English to syllabics on the appropriate pages.
  5. Number the pages in your book.
  6. Create your book cover.
  7. Create you syllabics key so that other people will be able to read your story.

Supplementary Lesson 1

Set up a “book fair” in your classroom where students can display their finished books and take turns looking at each other’s work and describing their syllabics story to one another. This could be a fun day where parents are invited into the classroom as well. You may also wish to find actual books that contain Cree syllabics.

Supplementary Lesson 2

Create a Word Wall in your classroom that includes terminology associated with syllabics. Some words to include would be:

  • Syllabics
  • Cree
  • Language
  • Communication
  • Syllable
  • Dialect
  • Missionary

These words can then be used for spelling and comprehension tests.

Supplementary Lesson 3

Contact a local Aboriginal organization or a community member who is fluent in syllabics. Ask the individual to be a guest speaker in your classroom who can write a story or sentences in syllabics and share the process with the students. You may also wish to invite this individual to the “Book Fair” as well so that parents will have an opportunity to meet him or her.

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