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Storytelling Across the Curriculum

The art of storytelling is an appealing way to transmit information. Since the beginnings of cultural history, people have been passing on knowledge through the speaking/listening process of storytelling. Subject areas come to life when narrative is introduced. Language arts seems a likely home for the art of storytelling; however, storytelling techniques and process can support exploration in many other curriculum areas:

*Storytelling and Science
*Storytelling and Math
*Storytelling and Social Studies

Storytelling and Science

Since the beginnings of human culture people have explained the mysteries in folktales and myth.

Have students investigate:

  • Creation myths from around the world
  • Star Lore: The folklore of the night sky
  • World myths and legends of the sea and its creatures
  • Attributes of animals portrayed in fables: Compare how those same animals behave in nature vs. in folklore
  • The folklore of flowers
  • World habitats described in folktales (jungles, deserts, mountains, meadows, etc.)
  • Folktales about any animal. (bear stories, snake stories, fish stories, etc.)
  • Tales can express the interconnectedness, or ecology, of all things. How are cause and effect relationships expressed in folktales?

The Who, What, Where, and When of Science

Have students research and present:

  • The biographies of important scientists.
  • An ancient to modern timeline history of invention.
  • The history of one scientific invention that has changed the world.

Storytelling and Math

Since math and storytelling both involve abstract thought there are many overlapping territories and patterns of thinking.

Have students investigate math concepts in folktale plots such as:

  • Recounting a tale: the concept of a sequence of events
  • The architecture of a story: Consider the "shape" of its sequence of events (i.e. circular, linear, story within story, pyramidal, cumulative)
  • Problem solving: prediction in story
    (Real life keeps going, but folktales have an episodic feel with a beginning, middle, and end. Are there recognizable patterns in the plots of world folktale? Heroes? Quests? Magic Helpers? Why does the number three come up so often in folktales? "Happily Ever After" resolutions? Good vs. Evil?)
  • Equations: Notice cause and effect relationships in plots.
  • Intersections of characters: How does the story change from different points of view?
  • Diagramming or mapping of plotlines: Document the sequence of events as a map.
  • Congruence: Identify similarities and differences in several versions of plots. Create a diagram that explains what has been discovered.

The History of Mathematics:

Have students investigate and present:

  • The history of great mathematician's lives
  • The history of the development of advanced math concepts
  • The story of the development of Architecture and Engineering
    • Where and why people built monuments:
      • Investigate the history of ancient architecture such as the pyramids. Did story or religion motivate any of this construction?
      • How is mythology depicted in Roman and Greek temples?
      • Are there decorative elements related to stories on any local architecture in your town? Find and photograph the elements and explain the story theme behind them.

Storytelling and Social Studies

Folktales are shelved in the non-fiction section of the library under "Social Sciences" (398.2). Studying a folktale offers a window into the culture from which it comes, as well as a mirror of humanity, since universal concerns are reflected in the world tales.

Deeply Investigating A Folktale
Have students research folktales in the 398.2 section of the library. Have each select a folktale and investigate some of the following topics to gain insight into the context in which the tale might have been told.

Global Reference
Find the location on a world map of the country or culture from which the story comes. Research the geography and topography of the setting.

Historical Timeframe
Place the tale in a timeframe of history. (Pre-industrial, ancient world, modern times, mythical time etc.) Who collected the folktale and when? Is the print version obtained an original source document (told or written by an indigenous member of the culture), or a third person account (anthropologist, folklorist, writer)?

Geographic/ Historical Transportation
Has the tale traveled in any type of Diaspora? If so, in which culture can the earliest version be found? Are there interesting variations of plot told in other cultures? Are the variations connected to the source or have the variations on the theme resulted from a universal element addressed by the plot?

Specific Cultural Context
To be able to authentically understand or include accurate details in the retelling of the folktale, have students research the following background information:

  • What are, or were, the dominant religious or philosophical influences on the story?
  • When or why would the story be told? (As entertainment, ritual, sacred observance, education, etc.?)

To better understand the life style of the people who told this tale:

  • Research any housing, tools or attire of the culture described or mentioned in the folktale.
  • Research any aspects of daily life or customs reflected by the folktale.

How does the environment of the tale's setting affect the story? If animals or natural elements are included, are the animals accurately or metaphorically depicted? Does the topography determine the action?

Create a timeline of the plot. Investigate structures in the plot: equations or balancing elements, cause-and-effect situations, sequences, prediction, etc.

Higher Thinking Skills
Have students analyze the plot for its metaphorical levels. Compare versions of the plot from different cultures. Create an original retelling of the plot using descriptive language, dialogue, and an awareness of underlying metaphor.

Extensions Into:

Visual Arts

Have students create:

  • A painting or drawing of a poignant moment
  • A picture book based on a folktale
  • A poster advertising a Storytelling Festival
  • A story mural

Art History

Have students research paintings or sculpture inspired by the elements in the story or by myth, legend, or folklore in general. After learning the artwork's background tale, have students orally present both the artwork and its accompanying story.

Expressive Arts: Drama/Literature

Have students create:

  • A play based on a folktale
  • A radio show based on the plot
  • A ballad that retells the plot
  • A retelling of the plot as a story with descriptive detail and dialogue

* Storytelling Lesson Plans and Activities

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