Unit I: Defining Terms

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Louisiana Voices Educator's Guide  
Getting Started With This Guide  
Study Guide Summary  
Outline of the Study Guide  
Study Unit I Defining Terms  
Study Unit II Fieldwork Basics  
Study Unit III Discovering the Obvious: Our Lives as "The Folk"  
Study Unit IV The State of Our Lives: Being a Louisiana Neighbor  
Study Unit V Oral Traditions--Swapping Stories  
Study Unit VI Louisiana's Musical Landscape  
Study Unit VII Material Culture-The Stuff of Life  
Study Unit VIII The Worlds of Work and Play  
Study Unit IX The Seasonal Round and Life Cycles  
Educator's Links  
Louisiana Voices Milestones  
Educator's Guide Glossary  
Educator's Guide Credits
Educator's Opportunities For Professional Development  
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Louisiana Folklife website

Louisiana Folklife Program

Louisiana's Living

            Traditions: Articles, Photos and Virtual Exhibits about Louisiana Folklife  

Unit II Outline:

Defining Terms Introduction

Lesson 1: What Is Folklife? (this page)

Lesson 2: Folk Groups

Lesson 3: Folk Genres

Unit I Resources


Unit I
Defining Terms

Lesson 1 What Is Folklife?

On the bottom of the ladder you have what you call a roustabout, who runs around and does everything that nobody else wants to do. He's a "grunt." He unloads and stacks pipe, mops, cleans, paints, that kind of thing. . . . After roustabouts, you have the floorman, who is also known as a roughneck. They work the actual drilling floor on the rigs, and make up or break up the pipe. Their job is probably the most dangerous. There was, and still is, a macho stigma attached to that job--some of the old-timers especially might sort of be proud of having lost a finger or whatever. The description of a typical roughneck or roustabout used to be that he weighed 250 pounds or more, that at least three-quarters of that was located above his belt-line, and that he used a two-inch bull-plug for a hard-hat. In other words, he was a pin-head, and the job called for all brawn and no brains, which really isn't true.

--John Vidrine, Lafayette Parish
from Oilfield Lore

Grade Levels


Curriculum Areas

English Language Arts, Social Studies


Purpose of Lesson

Students are introduced to the term folklife through a student essay, discussion, and activities. They learn that folklife is transmitted through everyday activities. They learn about variants, motifs, and cultural processes of folk, popular, elite cultures, and to connect folklife to everyday experience. For an alternate way of introducing these basic concepts using children's games and play, see Unit III Lesson 1.


Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills

  1. Students learn that everyone, including themselves, has folklife.

    H-1C-E4 Recognizing how folklore and other cultural elements have contributed to our local, state, and national heritage (1, 3, 4)

    ELA-4-M5 Listening and responding to a wide variety of media (e.g., music, TV, film, speech). (1, 3, 4, 5)

    ELA-4-M4 Speaking and listening for a variety of audiences (e.g., classroom, real-life, workplace) and purposes (e.g., awareness, concentration, enjoyment, information, problem solving). (1, 2, 4, 5)

    ELA-2-M5 Recognizing and applying literary devices (e.g., figurative language, symbolism, dialogue). (1, 4)

    G-1C-E4 Identifying and comparing the cultural characteristics of different regions and people; (1, 2, 3, 4)

  2. Students learn to define folklife and how folklife is transmitted through everyday learning.
    ELA-4-M5 Listening and responding to a wide variety of media (e.g., music, TV, film, speech). (1, 3, 4, 5)

    ELA-5-M2 Locating and evaluating information sources (e.g., print materials, databases, CD-ROM references, Internet information, electronic reference works, community and government data, television and radio resources, audio and visual materials). (1, 3, 4, 5)

    H-1A-M3 Analyzing the impact that specific individuals, ideas, events, and decisions had on the course of history. (1, 2, 3, 4)

    H-1C-E4 Recognizing how folklore and other cultural elements have contributed to our local, state, and national heritage. (1, 3, 4)

  3. Students learn differences between folk, popular, and elite cultures.
    H-1D-M6 Examining folklore and describing how cultural elements have shaped our state and local heritage. (1, 3, 4)

    ELA-7-M2 Problem solving by using reasoning skills, life experiences, accumulated knowledge, and relevant available information. (1, 2, 4)

Time Required

3-5 days



Duplicate the essay What Is Folklife and Why Study It? for all students. Provide journals for students to record their thoughts during the lesson. These could be steno pads, notebooks, or sheets of paper stapled together. Print and duplicate the worksheets and assessment tools listed below.


Technology Connections

Internet Resources

What Is Folklife and Why Study It?


Adaptation Strategies


Student Worksheets

Everyday Learning Worksheet

Types of Folklife Worksheet

Cultural Processes in Action Worksheet

Venn Diagram

Music in Everyday Life Worksheet


Assessment Tools

  1. Student journals
  2. Cultural Processes In Action Worksheet


Evaluation Tools/Opportunities


  1. Journals
  2. Lists of customs and word games
  3. Types of Folklife Worksheet
  4. Cultural Processes In Action Worksheet



  1. Journals
  2. Lists of customs and word games
  3. Everyday Learning Worksheet
  4. Cultural Processes In Action Worksheet
  5. Venn Diagrams
  6. Oral presentations on personal folklife


Background Information for the Teacher

Review the Folklore and Folklife, Motifs and Variants, Context, and Cultural Processes sections of the Unit Introduction of Unit I Defining Terms.


To Prepare

To get a thorough understanding of the concepts, terminology, and goals of this unit, read the Unit Introduction of Unit I Defining Terms. Look at your curriculum to see where openings exist for introducing folklore and folklife to your students. There are many. If the essay What Is Folklife and Why Study It? is written above your students' reading ability, refer to the Adaptation Strategies for ways to modify it.


4th and 8th Grade Activities

  1. Have students keep journals during the lesson to record questions and thoughts that occur as they work through the activities. Also encourage them to record observations, information collected, hypotheses, and inferences about the concepts they are learning in this lesson.

  2. Ask students to tell you what they think of when they hear the word "folklore." Write the key terms they say on the board. Explain to students that there are several words that people use to talk about folklore: folklife, traditions, culture, to name a few. (For the rest of this lesson, we're going to rely more on the term "folklife," although it is, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable with "folklore." Some folklorists believe that "folklife" is more embracing of material culture and customary behavior than "folklore," which the general population often tends to associate mainly with verbal traditions.)

  3. Write on the board the Louisiana Voices definition of folklife, found in the Glossary:
    "The living traditions currently practiced and passed down by word of mouth, imitation, or observation over time and space within groups, such as family, ethnic, social class, regional, and others. Everyone and every group has folklore."
    Ask students to tell you some sayings that they've learned from friends, such as "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

    Then ask if they can think of any word games they learned from watching and imitating others at school, such as a hand-clapping rhyme or "one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war," or "one potato, two potato." Ask if they remember when or how they learned these traditions. Chances are, they won't remember. Stress that frequently we learn folklore when we don't even realize it, through "everyday learning." If students cannot remember how they learned the traditions, reassure them that this is okay! They may not remember precisely because we acquire folklore almost unconsciously, among various folk groups in daily life.

  4. Distribute copies of What Is Folklife and Why Study It? Have students read the first page and Part I: Defining Folklore. Then ask them to reflect on the essay and write their thoughts in their journals.

  5. Divide the classroom into two groups. Each group chooses a "captain." Write on the board two folklife categories, Customs and Word Games, and assign one to each group. The groups must brainstorm for five minutes to think of as many words or phrases as possible that belong to their assigned category. The captains write these on the board, then the whole class discusses whether each item is, in fact, folklife. Have them refer to the definition on the board for their decisions. For each correct answer, the team gets a point. The team with the most points wins.

  6. Distribute the Everyday Learning Worksheet. Have students work individually, rather than in groups. It is important for them first to understand their own everyday learning experiences. Give students time to complete the worksheet, then have them take turns reading their answers to the class. Discuss together how they learned their everyday traditions. If desired, have them write reflections on this topic in their journals.

  7. Explain that folklore and traditions can have motifs, such as a trickster joke or tale, but there can also be variants, or different versions of traditions. For instance, Brer Rabbit from the American South, Anansi from West Africa, or Coyote from Native Americans are all tricksters. For other examples, refer to the Variants, Motifs section of Unit 1 Introduction.

    Be sure to ask whether any students have variants, or different versions, of the traditions on their Everyday Learning Worksheets. Ask students to share other things similar to what's on the worksheet that they've learned in an "everyday way." Not everything they share will be folklife, but at this point you want to stress the process of how people learn traditional activities--through word of mouth, imitation, and observation.

  8. Distribute the Types of Folklife Worksheets. Have students find examples of motifs and variants on their Everyday Learning Worksheets and write them in the blanks.

  9. Throughout this discussion, students will generate expressions not only of folk culture but also of popular and elite culture. Spend some time explaining the different levels of culture. Have students refer to the definitions in Part 2 on the Types of Folklife Worksheet as you explain the different levels of culture. Folk culture is learned primarily by word of mouth and observation. We also learn from and interact with popular culture coming from radios, televisions, the Internet, magazines, and other mass media. Elite culture is learned through formal instructions at schools, colleges, museums, music conservatories, and art schools. Ask students to tell you how they learned that on Halloween, a person goes from house to house saying "Trick or treat?" (folk culture) Then ask where they learned about Spider Man (popular culture). Then ask them where they learned that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 (elite culture). Explain that sometimes these three categories overlap. Ask them where they first heard about Cinderella. A spoken story? A written story? A Disney film? The ballet? All these forms? If so, they've experienced Cinderella through folk, popular, and elite processes. Have students complete Types of Folklife Worksheet, then discuss their answers in groups or as a class.

  10. Distribute the Cultural Processes in Action Worksheet and ask students to decide which items are folk culture, popular culture, or elite culture expressions and which are mixtures. Design a simpler version of this worksheet for younger students or ask them to design one as a test of what they have learned about folk, popular, and elite cultural processes. Discuss students' conclusions -- not everyone will agree. See the Teacher Key developed by the FolkWriting Project for appropriate answers.

  11. Have students write reflections about this lesson in their journals.


4th Grade Explorations and Extensions

  1. Use the words from the two columns, Customs and Word Games, to complete a Venn Diagram that compares these genres.

  2. Connect everyday learning to music by completing the Music in Everyday Life Worksheet in Unit VI Lesson 2.

  3. Give a short oral presentation on one item of folk culture.


Unit I Resources

Unit I Outline


National Endowment for

            the Arts.

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