The State of Our Lives:
Being a Louisiana Neighbor
It is trite to say that Louisiana is culturally diverse. The truth is that few people realize the degree of complexity and variation in the cultures of the state. . . . Scholars divide the state into three major cultural regions, New Orleans, South Louisiana, and North Louisiana, each of which contains groups whose cultures remain distinct from that of the larger region.
--Maida Owens, East Baton
Rouge Parish, from
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
Fourth graders will study the three major folk regions of the state. Eighth graders have the option to break the regions down into smaller folk regions or use the concept of three regions: North Louisiana, South Louisiana, and New Orleans.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students become aware of their community's and their region's unique sense of place and compare and contrast their region with other regions of the state.
2. Students identify some of the markers that define regionality.
3. Students use the Internet to study Louisiana folklife and create their own Louisiana folk region exhibit or computer slide show.
4. Students develop a regional culture exchange project with students in another region of the state.
State and parish maps; portfolio folders. If your students will be doing fieldwork, you may need digital cameras, audio recorders, or video recorders in addition to notepads and pencils as well as appropriate fieldwork forms. Print out and duplicate any worksheets or rubrics that you will be using.
2-5 class periods
Background Information for the Teacher
Although gross generalizations may be made from this rather simplistic breakdown of the state into three regions, enough characteristics of regionality prevail in each region that students will be able to comprehend the differences and place their own communities in the context of one folk region. Maida Owens describes the regions of the state in Louisiana's Traditional Cultures: An Overview, from Swapping Stories. Using that overview, maps, articles, and images from sources listed in Technology Options above, this lesson asks students to group various folk traditions by region. Also see a shorter overview in Nicholas R. Spitzer's essay, The Creole State: An Introduction.
In brief, North Louisiana is predominantly Protestant, English speaking, British American and African American. It is divided into two main areas: Upland South and Lowland South. Primarily Scotch-Irish Baptists and Methodists settled the Upland South hill country and Florida Parishes on small farms, while English and Scottish Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians settled the Lowlands on plantations, which required a large slave population. Today more African Americans live in the Lowland South parishes of North Louisiana than in the Upland South parishes. The Lowland culture exists along the Red River as well as the Mississippi River and shares features with the Delta culture of Mississippi and Arkansas, just as Upland South culture dominates the Florida Parishes as well as the north central Hill Parishes. Several Native American tribal groups live in North Louisiana, and other ethnic groups may be found as well.
South Louisiana features the diverse French-speaking groups of Cajuns and Black Creoles who are predominantly Roman Catholic and live on prairies and along bayous. Pockets of other ethnic groups dot South Louisiana such as Germans, Isleños (see Unit V Lesson 6), English, and Native Americans (see Unit IV Resources, Unit V Lesson 5 and Unit VIII Lesson 2 for Native American resources).
New Orleans' cultural gumbo is complexly diverse, featuring people from many ethnic groups who have arrived in different waves of immigration from around the globe, Irish to West African, French to Spanish, Italian to Vietnamese, Caribbean to Latin American. Roman Catholics are the more prominent religious affiliation, but virtually every Protestant denomination is present as well. The traditional music and culture of the city have deeply influenced American folk and popular cultures, spawning significant influences on jazz, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll.
Urban areas of all regions differ from rural or suburban. Yet, no matter where we live, folklife and regionality intertwine. The boxed list of cultural perspectives, or lenses, through which to view regionality provides students ideas of how to begin investigating regionality and choices of what interests them. Each lesson in this unit asks students to return to this list and flesh out these perspectives. Choose three or four for younger students to focus on. Older students can choose perspectives that interest them in addition to some you choose. By dividing into groups, students could cover all the perspectives. Students can use the Cultural Perspectives handout.
Using the websites listed in Unit VI Lesson 1 Music Around the State: Sound and Place, choose music from each of the three major regions to play while students view maps and discuss regional markers.
Choose music from each of three major regions to play while students view maps and discuss regional markers. Study regional and parish maps and consider which elements on the boxed list of cultural perspectives you might want to use. If undertaking a regional culture exchange with a class in another region, establish contact with a teacher and plan your lessons together. Study Brainstorming a Regional Culture Exchange.
For assessment, decide if you want to use hard copy or digital portfolios (see Technology Option in Step 1 below to set up) for assessment. If you are using this whole unit, the portfolios should cover all three lessons, and you can assess them at the end of each lesson. If using hard copy portfolios, provide a place and routine for keeping them and call them Sense of Place Portfolios. These will contain examples of student work that indicate progress, improvement, accomplishments, or special challenges. They may include student writing samples, interviews, letters, journals, maps, drawings, projects, photographs, diagrams, video, audio, computer disks, or research reports. They provide long-term records of student achievement and provide evidence that learning has gone beyond factual knowledge. As students progress through the unit, they can add to the hard copy or digital portfolios. Students can self-evaluate the quality and completeness of their portfolios during or at the end of this lesson by using the Rubric for Portfolios to evaluate their own work. If using Venn diagrams, Venn Diagram shows how to use them for comparisons.
If your students will be doing fieldwork or the mapping lesson, you may want to use the Atlas: The Louisiana Statewide GIS online maps.
4th Grade and 8th Grade Activities
1. Introduce students to the three folk regions of the state using a map and describing basic cultural characteristics of each region. Discuss your own region and what students find distinctive about living there. Use wall maps and online maps such as the Louisiana Folk Regions Map: Three Major Subregions. Students may read the introduction to the Creole State Exhibit, which describes the general folk regions of the state. Again, these descriptions simplify complex cultural issues, which students may uncover in their research. For example, someone in Monroe might make boudin, and towns all around the state are now organizing Mardi Gras celebrations. These regions indicate general tendencies but individuals do not necessarily conform to borders and maps.
2. As a pre-test, ask students to fill out the Prove It Worksheet identifying the three major folk regions of the state where the different folklife traditions would be found. After completing the lesson, they will fill it out again for the Summative Evaluation.
3. Ask students to use the Mapping Material Culture Worksheet individually or in small groups to locate and download images of material culture artifacts from the Creole State Exhibit according to folklife regions. Remind them to save the images in appropriate folders in their "Digital Portfolios" on the computer. Answers for the worksheet can be found on the Mapping Material Culture Answer Sheet (PDF Version).
4. Ask students to choose one perspective from the boxed list of cultural perspectives above and investigate how it contributes to defining each of the three folk regions of the state. Use the Cultural Perspectives handout. For example, how do occupations or folk crafts differ in each region? How do dialects, language, or foodways differ? Students may listen to stories in Swapping Stories to hear accents from around the state and use the Creole State Exhibit to research their chosen cultural perspectives. Eighth graders should choose to read one of the Louisiana Folklife Articles in Technology Connections above on regions, cultural groups, folklife traditions, or occupations of Louisiana. Students may use the Defining a Cultural Region Worksheet for easy access to all these webpages. Students may display results in an exhibit, presentation, or computer slide show using articles, music, and images from their research.
5. Use printed maps or print out online maps and ask students to cluster parishes into the three major folk regions by drawing lines around the clusters. Discuss why students included certain parishes. They may illustrate the clusters with images from the Creole State Exhibit, computer clip art, or drawings.
6. Ask students to complete the Prove It Worksheet as a post-test. Then they must work in pairs or small groups to compare their answers. Encourage them to exclaim "Prove It!" any time they don't agree with another student's answer. Then students must furnish the "proof" they have collected--what someone said in an interview, a picture from a webpage, information in an article or on a map. Activities such as this help to introduce students to the critical reading skills of analyzing and evaluating information, as well as the issues of documenting sources, researching and recording accurately, and verifying facts.
8. Contact a class in another region to establish a regional culture exchange, asking students to share, compare, and contrast their research on their own regions. Students could collect current slang, clothing styles, hairstyles, music, and dance as well as the other culltural perspectives from the boxed list of regional perspectives listed above or on the Brainstorming a Regional Cultural Exchange. In addition to broad regional differences, students may discover urban, rural, ethnic, religious, and economic differences. Pairing a rural North Louisiana class with a Baton Rouge class, for example, will introduce both groups to new ways of looking at the world. Students should plan together how best to present their findings.
9. Use the Rubric for Portfolios to assess the quality of students' hard copy Sense of Place and/or Digital Portfolios and assign points.
10. If you want students to use these resources and they are written above their reading level, use Adaptation Strategies to build lessons around them.
4th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Write a diary entry from the point of view of someone from another region of Louisiana. What clues such as dialect, occupation, celebrations, place names, and other perspectives from the boxed list of cultural perspectives will you offer?
2. Write or give a short oral report on another region of Louisiana that you would like to visit and describe how it might differ from your community. Use information from the resources listed in Technology Connections above, including the online Louisiana maps.
3. Identifying community and regional cultural borders challenges us to use all our senses. What we see hear, taste, feel, and smell informs us that we are crossing cultural borders. Use the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Borders/Fronteras to learn about the US-Mexico border.
4. Create a game of regional characteristics based on a popular board game or TV game show. For example, students could place markers on a large state map in response to spinning a wheel or drawing index cards naming things associated with the three folklife regions of the state. Half the class might create the game, designing game cards using computer software and images from the Creole State Exhibit or making a game wheel. The other half of the class could divide into teams to play the game. The team with the most tokens on the map wins.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Research at least two of the nine folk sub-regions of Louisiana: the Upper Mississippi Delta, North Central Louisiana Hill Country, Red River Valley, Neutral Strip, Western Acadiana, Eastern Acadiana, Lower Mississippi River Road, Florida Parishes, or Greater New Orleans. Read more about the regions of Louisiana. Find information in your school library, public library, and on the Internet starting with Louisiana Folklife Articles listed above in Technology Connections. Also see Unit IV Resources, and the Louisiana Folklife Bibliography.
2. Read regional literature and list elements that define the region as they read, for example language or dialect, geographic references, foodways, occupations, and so on. Read Gaines' Fifteen Narrators: Narrative Style and Storytelling Techniques in A Gathering of Old Men and Louisiana Foodways in Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. Explore the Ernest J. Gaines: Louisiana Stories website. Read the works of Gaines and other regional writers such as Kate Chopin or Arna Bontemps then write about their strong sense of place or draw a conceptual map of one of their stories (see Unit IV Lesson 3 for instructions.)
3. Find traditional folk artists from each of the three major folk regions of Louisiana in Louisiana Folk Artist Biographies and choose one from each region to add to your portfolios.
4. Use the website So Much More Than Just a Map: Perspectives on Louisiana and the New World from an exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans to study cultural assumptions, maps as history, art of maps, and more.