Oral Traditions: Swapping Stories
Lesson 1 Introduction to Traditional Oral Narratives
As I would go from place to place, . . . some of these storytelling events . . . didn't work out sometimes. Lots of people have different ideas of who I am, who the Indian people are. If I don't put together an atmosphere to tell my stories, it doesn't work. All they expect to see is me with feathers and a drum and bow-and-arrow. I can't take the stories anywhere like that. . . . "Put that Indian on, let him tell a few stories. In fifteen minutes, he's off the stage. . . ." They shouldn't be treating these people this way. They should be able to listen to their stories in a place or atmosphere where they feel comfortable.
--Bertney Langley, Allen Parish
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
From nursery rhymes to advertising jingles, jokes to favorite stories, children and adults play with words, organize their thoughts and concerns through speaking. This lesson introduces students to the idea of traditional oral narrative as divided into genres, or types. They will begin to explore the genres found in Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, only some of which may be found here in this guide, as well as the concepts of context, motifs, and variants.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students find oral narratives in their own lives.
ELA-6-M2 Identifying, comparing, and responding to a variety of classic and contemporary literature from many genres (e.g., folktales, legends, myths, biography, autobiography, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, novels, drama). (1, 2, 4, 5)
H-1D-M1 Describing the contributions of people, events, movements, and ideas that have been significant in the history of Louisiana. (1, 3, 4)
2. Students explore the concepts of variants and motifs.
ELA-6-M1 Identifying, comparing, and responding to United States and world literature that represents the experiences and traditions of diverse ethnic groups. (1, 4, 5)
ELA-6-M3 Classifying various genres according to their unique characteristics. (1, 2, 4, 5)
H-1B-E2 Relating the history of the local community and comparing it to other communities of long ago. (1, 2, 3, 4)
H-1D-M6 Examining folklore and describing how cultural elements have shaped our state and local heritage. (1, 3, 4)
3. Students practice listening to oral narratives.
ELA-4-M5 Listening and responding to a wide variety of media (e.g., music, TV, film, speech). (1, 3, 4, 5)
4. Students engage in retelling oral narratives effectively.
ELA-4-M1 Speaking intelligibly, using standard English pronunciation and diction. (1, 4)
ELA-4-M3 Using the features of speaking (e.g., audience analysis, message construction, delivery, interpretation of feedback) when giving rehearsed and unrehearsed presentations. (1, 2, 4)
2-5 class periods
Swapping Stories video and website and/or printouts of tales used in the lesson. 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.
Background Information for the Teacher
By exploring the storytelling process and contexts, students learn the importance of oral narratives in their lives; the influences these stories have on their folklife; the role and impact of language; and how certain stories shape beliefs, behavior, and social values, what they hold to be true and untrue, what is good and bad, how to interact with others--in other words, their worldviews.
Review Louisiana's Folktale Traditions: An Introduction by Carl Lindahl from Swapping Stories and the basic concepts and definitions. Preview the recommended oral narratives for appropriateness and to become familiar with them. Think about your own oral traditions and be able to share examples with students.
4th and 8th Grade Activities
1. Ask a student to volunteer to recite a nursery rhyme. Then ask students to recite more nursery rhymes. Discuss how they learned them, from whom, whether they teach anything about behavior, authority, competition, or values. These rhymes may be oral or may be found in picture books. They exist in both realms.
2. Based on Carl Lindahl's introduction to Swapping Stories, choose some different types of oral narratives to define such as jokes, tall tales, legends, fables, and trickster tales, etc., and with the class discuss their context -- where they're told, how, and by whom. Talk about how oral and written narratives differ, dialect and folk speech, and reasons for telling narratives. Do students know family members or other students who are good storytellers? What makes a good oral delivery? You and students might make a list of elements: rhythm, tension, voice, gesture, expression, etc. This could become the rubric for students when they tell their own stories later in this unit. Distribute the Oral Narratives Checklist. Ask students to read Carl Lindahl's Louisiana's Folktale Traditions -- Outline, and check off the items on the worksheet as they read. As a class, discuss whether his description of various kinds of folktales differs from their preconceptions of folktales. Tell students that they will continue to record information on the Oral Narratives Checklist as they progress through Unit V Lesson 2.
3. Students are probably familiar with a version of the rabbit and tarbaby story. Enola Matthews of Jennings, Louisiana, tells Bouki, Rabbit, and Possum from Swapping Stories, in Creole and Cajun French. Read the English translation aloud to students. Students will hear differences between this version and others they know. If you are studying French, read the French Creole version.
4. Ask students to share some of the elements of this story that vary from others they have heard or read (French, the well, Bouki). Ask students if anyone knows this version.
Make a master list of variations on the board or with a software program.
Next, chart which elements are the same (rabbit, tarbaby, briar patch) and discuss. These are the common motifs of the story that stay the same no matter what. Or, ask students to work independently using the Motifs and Variations Worksheet.
Students may also read and compare these versions from Swapping Stories, The Little Tar Man, Bouki and Lapin in the Garden, Brer Rabbit and the Tarbaby. Are there elements that are particular to Louisiana (animals, dialect, foods)? The Swapping Stories Index of Motifs Excerpt illustrates the concept of these recurring elements.
5. If you have bilingual students in class, ask them to tell the story in their language, or use this in French Immersion or other language classes.
6. Introduce the concept of the trickster, a character who always tries to outwit others who are larger or more powerful. African American trickster tales have roots in West and Central Africa and generally feature a rabbit, known as Lapin or Brer Rabbit in Louisiana, who pits his skills against others who are larger and more powerful. In many Black Creole and some Cajun animal tales, Lapin's opponent is Bouki. This word derives from the word for "hyena" in the West African Wolof language. Some Native American stories feature a coyote, raven, or rabbit as trickster. The trickster is complex; he does not always win, for example.
Invite students to discuss other tricksters they might know of--cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny or Bart Simpson, for example. Discuss Lapin and Brer Rabbit as tricksters. Ask them to add these to their Oral Narratives Checklist.
7. Working as a class or in groups, ask some students to volunteer to tell versions of the tarbaby story. Ask other students to rate how effective the tellers are by scoring the Story Retelling Rubric as they listen.
Students can help design it by adding indicators and deciding on the number of points to assign to each.
Explain that audience members must contribute feedback statements.
Students should always say something positive about each performance.
Students might also record common motifs as they listen.
Students who listen and score the rubrics should be graded on the completion of the rubric.
4th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Read and study other trickster tales in Swapping Stories and research tricksters from other cultures such as Coyote or Anansi the Spider (see Lesson Resources below). Make a Venn diagram using computer software to compare and contrast stories, add graphics, and print.
2. Dramatize the story, scripting and directing it if possible. Or, stage a few versions and invite other classes to attend a performance and teach them about variants and motifs.
3. Weather sayings are a form of proverbs. Compare the weather sayings recorded in Wisconsin Weather Stories to those in Louisiana.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. List characteristics of tricksters. Is there a class clown who shares any of these characteristics? Create a story featuring a trickster and either write it or tell it to a group or the class. You may want to write the stories on the computers.
2. Read You Think I'm Working But I'm Not online, a trickster joke from the John and Old Master cycle, featuring the trickster slave John, who sometimes outwits his master and other times loses. Discuss how the extreme conditions of slavery might contribute to such a cycle.
3. Study the Swapping Stories Index of Motifs Excerpt to deepen understanding of the concept of motifs. Identify as many motifs as possible from the rabbit and tarbaby story cycle.
4. Compare the written text of a traditional oral version of the rabbit and tarbaby tale in Swapping Stories (see step 4 above) with an edited trade book that retells the story.