Oral Traditions: Swapping Stories
Lesson 7 Personal Experience Narratives
I started school at Morning Star Baptist Church, in Natchez. We lived on Cane River. Now this was the public school system. This is where we were taught; our classes were taught in the churches. I remember crying in school at lunch time, because the teacher wanted me to play with other kids, but their favorite game was baptizing. . . . They'd hold you back like they were dipping you in the river. They said you had to shout. Well I wasn't about to shout. Sometimes I would get sick before lunchtime, and they had to take me across the river to my brother; because my brother was in the building right there. You know where the post office is in Natchez? A little past there out in the field, that's where the school was. So the teacher would have to send one of the older students to take me over to my brother, so I wouldn't have to play baptizing.
--Mary Llorens Listach, Natchitoches Parish
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
Students identify personal experience narratives in their own lives through telling stories themselves and collecting from family members or other adults. Students study personal experience narratives in Swapping Stories and compare vernacular, or everyday language in these stories with literary versions of folktales. They compare personal experience narratives with oral histories, and 8th graders read a personal experience narrative of the North Louisiana folk artist Sarah Albritton, whose paintings also tell of her life experiences.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students identify and share their own personal experience narratives.
2. Students study personal experience narratives in Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana.
3. Students collect others' personal experience narratives and reflect on why they are told over and over.
4. Students compare personal experience narratives from various sources.
2-5 class periods
Swapping Stories video and website, art supplies. 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
"Remember the time when. . . ." "We would always. . . ." "The funniest thing that ever happened to me was . . . ." These are only a few of the hundreds of framing devices, or frames, that introduce the most common oral narrative form, the personal experience narrative. These are the stories that shape all our lives, defining our worldview, sense of humor, belief system, ethics, self-image, sense of place, personal history. Autobiographical yet somewhat idealized or exaggerated, personal experience narratives are also formulaic. As in other folklife traditions, the motifs of personal experience narratives tend to remain stable, but the story varies a bit each time we tell it. Personal experience narratives relay the values, concerns, and history of an era. They convey the specialness of everyday life events from courtship to war stories, family memories to community events. They provide bookmarks in our lives, stories we return to when others' stories or experiences prompt our recollections. Even young children share personal experience narratives, detailing the drama of a fall that produced a scar, the excitement of a trip on a friend's boat, the sadness of losing a beloved stuffed animal. Introducing students to the concept of themselves as expert storytellers enhances their awareness of themselves as transmitters of culture and thus their self-esteem and self-identity. They learn that everyone has interesting life stories and that they can identify personal experience narratives in their own lives as well as in literature, drama, paintings. Oral histories differ from personal experience narratives, which are more like vignettes that might be part of an oral history. During an oral history fieldwork project, students would be looking for people's longer personal histories to gain perspectives not found in written history and to consider in the context of larger historical perspectives such as the Great Depression, war, Civil Rights Movement, immigration and migration, or technological change. Swapping Stories offers many personal experience narratives, from hunting stories to reminiscences. Harold Talbert's stories suggested in Step 1 below are only a few. Bel Abbey, whose Koasati stories are used in other lessons in this unit, also has several personal experience narratives in this collection.
Read the Background Information above and some personal experience narratives from Swapping Stories (see stories in Technology Connections above). Choose some of your own personal experience narratives to share with students. Consider discussing the appropriateness of students' stories that they might share, especially with older students. The retelling of personal experience narratives offers a good opportunity for honing listening skills. Review the Improving Listening Skills section in Unit II before beginning.
4th and 8th Grade Activities
1. Begin by telling students a story from your own experience--perhaps something that happened to you when you were their age. Then tell another story, start discussing why we tell such stories, and define personal experience narratives (an autobiographical account of memorable events that sometimes reflects the worldview of a community or folk group).
2. Ask students to volunteer to share some of their own personal experience narratives. Discuss the kinds of events and experiences they've told about, compare them with your stories, and talk about what kinds of stories people of different ages might tell.
3. Read a personal experience narrative from Swapping Stories aloud or ask a student to read it. For 4th graders start with Wrestling Mania, or An Extra Passenger on the Bus by Harold Talbert. Eighth graders will appreciate The Arcadia Dating Game or Paying the Price for a Free Train Ride by Harold Talbert. Lines of discussion include how the stories reflect historical and cultural change and what kinds of experiences people tend to tell over and over. Students may want to add these ideas to the comparison charts or Venn diagrams begun in Step 2.
4. If you want, read more personal experience narratives (see list in Technology Connections above) and compare them. Students could draw illustrations for these or their own stories or write a paragraph comparing life in Harold Talbert's youth with their own.
6. With students, design a fieldwork collection project to record personal experience narratives from your school or community (see Unit II). Discuss what final product your class might like to produce--a compilation of recorded stories, a radio program, a story day, an illustrated publication, or an electronic slide show. Actual fieldwork results may lead to a different product, but envisioning a product up front can propel students into better fieldwork. Depending upon the depth your class goes into, this collection project can range from a couple of days to several weeks. Use Unit II Basics to develop the project and final student product. By using prompts that students have brainstormed (for example, funny stories, hunting or fishing exploits, courtships or weddings, childhood) and sharing some stories of their own, students can "prime the pump" with interviewees to elicit stories.
4th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Draw a storyboard of one of your own personal experience narratives. Think about what the beginning, middle, and end of the story are and how to express them. Visualizing the weather, colors, smells, and sounds helps.
2. Expand the assignment by writing the story. Include details!
8th Grade Procedure
1. Ask students to read personal experience narratives from Swapping Stories aloud. As a class analyze the texts for devices that make for effective storytelling. Discuss and compare the vernacular, or everyday, style with a polished, edited literary version of a folktale.
2. Personal experience narratives are good devices for teaching or improving storytelling and listening skills. Ask students to choose a narrative they have written or one from the online resources above, that they wish to tell to the class. Discuss how we don't to tell a story exactly the same each time and how the construction of stories aids the memory. If students need help with story structure, see Step 5 of the 4th Grade Procedure about using Story Maps. Distribute the Personal Experience Narrative Checklist. Review the task, explaining that students must plan to include all of the Quality Indicators in their retelling. Students rate themselves in practice sessions, then retell stories to a peer. Classmates listen for the variations from the original in the retelling, check the Quality Indicators on the list, then write comments in the Audience Feedback section. use the Checklist for grading students when they perform before the whole class or other audience.
3. Often folk artists tell personal experience narratives in genres such as story quilts, paintings, or sculpture. The North Louisiana visual folk artist Sarah Albritton tells dramatic personal experience narratives in paintings (see Angels Watching Over Me) that speak vividly of the hardships not only of her own life in the 1940s but of the lives of many African Americans in the rural South. Other visual folk artists such as Clementine Hunter or Henry Watson also tell their stories through paintings. Study the work of one of these artists, perhaps with the help of a visual arts specialist, and paint one of your own personal experience narratives.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Take photographs to illustrate one of your own personal experience narratives. Use the Story Map to plan the setting and sequence.
2. Ask people younger and older than you to tell you about something that happened to them, perhaps a difficulty they overcame. Tell the stories to classmates from each teller's point of view.