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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  
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Educator's Guide Glossary  
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Educator's Opportunities For Professional Development  
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Unit V Outline:


Lesson 1: Introduction to Traditional Oral Narratives

Lesson 2: Language and Dialect

Lesson 3: Folk and Family Heroes and Heroines

Lesson 4: Tall Tales and Urban Legends

Lesson 5: First Meeting of the Indians and the Europeans

Lesson 6: Historical Legends

Lesson 7: Personal Experience Narratives






  Unit V
Oral Traditions: Swapping Stories

Lesson 6 Historical Legends


The Gullett Gin Company--one of the largest, and I think at one time, only company in the world that made cotton gins--is located here. The people founded it, owned it, and ran it for years. . . . The story is that the old patriarch of the family had a pet deer. And after he died, the deer went wild, and they had to put it to sleep. The deer is buried in the cemetery on Mr. Gullett's lot. Her name was "Beauty." And she has a marker!

--Leah Beth Simpson, Tangipahoa Parish

Grade Levels


Curriculum Areas

English Language Arts, Social Studies, Visual Arts


Purpose of Lesson

This lesson explores local and state historical legends and introduces students to one of the lesser known Louisiana cultural groups, the Isleños, who came from the Canary Islands. Fourth graders research local historical legends. Eighth graders study the Isleño variation of the Hispanic historical ballad tradition called the décima.


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

1. Students differentiate between historical and other types of legends.

ELA-6-M3 Classifying various genres according to their unique characteristics. (1, 2, 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)

2. Students study historical legends from around Louisiana.

ELA-1-M4 Interpreting texts with supportive explanations to generate connections to real-life situations and other texts (e.g., business, technical, scientific). (1, 2, 4, 5)

3. Students investigate and document local historical legends.

H-1A-E3 Identifying and using primary and secondary historical sources to learn about the past. (1, 3, 4)

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

M-HP-E2 Recognize and discuss the function of music within historical and cultural contexts, including celebrations, ceremonies, and special occasions.

CE-1M-M3 Performing and composing written music. (1, 2, 3)

4. Students learn about the Isleños of Louisiana and their unique décima tradition.

H-1B-E1 Describing and comparing family life in the present and the past. (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)

G-1B-E2 Identifying and describing the human characteristics of places including population distributions and culture. (1, 3, 4)

G-1B-E4 Defining and differentiating regions by using physical characteristics, such as climate and land forms, and by using human characteristics, such as economic activity and language. (1, 3, 4)

AP-2M-M3 Identifying and exploring the meaning of music and the roles of musicians in their cultures and environments. (3, 4, 5)

M-HP-M1 Identify distinguishing characteristics of musical styles representative of various historical periods and cultures.

M-HP-M4 Describe careers for musicians and compare the roles of musicians in various cultures.

5. Students study Isleño folk arts and artists on the Internet.

CE-1VA-M4 Communicating knowledge of art concepts and relationships among various cultures, disciplines, and art careers. (2, 4)

M-HP-M6 Identify and discuss ways in which universal themes are revealed and developed in the music of diverse cultures and time periods.

M-HP-E1 Recognize musical styles representative of various cultures.

M-HP-E2 Recognize and discuss the function of music within historical and cultural contexts, including celebrations, ceremonies, and special occasions.


Time Required

2-5 class periods



Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana video, appropriate state and world maps for Isleño geography 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.


Technology Connections

Internet Resources

City Lore People's Poetry Gathering

Creole State Exhibit

Louisiana Folk Artist Biographies

Irvan Perez

Adaptation Strategies

River of Song

Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana

Swapping Stories Isleño Notes

The Stories from Swapping Stories

Broadside Ballad Collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University


World Atlas Map University of Texas (Austin) Library Online


Student Worksheets

Isleño Folk Arts and Artists Worksheet

Response Journal

Story Retelling Rubric


Assessment Tools

K-W-L Assessment Sheet


Evaluation Tools/Opportunities


1. K-W-L Worksheet -- K and W sections
2. Response Journals
3. Lists of things learned from discussion of Response Journals
4. Student lists of characteristics of historical legends
5. Isleño Folk Arts and Artists Worksheet


1. Assess enactment of The Legend of the Brooch or other historical legend with the Story Retelling Rubric
2. Performance of The Legend of the Brooch or another historical legend
3. Décimas or corridos composed by students
4. K-W-L Assessment Sheet -- L section


1. Response Journal
2. Storyboards or tableau series dramatizing a legend
3. Transcriptions or summaries of legends students have collected
4. Student surveys with storyteller
5. Student interviews
6. K-W-L Worksheets
7. Student summary of history evident in "1777" (8th grade)
8. Maps with journey of Isleños traced (8th grade)
9. Isleño Folk Arts and Artists Worksheet
10. Ballads composed by students


Background Information for the Teacher

Historical legends lie over a local landscape like shadows. People, places, and events are memorialized through oral artistry that may never be written down or recorded officially, but the stories live on because some aspect retains meaning for a community. Although not always believed by the teller, legends are told as truth. This holds for historical legends as well as other types of legends. Such stories cluster around special places or local characters as well as unusual events. In this lesson, students will study some historical legends recorded in Swapping Stories and encounter the opportunity to investigate historical legends in their own communities. Two historical legends in Swapping Stories include The Legend of the Brooch, and Elvis Comes to Angie. Also see Ben Lilly, Strongman of Morehouse Parish.

Sometimes historical legends find their way into songs such as ballads, a European tradition that became widespread in the British Isles and continued in the U.S. When printing became common, broadside ballads were composed, printed, and sold on the streets. These musical oral narratives helped spread the news of current events. Find many examples in the Broadside Ballad Collection of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. In this country, historical ballads have chronicled wars, presidencies, and disasters. The African-American toast Shine and the Titanic combines historical legend and tall tale (see Unit V Lesson 3 on folk heroes).

The Isleños of Louisiana have maintained their own variation of a Hispanic ballad tradition called the décima because of its ten-verse stanza, using it to record local history and activities. Some are heirloom songs from medieval Spain. Isleño décimas actually vary in length and are not necessarily in ten verses. Other Spanish-speaking cultures have developed their own décima traditions, which often call for the singer to improvise a highly structured song on the spot.

Isleños came to Louisiana from the Canary Islands in 1778 as part of a Spanish colonization effort. Isleño means "islander." They retain a unique Louisiana Spanish dialect influenced by Cajun French, Portuguese, and English. Today, St. Bernard Parish, 35 miles southeast of New Orleans, is home to many Isleños. One community retains Spanish. Several other settlements are in South Louisiana. The décima 1777, from Swapping Stories, records historical content and is reproduced in both Spanish and English.


To Prepare

Review the suggested stories and websites in Technology Connections above, including those in 4th and 8th Grade Explorations and Extensions, and choose which you want to use. Print and duplicate or bookmark for students. Think about what historical legends you know and if possible talk with other adults about local historical legends. Try to find someone who can share local history stories with your class and make proper arrangements (see Unit II). Read about the Isleños of St. Bernard Parish in notes from Swapping Stories Isleño Notes. If using the geography lessons regarding Isleños, find appropriate maps.


4th Grade Activities


1. Share a historical legend about a local place or person if possible, or introduce this lesson with a legend from Swapping Stories. Discuss the characteristics of historical legends: they are told as true; they have variations; they often involve a local place, person, or event but may also record more famous circumstances. Students can refer to the Oral Narratives Checklist and check the characteristics listed there. At the end of this lesson, they can add the titles of some of the legends from this lesson to the list. Students could also develop a new checklist for historical legends and record the legends studied in this lesson on the list.

2. Read or retell The Legend of the Brooch. Discuss the likely truthfulness of this tale. Many stories of the famed pirate Jean Lafitte are still told in Louisiana. Do students know any? Do they know any stories in which an object such as a brooch or a book saves someone's life? Do they know any local ghost stories?

3. If you have identified someone who knows some historical legends or stories, invite the person to tell some stories to students. Prepare the students for the visit and include student interviewing surveys (see Unit II).

Distribute copies of the Response Journal and have students react to the speaker's stories by completing any of the statements that seem relevant to them. Have a group or class discussion about the responses, and ask students to develop five to ten statements that show what they have learned about the special places or characters from their community or state.

4. Ask students to interview family members or other adults about local historical legends. Depending on your objectives, make the interview process as detailed or as simple as you wish, asking students to tape record examples, take notes, or just listen and retell in class. Students may share in groups or with the class.

5. Do students know stories about special places in the school or community? If legends about special places in your region have emerged, discuss why such stories get laid on a landscape. Do stories cluster around geographic features, buildings, town characters?

6. Choose an activity that fits your objectives, asking students to enact "The Legend of the Brooch" or another historical legend; draw a storyboard for a drama about a legend; make a tableau series to act out a legend; or transcribe or summarize legends they have collected.

Technology Option: Use a concept map software to make the storyboard on a computer.


4th Grade Explorations and Extensions

1. Study the exploits and geographic haunts of Jean Lafitte. Access a Louisiana map or the United States map and print a copy. Mark all the locations where Jean Lafitte was supposed to be in the various stories and legends.

2. Choose a place, person, or event to write, draw, or tell your own historical legends.

3. Read Elvis Comes to Angie and discuss other stories of famous people or what this story tells about life in Angie in the 1950s.

4. Study the Isleño décima 1777, and research Isleño folk arts and artists (see Isleño Folk Arts and Artists Worksheet).

5. Invite a local community member to share local legends. Teachers, see Unit II Lesson 3 for guidance and ways to maximize this learning opportunity.


8th Grade Activities

1. Introduce historical legends using steps 1-2 of 4th Grade activities.

2. Using the K-W-L Assessment Sheet, have students brainstorm the topic of the Isleño people in Louisiana. It is highly likely that many students have not heard of them at all. In that case, be sure to have all students write some statements in the W - Want to Know column.

3. Point out St. Bernard Parish, home to many Isleños, on a state map. Discuss how geography would influence their occupations and folklife.

4. Introduce Isleño history and décimas to students, then read 1777, by Irvan Perez aloud. Discuss the history told within the song. Are students familiar with this Spanish-speaking group who have lived in Louisiana for over 200 years? What preconceptions do students have about Spanish-speaking residents of Louisiana? Do any students in the class speak Spanish?

5. Assign students to research the geographic and cultural trails that Isleños took from the Canary Islands to Louisiana. What cultural influences have affected Isleño language and tradition? Why is Portuguese part of the Isleño dialect? Trace the Isleño journey on a world map.

Technology Option: Access the World Atlas Map and locate the Canary Islands. If possible, print the map and use it to trace the journey and answer the questions above.

6. Have students produce brochures about an Isleño artist and further research Isleño history and culture. Start with the online Creole State Exhibit and Louisiana Folk Artist Biographies on the Isleño Folk Arts and Artists Worksheet. If these are written above your students' reading ability, refer to the Adaptation Strategies for ways to adjust and modify them to levels students can understand.

7. Assess the depth of the students' acquired knowledge about Louisiana historical legends and ballads by having students compose a ballad about an event or a person. They may study ballads of the British Isles in the Broadside Ballad Collection of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University.

8. Students can study another form of Hispanic historical ballad popular in Mexico, the corrido. Have students compose a ballad, décima, or corrido about an event or person.


8th Grade Explorations and Extensions

1. Compare the journies of the Isleños and the Acadians on a world map. Discuss the challenge of being non-English speakers in Louisiana yesterday and today.

2. Study other Isleño narratives in Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, for example, The Husband's Return, a European ballad, or The Life of a Crab Fisherman (audio), which describes the hardships of crabbing. This may be done in Spanish and English. These décimas would serve well for unit themes such as occupations, migration, European influences in Louisiana culture, and cultural creolization.

3. Compare the Isleño décima with décimas from other Spanish-speaking groups (see Unit V Resources) and visit CityLore's People's Poetry Gathering for a look at Puerto Rican décimas and a lesson for writing one. The River of Song video, CD, and website feature Irvan Perez of St. Bernard Parish.

4. Study and compare the decorative or occupational folk arts of Isleños and another cultural group of Louisiana using the online Isleño Folk Arts and Artists Worksheet.

5. Work with a Spanish teacher or identify a Spanish-speaking student to read the décimas in Spanish. Does the English translation affect the original meaning?


Unit IV Resources

Unit V Outline


National Endowment for
            the Arts.

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