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Folktales can increase student engagement in learning. Learn how to get started using folk tales in social studies instruction today!
Folktales will captivate students of all ages while introducing them to cultures and beliefs from around the world. Using these tales to teach social studies concepts of culture, traditions, and values will make the lessons memorable and engaging for students.
“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” Would you be surprised to know that these words were first written in the late 1800’s? What about the idea that Rumpelstiltskin originated, in some form, in the early 1800’s?
Folktales have been part of societies all over the globe since the beginning of time. They also give much insight into culture.
Using Folk Tales in Social Studies Instruction
While many folktales are told for pure enjoyment, others communicate a culture’s customs, attitudes, values and more. We learn a lot about a culture by exploring its stories.
However, it is important to keep in mind that folk tales represent traditional cultural values and usually do not represent modern life.
Ashanti to Zulu
The continent of Africa has a rich storytelling history. When learning about African folktales, students gain background about African countries. One book to do so is Ashanti to Zulu, an alphabet book by Margaret Musgrove. This Caldecott winner shares folktales and beautiful imagery to share with primary and elementary readers.
Next, Anansi is a wonderful character in African folk tales and comes in the form of a spider. Anansi stories are considered trickster tales because Anansi outwits larger creatures in the story with his intelligence. One popular story is Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti.
In addition, there are many other Anansi tales, from Anansi Goes Fishing to Why Anansi Has Thin Legs. Try studying real spiders and how they differ from insects to extend learning.
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
Speaking of insects, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema is a West African cumulative tale which tells the legend of the mosquito. This 1976 Caldecott Medal winner is a pourquois tale telling how some natural phenomenon came to be.
A great activity to extend this lesson is to compare and contrast flies with mosquitoes by reading Old Black Fly by James Aylesworth (NOT a folktale – but a fabulous, rhythmic read). Students love the illustrations in both books and enjoy channeling their inner Jackson Pollack with a painting project.
More Pourquoi Tales
Older readers can explore other pourquoi tales, including The Story of Lightning and Thunder, a folktale from Nigeria. After reading, it makes sense to study African countries, comparing and contrasting folk tales from each region.
Another extension option is to have students write their own pourquoi tales explaining a natural phenomenon.
Another porquoi tale, The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale, incorporates Native American culture. This is a great jumping off point to experience a wealth of Native American folktales, including How Raven Got His Crooked Nose by Barbara Atwater and more.
Studying Native American folktales leads to rich learning about U.S. and Native American history and the role of perspective in history.
Older students will question perspective and interpret folktales alongside the true stories of Native American treatment in the history of the United States. Students also learn about different Native American tribes and the folktales associated with each.
Our world is full of tales of different cultures, and celebrating our differences makes us all rich! Use these folk tales from around the globe in social studies instruction.
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