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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Teaching Folktales

Part of the curriculum for our small charges includes teaching about folktales. Trying to teach about folktales is not the same thing as reading them. What exactly do we want 5 and 6 year olds to remember about folktales? Is the ability to tell particular tales the most important aspect? Is it the fact that they can identify different sorts of folktales – creationist, por quoi tales, trickster tales, tall tales etc.? Moreover, how to select which folktales will be used for these lessons?

The Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework defines folktales as:

Folktale: a short narrative handed down through oral tradition, with various tellers and groups modifying it, so that it acquired cumulative authorship. Most folktales eventually move from oral tradition to written form.

This week I tried something new to illustrate the idea of how folktales develop. I chose a student to be the storyteller. The student stood up next to me. Then I told a story, really a number of facts about a colorful aunt I had. The storyteller then had to retell the story to the class. We had three or four people try their hand at retelling it. The results were hilarious and sometimes heartwarming. Needless to say, the story took on a life of its own. Sometimes the changes were unintentional, but several of the students were natural embellishers. I took care to mention that these acts of omission or clear fabrication were part of the process a story had to go through to become folklore.

To me, hearing the story of my aunt who lived in a lemon grove, turn into a story about my father who lived in a lemon, was shear magic.

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