Gathering Around the Fire: An Introduction to Native American Folktales Day 1 of 5

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SWBAT have small and large group topic-specific conversations following agreed upon rules for listening and discussion. SWBAT list one or more characteristics of generational literature. SWBAT recount a folktale including the genre, characters, setting, plot, problem/solution, and the central lesson.

Big Idea

Welcome fellow teachers! Are you looking for a lesson related to generational literature, Native Americans, folktales, and recounting? Look no this first lesson of five, your tribe will cover all that and more, before you can say, "Pow-wow"!

Welcome to My Lesson

This is a series of lessons using Native American literature that I run concurrently with a Native American Research Unit.  It is part of a bigger unit on generational stories that my district is implementing.  The students learn a lot from studying informational text while pairing it with literature.  It also helps meet the 50/50 ratio of informational text to fiction recommended for third grade Common Core standards.  My team and I chose The Rough-Face Girl as our shared reading text for this particular week, because it is a grade appropriate text falling in our Lexile band at 540.  This series of lessons happened to take place our first week of school!  I was just getting to know my students as learners, and we completed most of the work together.  It was such an exciting time, and the students really enjoyed kicking off the year with great Native American literature and retelling ropes.  I hope I've got them hooked!  Please watch this short video to get an idea about the how and why behind this lesson and how it can work for you! 



If the video does not play click here!

Enrolling Activity: Gather Round the Fire with the Great Storyteller!

15 minutes

Introduction:  "The Great Storyteller" (teacher), gathers the tribe of students around a pretend campfire.  I let them know this is going to be a special week all about Native American stories.  My students are also completing a Native American research project, and I've already asked them about their background knowledge on Native Americans, but if you're not, then you will want to assess to see what they know, and what they're wondering about.

Game:  Explain that many Native American stories are a bit like the telephone game. Play a game or two of the telephone game where you pass a story around the circle whispering one after another. Have students do a rhythmic clap and slap on their knees to keep them engaged while they are waiting their turn.  See how the story may change by the time it gets back to you, the Great Storyteller.

Ask students how the telephone game is related to stories like, The Three Little Pigs, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Help them understand that the telephone game and these stories can change as they are told again and again, so we have heard different versions.

Ask your tribe the following questions, answer as a group, or have them turn and talk to partners.

  • How were stories passed down pre-history, or before anything was written down?
  • Why is it important that stories have been passed down through time?
  • What would happen if stories were never retold?  
  • How is storytelling different now than today,  compared to 100, or even 1,000 years ago?  
  • What age of people do you think most often tell stories and why?  


Label Learning:  Explain that these stories are known as "generational literature", also called "traditional literature", because they have been passed down from one time period to another.  Refer to "Academic Vocabulary" anchor chart (Academic Vocabulary Sample Anchor Chart below).

Short Tale:  Recite a short Native American tale like the one attached below about "Chipmunk and Bear" or find one of your own.  Try to recite as much as you can from memory, like an oral story that has been passed down through time.

Practice Retelling:  Teach students how to recount the folktale using the a retelling rope (Recounting/retelling Rope and Recounting Anchor Chart Below). Recount "Chipmunk and Bear" following the beads on the retelling rope, or by using an anchor chart: g=genre; c=characters; s=setting; bme=beginning middle, end (plot); ps=problem/solution; heart=author's lesson.

After telling the Native American tale, let students know you'll be reading other fantastic Native American tales this week, and they'll get a chance to be "The Great Storyteller" around the fire.


Pre-reading Activities for The Rough-Face Girl

25 minutes

Let your tribe know that you'll be completing some pre-reading activities for The Rough-Face Girl, your first Native American folktale, from the Algonquin Native American tribe.  Make sure your students have a view of your SMART Board, or other projection system.  I find it helpful to move the students around the room during my long reading block.  For the next part of the lesson, the students will be back at their desks.

Map, Photos, and Illustrations:  I locate the Algonquin Native American tribe by displaying the map in the resources section.  Also, show my tribe the picture collage of the Algonquin people and shelters (Algonquin Photos and Illustrations).  This will help my students build background knowledge of the Algonquin culture, and make connections while reading the literature selection.  (See Resource Files:  Algonquin Native American Tribe Map and Algonquin Photos and Illustrations)

Picture Walk:  I pass out a copy of The Rough-Face Girl to each student, and ask my tribe to picture walk the story, then complete the SMART Notebook Anticipation Guide using SMART Response clickers (optional).  Alternatively, if you don't have a SMART Board or Responses System, you can have students turn and talk to share predictions on the anticipation guide.  Let your students know that we often build a lot of background knowledge by previewing the pictures, or titles of chapters. (See Anticipation Guide in resources below)

Vocabulary:  I preview and learn new vocabulary by using the SMART Notebook file (The Rough-Face Girl Vocabulary).  I ask the students to follow along and find each word in the text as it's displayed on the SMART Board.  Asking my students to view the word within the text will teach them to use context clues for new and unknown words.  We also examine word part to help us understand the meaning of new and unfamiliar words.  The pages in the book are not numbered, so they'll have to count:

  • wigwam, page 2
  • hard-hearted and charred, page 4
  • haughtily, page 6
  • stammered and feverishly, page 10
  • quiver, page 12
  • Milky Way, page 25

Show What You Know!

5 minutes

Review the recounting rope.

Review academic vocabulary:  generational literature, culture, traditional literature, folktale

Ask your tribe to complete an exit slip, on an index card, including:

  • Generational literature is...
  • Recounting a story is... 

Celebrate Today's Learning!

2 minutes

Gift from the Great Storyteller:  I love to acknowledge my students' learning all the time!  We join back at the fire for a quick moment to celebrate today's learning. I pass out recounting ropes to each student to use throughout the week, and in future weeks, as gift from "The Great Storyteller".  Celebrate your new learning for today by having each student name a new vocabulary word, or exciting new fact they learned.  Students should lightly clap and knee slap, making a soft "drumming", like you did earlier around the fire.

Extension Activities & Lesson Extras

At Home:  Provide research links for your students to do some online research at home.  Invite them to share any new facts each day that you gather at the fire.

Native American Folktale Center or Follow-up Practice Activity:  Offer your students a wide variety of Native American folktales to read.  Ask them to retell the stories using their recounting ropes, or by writing our their recountings.  (See Resource File:  Recounting a Folktale Practice Page)

Cultural Research Center:  Provide students with informational research materials about the tribes where the folktales originated from.  Ask them to take notes on a particular tribe and report their findings in a class book page.  See my Native American Research lessons on cc.betterlesson.

Native American Listening Center:  Provide one or more Native American folktales for students to enjoy at a listening center.  Use this as another opportunity to practice recounting folktales.  I record my own listening centers to match our weekly stories.  This is a great way to have conversations about the thematic topic of the week, and a way to model good prosody.  I offer a couple of different choices for differentiation of the level of the text, as well as the text itself.  Some Native American selections I offer my students are The Legend of Bluebonnet (740 Lexile Level) by Tomie dePaola, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush (840 Lexile Level) by Tomie dePaola, The Flute Player by Michael Lacapa, and The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain by Denise Ortakales.