Function of Storytelling, Part 1 of 2

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SWBAT determine the significance of a central tradition in Native American literature, storytelling, by discussing the functions of the variety of stories we have read in this unit.

Big Idea

We are all inherently drawn to the power of storytelling.


Students have just finished an argumentative writing assignment. We are changing gears today. Because the writing process is so stressful and challenging for students, I choose to begin class today on a lighter note. We are watching the first 25 minutes or so of the film, Smoke Signals. The screenplay for this film was written by Sherman Alexie and it was based on a short story from his book Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven. This film is sure to be a hit with any teenage audience, and it also addresses many concepts that are significant in Native American literature. The concept I am specifically interested in highlighting to students as we watch the clip is the function of storytelling. The reason for this focus is because this is going to lead us into a narrative writing assignment and I want students to think about the storytelling tradition before they take on this task. 



30 minutes

I announce to students that we are watching a part of the movie Smoke Signals and assure them they will enjoy the film. I add that they need to be ready to talk about the film after the viewing. Specifically, I tell them that this film illustrates the storytelling tradition in Native American history and that we will be discussing this in the second part of this class period. I play the film from the beginning. I pause the film a couple times during the viewing to highlight particular scenes. Specifically, I pause before the scenes where Thomas, one of the main characters, tells one of the many stories he tells throughout the film. Thomas tells his stories as if in a trance, which allows us to talk about several aspects of storytelling. Storytelling can be a spiritual experience, it can heal, it can keep the past alive, it can create community, it can help participants gain perspective as well as offer perspective, etc. These will come up during our post-viewing discussion. When I pause the film, I let students know that I am doing so because there is a scene coming up that I want them to make special note of because of the commentary it makes on the storytelling tradition. I then continue playing the film and pause again once or twice more when there is another good opportunity for students to focus on this topic. I stop the film about 25 minutes into the story. By then, they will have enough to learn about the characters, learn of the story line, appreciate the story, laugh at the many funny scenes. More importantly, they will have enough to say about the way the film addresses the storytelling tradition.


10 minutes

After the viewing, I engage students in a discussion. I begin by inviting them to make any comments or ask any questions. This is so they have a quick opportunity to digest. They overwhelmingly say they thoroughly enjoyed it and want to see the rest. I let them know that we are not watching the rest of the film, but that it is easily available to rent so they can watch the rest on their own. I move on to ask them to think about how the film addresses the storytelling tradition. They are easily able to point to the character, Thomas, as the central storyteller. They are also able to say that the other storyteller is Victor, the other main character. Specifically, they accurately identify the fact that the viewer also learns of stories through Victor as he remembers things from his past. I also want them to identify the actual filmmaking team as the third main storyteller, but I have to guide them to this conclusion through leading questions such as, “How else does the audience learn of the story?” Once we identify the different storytellers in the film, I want students to think about the functions of storytelling. I pose this question and let them know this will lead us to the next assignment. 

Introducing the Next Assignment

15 minutes

I tell students that they will be discussing the function of storytelling and charting what they come up with. I instruct them to take out a piece of paper, draw a circle in the center, and write the word “storytelling” inside the circle. This will become a web that illustrates some of the many functions of storytelling. I essentially want students to think about the reasons why people tell stories and why people appreciate listening to them. I want them to do this because I am about to ask them to tell a story in a written personal narrative. For this web, it is easier for students to understand what they are expected to do if they see an example so we work on one example together and I chart this on the board. I ask them to think about the function of storytelling and that to do this they should think of why they appreciate a good story and why they tell good stories. I assure them that everyone has told a good story at some point in their lives and most of us have told quite a few. Someone suggests that stories help keep memories alive. I write this on this collaborative web on the board. I then explain the other part of this assignment, which is to come up with examples of stories we have all learned of in class that serve that specific function and add these to the chart connected to such function. I ask students to identify the different stories we have read in this unit and they begin to call them out as I list them on the board in red pen as shown in the image. I ask students to figure out which stories serve the function we identified together, keeps memories alive, and they begin to call these out as I write them connected to that function. I explain this web in detail in this video. By the time we finish this part, students have been easily providing answers which makes me confident that they understand exactly what I am asking them to do.

Next Steps

2 minutes

I let students know that they will be working in small groups tomorrow to finish a complete web with at least four different functions.