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IMGALTTAG Volume V: Introduction to Folktales


Revisiting Classic Folktales to Learn About Structure and Deeper Meaning in Our Lives
By James R. Addlespurger
Carrick High School 

This 6-8 week unit is designed for a 10th grade gifted class, but it may be altered and adapted to fit any English class.  This unit will reintroduce students to childhood folktales. They will be taught how to look beyond the literal retelling of the tales and find a deeper symbolic meaning in the tales. Students will also learn how to interpret the tales by learning about Joseph Campbell and his theory that the hero story follows a specific set of patterns. Students will revisit these childhood tales and locate similarities in the way these tales are told.  They will focus on the protagonist of each story as a hero in the folktale. The key areas of focus for the hero story will be as follows:  The departure, the initiation, and the return. Students will be able to apply these patterns to classic folktales as well as current literature from the curriculum, such as Marty and Romeo and Juliet. Students will then be able to write persuasively about how a character from a story fits into Campbell’s definition of a hero.

Students will also learn about the American hero, John Henry by listening to several different recordings of the song. Students will then write their own hero ballad modeled after a specific version of “John Henry.” This activity will require them to focus on structure, rhyme, and meaning. One over riding objective of this unit is for students to be exposed to the idea that folktales are from the common folk. They exist to tell tales about the past and to pass on lessons to the future.  Folktales are never told the same way twice but they do follow a predetermined pattern that when understood can help not only the teller of the tale, but the listener to follow and understand how these tales unfold. Therefore, students will be able to tell their own tale based on the patterns and structure of “John Henry.” The emphasis of this unit is on reading and responding to folktales and other literature in terms of its patterns, as well as its deeper, symbolic meaning to our lives.


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Collision of Magic, Myth and Ambition
Jeannette Campesino
Reizenstein Middle School

There was much magic, determination and commitment in the religious beliefs of the Aztec society that collided with the politics and ambition of the Spanish empire in the Age of Exploration. This study opens a window of understanding into the two worlds, presenting facts that allow the reader to empathize with the native civilization destined to be swept away with the advancing tide of progression and domination.


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India Through Its Folklore
Mara Cregan
The Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts

The curriculum project, India Through Its Folklore, will lead students through the act of discovery, the discovery of India and its folklore, ultimately allowing students to work collaboratively to create an artistic response. This artistic response will allow students to discover, interpret, perceive and respond to Indian cultures.


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The Folktale Roots of Literature: Hamlet and Sir Gawain
Gary Dropcho
Carrick High School

This curriculum unit for students in an English 4 CAS course centers on the folktale roots of literary works by Shakespeare and the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Although committed to paper in 17th and 14th centuries, Hamlet and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were based on written histories and romances and an even earlier oral tradition. Like the storytellers whose oral performances changed and adapted the characters and events of their tales to suit their audience, Shakespeare and the Sir Gawain poet took considerable license to suit their dramatic purposes. Bringing to light the folktale roots of the more famous literary tales can illuminate the dusty way into these classics and be a way of discovering the magic of master storytellers. The unit’s focus on oral storytelling, an actor’s approach to drama, research and writing (both critical analysis and creative) will not only make students more astute readers of and writers about literature, but will also make them better tellers of their own stories.


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American Folk Songs and Dance
Gretchen Eckroat
Friendship Academy/ Spring Hill Elementary

I want to provide an opportunity for my students to explore learning folk songs, stories, and dances in a traditional way.  So, during the next year I would like to bring back some of these traditions in my general music class room by teaching my students at least 2 folk songs a month with out using song sheets, the radio, or CDs at least one folk dance or singing game and if time permits tell a story or two. I am planning to do this with all of my students at every grade level I teach, which are kindergarten through the 5th grade.

I am also going to try to use folk instruments when I am teaching these songs. By the end of each semester I would like to have a whole school sing where the whole school will meet in the auditorium or cafeteria and sing these songs together as a community and in June I am planning to have an all school sing in the morning followed by an afternoon dance on the playground where we will invite all staff, parents, and community members to participate.


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Tales, Myths and Legends from Chiloe
Lorena Gonzalez
Taylor Allderdice High School

This curriculum unit will explore the tales, myths, and legends from the southern Chilean region of Chiloe. This unit has been designed to supplement the Spanish 3 CAS class in 6 lessons followed by a written evaluation. Many teachers and students in the United States are aware that Latin America has a great and diverse literary tradition. What they may not know, however, is that one of the most important, and yet understudied literary forms in Latin America is the folk tale, and related to this, written forms of folk legends, which have evolved from earlier oral traditions. Folk tales from the southern part of Chile show on one hand the influence of Spanish culture and Catholic religion, and on the other hand, they reflect a magic cosmogony which belonged to the area’s first inhabitant, the indigenous Mapuche people, as well as the Pehuenches, Yaganes and Onas. Their mythology is rich in supernatural forces ruling the woods, the sky, the sea, and the earth. The encounter of these two different worlds gave rise to a unique and wide mythology full of legends that pit good against evil, portray supernatural forces ruling the earth, and feature popular religious beliefs as well.


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Wales Tales, Water and Wisdom
Barbara L. Keener
David B. Oliver High School

There are countless materials available on the topic of King Arthur. Researchers and writers over the centuries have claimed a wide range of sources and have used those sources to either prove or disprove the historical accuracy of the Arthurian tales. The premise of this unit is to explore only the issues presented in the folktales, myths, and legends of Arthur, using thematic connections to the country of Wales, water lore, and moral and ethical traditions. The research and unit are for the purpose of expanding the materials presented in the literature anthologies currently in use in English classrooms in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.


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Animal Tricksters
Diana Lininger
Pittsburgh Classical Academy

This curriculum unit on African and African-American trickster folk tales is designed for middle school students. It is an extension of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Communications curriculum. It may be taught at any grade level. However, my target audience is sixth grade students. Students will recognize African trickster tales and then be able to see how they change as the storytellers were brought to America. The tales will be traced from Africa to America.

These stories were part of an oral tradition passed down through generations. Many tribes of Africa had their own trickster stories. These stories were used as a way of teaching morals to the people. In African tales, animals from that continent especially Hare, Turtle, and Anansi-spider took on human characteristics and were the main characters of the stories. The characters, as in the case of Anansi, could take on supernatural abilities. In some of the tales, it is the trickster who is tricked. Trickster tales were brought by enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and parts of the United States. In African American tales, the characters were animals indigenous to the United States. Anansi stories evolved into Brer Rabbit stories. Brer Rabbit, is the predecessor of Bugs Bunny, the modern day trickster. My students are sure to enjoy these stories and create a trickster story of their own.


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Why Bother to Be Blond? Or How Folk and Fairy Tales Have Helped Perpetuate the Concept of “the Dumb Blond”
Molly Miesse
John A. Brashear High School 

This curriculum unit leads teachers and students as they explore the role that blonde-haired women have played in folk tales and fairy tales throughout history and ask whether these representations have contributed to the continuing stereotypes of the “dumb blonde.” IT examines the reaction of various religions and cultures to those blondes and how they have been often emulated, worshipped or reviled. It finally concludes that the stereotype is more likely a result of the manner in which advertising and the entertainment industry have portrayed blonds and fairy tale heroines in film, print and other popular cultural products.


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A Survey of American Folktales
Melissa Pearlman
Peabody High School 

In this unit, students will learn the characteristics of various types of African folklore. They will specifically learn about these types of folklore through reading African examples of these genres. From there, students will examine traces of these tales as they appear in African American folklore. The folklore that was narrated during slavery will be analyzed as social commentary. Further, students will demonstrate the knowledge they have gained reading the various types of folklore through written products, possible multimedia products and oral presentations. Students will then trace the patterns and characteristics of this genre as it pertains to several African American writers. The unit is a survey and provides an immense amount of reading materials and sources for teachers to infuse into a secondary English classroom.

Folklore is best defined by using the term folklife. The idea helps students to understand that the way a group or culture of individuals shares stories, art, dance, music, food, etc. By defining the word lore as wisdom, teachings, knowledge and experience of a particular group, students tend to see the ideas as comprehensive rather then just a compartmentalized topic in English class.


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West African Storytellers: Griots and Griottes
Bethany Sage
Taylor Allderdice High School

This curriculum unit will supplement the tenth grade World Cultures African curriculum and will expand the students’ cultural knowledge by giving them the opportunity to study the function of oral history and folktales in Africa. The following information discusses the role of oral history in Africa, the history and purpose of griots and griottes in West Africa, and the themes of folktales in West Africa. Throughout the unit the students will learn about the role of oral history in West Africa, the history and role of griots in West African society, the training and preparation of griots, the social importance of griots in West Africa, and the themes of folktales told by the griots. The students will have an opportunity to study the role of folktales in Africa and will read actual tales that the storytellers use in their own societies.


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Folktales: Lessons in Life From Around the Globe
Alexis Tuckfelt
Fort Pitt Elementary

The purpose of this curriculum unit is to enhance my students’ exposure to folktales. In the second grade language arts curriculum of Pittsburgh Public Schools (Harcourt), students are briefly introduced to the genre of folktale. I would like to expand upon this exposure within the area of language arts and extend the reach into a variety of other subject areas. An interdisciplinary approach to teaching folktales can raise student mastery of the genre. Additionally, my examination of folktales from around the world will increase students’ cultural awareness. By examining the social significance of folktales, reflections of human nature and social values, connections can be made to the student’s own lives. Building a foundation of beliefs can greatly benefit the young mind. I plan to infuse this genre into character education. Students will investigate how some tales have been re-written to fit into modern day society. They will write fantasy tales of their own with increased motivation and interest. As folktales are passed down, I will pass down knowledge of this genre to my students.


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More Real Than Reality:  Elements of Magic Realism in Folk and Fairy Tales and in Modern Literature
Connie Weiss
Schenley High School

This unit proposes that there is a connection between folk and fairy tales, and the world of literature known as Magic Realist. It looks at many of the aspects of the older stories and then attempts to show that they can be found in the modern works. Certainly, the reverse could also be demonstrated, as not just the varied elements of the myths, legends and folk works are present, but within many of the stories and novels of Magic Realism, references, ideas and quotes are made directly to these older writings, as well.

It is this unit’s contention that by looking at the simpler works, and discussing how they may have arisen from earlier times, that students could become accustomed to and more respectful of what can too easily be dismissed as childish. They need to be aware that many fears were dealt with through the oral tales and the writings, and that people long ago found ways to communicate ideas obliquely, through the metaphor of story, so as to touch the hearts and minds of those who heard and read them.

When students move on to literature of Magic Realism, it is hoped that this background will enable them to accept the aspects of magic they find, assessing the effects made on them, analyzing what is said through these elements, and coming to appreciate that these images paint a far fuller picture of even large issues, than could a more factual, direct approach.


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How to Fashion a Healthy Adult: Weaving Our Future Selves from the Threads of Fairy Tales
Elouise E. White-Beck
Taylor Allderdice High School

This unit will encompass four weeks of lessons which will be outlined in the Lesson Plans section and will use selected fairy tales widely available in libraries and online (see Appendix A for the first story and go to any search engine and type “Ashliman” for other tales), original material (see Appendix B) by the author of this unit, and video clips (also widely available). Intended for ninth grade scholars, this unit will follow the mythology unit already in place in the curriculum.  Students will listen to a story, read stories, respond in writing to what they have heard and read, will act out a fairy tale in class, They will then write their own modern fairy tale. Students will watch film clips from various producers, both live action and animated and respond in writing to teacher-generated questions (see Appendix E).

The unit will include several writing assignments that will fulfill the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ portfolio requirements.  Facsimiles of these portfolio documents are included in appendices at the end of this unit and can easily be adapted to other districts’ curricula. The unit will culminate with students telling their stories to the class.


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How the Outlaws of the Old West Became Romanticized Heroes
Janis L. Wnuk
Taylor Allderdice High School

The eleventh grade English curriculum will focus, in a three to four week period, on the evolution of the American Cowboy as the basis of literature. It will look at cowboys, both real, heroes, and outlaws and see how they have become romanticized into the folk culture of today. Students will read literature about such characters as Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Jesse James, Wild Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Butch Cassidy, the  Sundance Kid, Etta Place, etc. Research will be done on a real cowboy through the book Cowboy and catalogues dealing with real working ranches and people. We will also watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and other Westerns for more information on this genre.


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The Spider Trickster In African And Native American Folklore
Jerome E.Yancey Sr.
Oliver High School

This curriculum will focus on the aspects and common - place of the spider in African and Native American folklore. This unit will show the cross-cultural aspects of the spider in the folklore of these two noble cultures. It will also examine the roles that each culture assigned to the spider by way of oral tradition and folklore. The intent of this unit is to present to tenth and eleventh grade students a meeting place of cultures. Through folklore the students will be able to identify the similarities that exist in cross-cultural storytelling. It is also my intent that students will be able to identify with a small part of the multifaceted dynamics of commonalities of ethnic groups and cultures in our society.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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