Storytelling: Oral Traditions Learning Center

Overview and Objectives

Overview and Objectives

Developed by the ECHO Storytelling Curriculum Committee, 2006


This is one of four storytelling lessons. Three lessons in this series introduce students to narrative traditions and storytelling from Alaska, Hawaii, and other cultures through work with varied narratives, objects, and performance. In this lesson, students talk about what makes a good story, look at the oral tradition of storytelling, and watch two stories from Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native oral traditions. The fourth lesson has students draw on their new understanding of different types of narratives to inspire and enrich their own work.

Understanding and creating narratives is a fundamental literacy skill — it is also a universal human activity. When students work with written texts, recite or listen to stories, or present narratives through non-verbal means, such as art or dance, they are learning to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate their world. Teachers can build rewarding experiences for students that activate their natural love for and interest in stories. They can do this in a way that expands children's fluency and confidence with language, as well as their respect for the rich diversity of narrative approaches and language use across cultures. As students experience narratives from different cultures, they gain perspectives on people and stories in worlds that may be unfamiliar. This will be valuable to students in many ways, for example by helping them bring a sense of perspective to their own culture and stories.

One theme woven through these four lessons is the diverse nature and form of narratives. All of the narratives presented in these lessons draw on the great range and variety of stories related to cultural resources available to teacher and student alike. Remember that although the term "narrative" is frequently applied to written texts and oral stories, narratives may also be inherent in a painting, a dance, an object, or a historical record.

To check out more storytelling lesson plans, go to:

Storytelling: Writers' Workshop Lesson Plan

Storytelling: Tales of Everyday Life Lesson Plan

Storytelling: Performance and Art Lesson Plan


  • Experience stories from a range of cultures and recognize both the commonalities and distinctions in styles and motifs of storytelling
  • Begin to identify key aspects of narratives, such as character, setting, action, conflict, and resolution
  • Begin to gain understanding of audience, author, and viewpoint in the context of narrative
  • Explore how oral traditions are used to pass down stories
  • Compare and contrast stories from two different cultural traditions


Planning and Materials

Planning and Materials

Grade Level: 4-6

Suggested Time

  • One to two class periods

Multimedia Resources


Before the Lesson

  • Print and copy the PDFs for each student.
  • Review all materials carefully. Watch the videos, review the worksheet, and read the background essays that relate to the lesson. For each resource, ask yourself, "How does this resource relate to my own understanding of narrative, storytelling, and my language arts goals for my class?" Make adjustments to the lesson as needed to meet your specific goals for your class.

Using Journals

If you will be doing more than one storytelling lesson with your students, it may be helpful to have them use a journal to record their notes and complete their assigned writings. Electronic journals may also be used. When using either printed or electronic journals, integrate the handouts and assignments so that all the written material produced by the students can be kept in one place, and be available for reference from one lesson to the next.

Part I: What Makes a Good Story?

Part I: What Makes a Good Story?

1. Begin by activating students' existing knowledge about stories. Write the following questions on the board or on chart paper. Have students discuss the questions as a class, and record their comments on the board or chart paper.

   a. What is a story? How is a story told?
   b. Who tells stories?
   c. What makes a good story?

2. Show the Oral Traditions video and ask students to think about and discuss what the narrator says about stories. How might she answer the same questions that began the class: What makes a good story? Who tells stories? What is a story? How is a story told?

Introduce the term "oral tradition" (see background essay for more information) and ask students to consider why stories might be spoken versus written down. Are the stories of their own lives — their class, school, and families written, spoken, or recorded in other ways? Who tells them? Who are they for?

Ask them to think about what it would be like to have no written or electronic way to save a story. How could it be made to last?

Part II: Stories in the Oral Tradition

Part II: Stories in the Oral Tradition

3. Explain that students will now watch a story called "How Raven Gave Light to the World," one of many stories that have been told and passed down by the people who live on the Northern coast of Alaska. Show The Raven Story video. Then, create groups (of varying student ability and disposition) and ask students to consider and discuss the following questions:

   a. Who is Raven?
   b. What does he do?
   c. How would you describe Raven? (What words would you use?)
   d. Raven is sometimes described as a "trickster." What might this mean?

4. Introduce the Maui and the Creation of the Islands video by explaining that this story comes from Hawaii and is about how the islands came to be. After the students have watched the video, ask them to consider and discuss these questions as a whole class:

   a. Who is Maui?
   b. What does he do?
   c. Raven brings stars, moon, and sun to the world; Maui pulls the islands out of the ocean. Stories about creation, or how things came to be, are among the oldest stories people tell. Why are stories of this kind important? Why do people like to tell them over and over?

Check for Understanding

Check for Understanding

Hand out a copy of the Story Guide Worksheet PDF Document to students and ask them to think about the stories of Raven and Maui that they have just watched. Each student should choose one of the videos and fill out the worksheet individually. Let students know that they do not need to use full sentences; the goal is to get them to think about the elements of the story.

After the students have filled out their worksheets, bring the class back together to discuss the elements of each story.

Academic Standards

Academic Standards

National English Language Arts Standards

  • Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
  • Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g. conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • Standard 9: Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

State Academic Standards

Each state has adapted the national academic standards to its own needs and population. To find a listing of standards in your state, visit the Education World web site.