Storytelling: Performance and Art 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 think about how stories can be told without words. They watch a music video performance made by Alaska Native students, and then examine art objects that may be used to tell a story, that may be part of a larger story, or that may inspire new stories. 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: Oral Traditions Lesson Plan


  • Experience stories from a range of cultures and recognize both the commonalities and distinctions in styles and motifs of storytelling
  • Begin to gain understanding of audience, author, and viewpoint in the context of narrative
  • Begin to identify key aspects of narratives, such as character, setting, action, conflict, and resolution
  • Explore how stories can be told without words, such as through performance and art


Planning and Materials

Planning and Materials

Grade Level: 4-6

Suggested Time

  • One to two class periods

Multimedia Resources


  • White board or chart paper

Before the Lesson

  • Arrange computer access so students can work in pairs or small groups.
  • Review all materials carefully. Watch the video, work through the interactive activity, 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: Telling Stories Without Words

Part I: Telling Stories Without Words

1. Begin by activating students' existing knowledge about how stories can be told without words. Ask the following questions:

   a. Does anybody know how to play charades?
   b. Can somebody remind me of the rules?
   c. How can you tell a story without words?

2. Play a game of charades in class, except that instead of titles or names, the students write names of well-known stories (such as folk tales or oral traditions from your region) on a sheet of paper. The opposite side's task is to act out the story so their teammates can guess it. For example, if the team actor gets the story, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," it is her job to act out all parts from beginning to end, hoping her teammates will guess the name of the story quickly.

3. Now, ask students to think about why writers start writing. Discuss the following questions:

   a. Why do you think writers start to make something?
   b. Why do you think some stories are important to write or important to tell?

Part II: Telling Stories Through Performance

Part II: Telling Stories Through Performance

3. Tell students that they are now going to watch students in Alaska who have an important story to tell, and who tell it through the form of a music video. Give students the following questions to guide their viewing:

   a. What did you see?
   b. What is its meaning to you?
   c. What is the story being told?
   d. How does the action of the story come through, even if you can't understand the words?
   e. What more do you want to know about the walrus hunt?
   f. Why did the students think this was an important story to tell?

Show the Performing "The Walrus Hunt" video

Part III: Telling Stories Through Art

Part III: Telling Stories Through Art

4. Divide the students into three groups and introduce the Art That Tells a Story Flash Interactive. Explain that the nine art objects included in this activity were selected because they relate to stories in several ways. The objects may tell a story, they may be part of a larger story, or they may inspire new stories.

Ask each group to take turns choosing an object until all nine objects have been selected. Then each group should look at its three objects more closely. Students should spend at least one minute looking quietly at the large version of each image on their own. Then for each object, the group should answer the following questions:

   a. What's going on here?
   b. What makes you think that?
   c. List ten words or phrases about any aspect of the artifact.

While the groups are working, put up nine pieces of chart paper (one for each object). When the groups are finished, have the groups describe their objects as you record their responses on the chart paper. Allow time for students to ask each other questions about the different artifacts.

Check for Understanding

Check for Understanding

Ask students to reflect in their journals on their experiences of looking at stories through performance and art — stories in which words themselves are not the main way of conveying the meaning. Have students also think about their discussion of charades. How can these experiences add to ways students might wish to prepare and tell their own 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.