Storytelling: Tales of Everyday Life Learning Center

Overview and Objectives

Overview and Objectives

Developed by the ECHO Storytelling Curriculum Committee, 2006

This is one in a collection of storytelling lessons. Some 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 everyday events can become stories. They discuss the use of journals and diaries, then look at several accounts of stories from the real-life experiences of voyagers from all over the world who traveled to the Arctic to hunt whales. The fourth lesson has students draw on their new understanding of different types of narratives to inspire and enrich their own work.


Visitors to this Learning Center will:

  • 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 events from everyday life can become stories
  • Look at how different types of narratives — a log entry, a newspaper article, and a painting can tell the story of the same event

Why are stories important?

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: Performance and Art Lesson Plan

Storytelling: Oral Traditions Lesson Plan

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.
  • Arrange computer access so students can work in pairs or small groups.
  • Review all materials carefully. Watch the videos, work through the interactive activities, review the worksheets, 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: Stories of Daily Life

Part I: Stories of Daily Life

1. While some stories relate important events that affect everyone, others grow out of everyday life. Ask students if they keep a diary or a journal, or if they read comics in a newspaper or on a Web site every day. Tell them that all of these can be stories.

Write on the board or chart paper "This day begins..." Tell students that they will now hear a short excerpt from a journal or diary. If you keep a journal or diary, you may want to mention this, and, if appropriate, read a short excerpt. This is a model of daily storytelling as well as daily writing. Humorous examples are especially effective. If you do not have your own example, use the following sample. However, it will be better to use something from the context of your own class and experience, if possible.

"Here's what happened yesterday."

"This day begins with wind, rain, and the cat needing to be fed. I got up and got ready for school, took my shower, and went out to get the newspaper. It was STILL raining when I left for school later that morning, but the cat was fed, happy, and asleep on my bed when I left."

Discussion the following questions with the class:

   a. Is a journal entry real or made up?
   b. Why might I want to record events?
   c. Who is a diary or a journal for?

Part II: Stories of Whaling

Part II: Stories of Whaling

2. Tell students that they will now watch The Voyage of Kealoha video about a trip that 19th century Native Hawaiian whaler Charles Edward Kealoha took to Alaska. The story of his voyage was published in a newspaper after his travels.

Note: You may wish to review the Iñupiaq Whale Hunt video and Bowhead Whaling and Its Impact Flash Interactive for background information on whaling.

Show the video, then discuss the following questions:

   a. Why did Kealoha travel to the Arctic?
   b. What happened on his journey?
   c. Why was this an important story to tell and to print in a newspaper?

3. Explain that Kealoha was one of many voyagers from all over the world who traveled to the Arctic to hunt whales. Tell students that they will now work with an interactive activity that presents a series of perspectives on that journey. The activity relates three accounts of the problems encountered by the whaling ship Corinthian, which was damaged in the ice and towed many miles by another boat in hope of salvaging the whale oil and other goods onboard. These events took place in 1868. [Note: You may wish to review the background essay in advance.]

Divide students into small groups and give each group three copies of the I See-I Think-I Wonder Exercise Worksheet PDF Document. Ask students to discuss answers to three questions for all three items: the log entry, the newspaper article, and the painting presented in The Wreck of the Corinthian Flash Interactive — and to answer these questions as a group on their worksheets.

While the groups are working, post three pieces of chart paper with these questions written on them.

Chart 1: What do you see?

Chart 2: What do you think about that?

Chart 3: What does it make me wonder about?

(These questions are adapted from Harvard Project Zero's Visible and Artful Thinking curriculum. They support critical thinking about art and serve as a pre-writing activity.) Note that the intent of these questions is to widen the context of students' experience: from observation in the first question, to responses to what has been observed in the second, and then to extend to new ideas and questions in the third.

When the groups have finished their worksheets, bring the class back together and, in round-robin format, ask each group to share its responses to the three questions about the logs. Ask the first group to put its "What do you see?" responses on Chart 1; as the groups report, have them add to or refine what has been written before. Repeat this with the other two questions. Repeat this sequence for the newspaper article and the painting.

Check for Understanding

Check for Understanding

After the chart pages have been filled out, have students spend five to ten minutes reflecting on the following questions on their own. You may want to have them write down their ideas in their journals, both for your assessment and for their own reference, particularly if you will be doing the Writers' Workshop lesson at a later date.

  1.  Which item — the log entry, the newspaper article, or the painting gave you the most information and understanding about the Corinthian event? Why?
  2.  If this story were happening today, how would we tell it? What artifacts would we use? How have things changed since the 1860s with respect to creating and telling stories?

Finally, bring the class back together to discuss their responses to the questions.

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.