Grade levels: 6-10

Lesson Objective: The Learner Will Be Able To:

  1. Understand that cultures use oral means of conveying important information.
  2. Realize that among most First Nations, the role of storyteller and the importance of storytelling have been and are still very important parts of cultures and communities.
  3. Realize the role of oral information and stories in their own lives.

  • Computers with internet access.
  • Copies of question sheet
  • Books of fairy tales (Grimm’s, Aesop’s fables, etc.)
  • Reference materials on First Nations oral traditions, such as:
McClellan, Catharine

1975: My Old People Say. An Ethnographic Survey of Southern Yukon Territory. 2 parts. [=National Museum of Man Publications in Ethnology, Nos. 6(1) and 6(2).] National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.

1987 A History of the Yukon Indians. Part of the Land, Part of the Water. With Lucie Birckel, Robert Bringhurst, James A. Fall, Carol McCarthy and Janice R. Sheppard. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver

Robinson, Harry

Robinson, Harry, Edited by Wendy Wickwire:
1989: Write It on Your Heart: The Epic World of an Okanagan Storyteller Talonbooks/ Northwestern University Press. 1989.

Sturtevant, William, General Editor

1981 Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 6. Subarctic. June Helm, Volume Editor. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

*There are many great resources available. I suggest talking to your local librarian, or college or university anthropology and First Nations studies offices, or do a web-search.

Lesson Process:

1. Pre-lesson: a few days before the lesson, send home the “Questionnaire on the importance of oral information” sheet. Students should complete it with family members, and then bring it back to class.

2. To begin the class, ask students to share information from the Questionnaire, comparing and discussing the answers given. Discuss the following ideas with students (20 minutes to ½ hour):
  • People around the world use oral communication to pass on important cultural information, build relationships, teach lessons, describe situations, and entertain each other.
  • Each culture has different ways of using oral communication. Oral communication was the first type of communication, that which all human cultures share. Some cultures have developed written communication as well. How does North American mainstream culture use oral and written communication? What kinds of information do students learn through written communication? What kinds do they learn through oral communication? When is something “true” for them - when someone tells them or when they see it in writing? What about advertising - which is more effective, a written ad or a spoken/acted out ad? How did they learn things before they knew how to read? Which is a more effective teaching tool, oral teaching or written teaching?
  • Many First Nations cultures developed the art of storytelling to teach other people and to pass on important cultural information. A true storyteller develops this ability over many years, often learning from other storytellers within a culture.
  • Storytelling is more than just entertainment - it is and was a highly developed teaching tool.
  • Use popular fairy tales or fables to illustrate what lessons were contained in these well-known stories.
3. For the next 20 minutes of class, go to the website for the Virtual Museum of Canada, Mount Logan: Canadian Titan and navigate to the Oral History section. Students are to read the section, listen to the two oral stories included therein, and answer the questions on the worksheet.

4. To finish the class, have students do independent web and text based research on First Nations Oral Tradition. And/or read aloud from the Harry Robinson stories. Harry Robinson was a well-known Okanagan storyteller, from south/central British Columbia. The interesting thing about his book is that it was transcribed just as he spoke it.

This is your assignment for tonight: you will interview family members or friends to find out how important spoken and heard communication is to them. Complete this form by asking someone the following questions and then writing down their answers. You will share these answers with the class.

Student name: I interviewed: ______________________

1. Which do you do the most in a normal day, speak and listen or read and write?

2. Think about times when you learned important things in your life. Did you learn them by using written communication or by using oral communication? Can you give an example of each one?

3. Can you think of any culturally important stories - stories that everyone or most people in your culture would be familiar with? Why is this story important?

4. How do you learn best, when you read something about a subject or when someone shows you a process or explains it to you?

5. List as many examples as you can of where we see oral communication in mainstream North American culture. For example, in court during a legal case, everything is performed orally.

6. Do you come from a cultural background where oral communication is important? In what way?

7. When we teach young children, it is all done orally. How is that different from how teenagers and adults are expected to learn?

Student name:____________________

Answer the questions below using the Virtual Museum of Canada website “Mount Logan: Canadian Titan” - The Importance of Oral Tradition section. Taking complete and detailed notes will help you study for the quiz at the end of the unit.

1. Describe how the history of the Southern Tutchone has been passed down from generation to generation:

2. What are some of the purposes served by oral history?

3. Describe the story of the Hawk Brothers in your own words:

4. What kind of information can people learn from oral history?

5. Describe the story of the Rock People in your own words:

6. Find and read or listen to at least three other stories from First Nations Oral Histories and describe them in your own words, noting which nation the story comes from and where you heard or read it.