Michelle Simmons | January 2019

African Storytelling

Recently, my class read and discussed a text that I felt had so many Arts Integration possibilities. My brain was brewing with ideas as the week progressed. Unfortunately, due to pacing, there was no way for me to extend this lesson further. I cannot wait to redo this lesson next year and incorporate these ideas. However, it could be the perfect addition to your classroom next month during Black History Month.

African Storytelling

  • Text: In the Time of the Drums by Kim L. Siegelson
    • Supplemental Text Ideas:
      • Nonfiction texts
        • early African slave trade from Europe
        • importance of storytelling in these African cultures
        • Ibo tribe in Africa
      • My school’s book series had a wonderful nonfiction article called “Storytelling in the Time of Slavery”
    • Age: 4th Grade – 6th Grade
    • ELA Standards Addressed: Theme, Inference, Figurative Language, Character Traits/Actions

Building Background

Students should have some basic knowledge of slavery and its place in the south. While my students were familiar with slavery, many were unaware of the fact that Europeans first transported slaves to the Americas when first settling. So, we spent some time discussing how the Columbian Exchange brought trade to and from Europe and the Americas. This trade included African slaves. (Khan Academy has a helpful resource on the Columbian Exchange.)

We also spent time discussing the different types of folktales that were told by slaves. Such folktales included trickster tales and freedom tales. My students loved hearing the Brer Rabbit story which is a popular trickster style folktale! Anansi the Spider is also a very popular folklore character. The People Could Fly is a wonderful example of a freedom tale.

Let’s begin

To begin this lesson, I read the story aloud to students. I have them write questions down as I read the text. These questions can be anything that confuses the students or they want to know more about. The students then all read their questions and we divide them into categories: Inference, In the Text, and Look it Up.

After we divide our questions. I choose the questions that will lead to the best discussion. The students use the text to give me text evidence even for their inferences. We have built on this Socratic style seminar all year and my students have become pros at it.

They can help each other with their thinking, build on thoughts, and piggyback questions. The questions and discussions this story brought out were astounding to me. I teach a very low achieving inclusion classroom, but my students were questioning and debating motives of characters and theme.

The next day as we read the story, the students had to mark where Mentu, the main character, was strong versus where he was not strong. This led the student deeper into character analysis and the theme.

As we continued our discussions and journaling throughout the week I couldn’t help but feel this lesson was screaming for Arts Integration. Below are the ideas I will incorporate next year.

Arts Integration Incorporation

Visual Art

One of the things I love about African culture is the art that this group of people produces. It is some of the most vibrant and beautiful in the world. In the Time of the Drums has magnificent artwork by Brian Pinkney. These illustrations are hauntingly beautiful and tell a story on their own. This leaves you room for further discussion on how the pictures impact the story.

  • Another visual art direction I want to take is studying African Masks, specifically those of the Ibo people. African masks should be relevant to students now thanks to the Black Panther Students could create their own masks. This would also be a place where you could tie in math curriculum. Symmetry and geometry could be blended to create masks with interesting shapes and design. Colors could be used to show mood. The possibilities are limitless.

Drama

Storytelling is a beautiful, often forgotten, art. This story focuses so much on the importance of oral tradition and carrying on culture that it is really a shame I did not have time to do it justice.

  • The EducationCloset site has so many resources on storytelling, all it takes is a simple search.
  • Use the above videos of the folktales to show examples of how a good storyteller incorporates fluency, inflection, and prosody.

Music

In the story, the people communicated with drums. This is the perfect segue way into a music unit on African drums.

The African culture, especially the stories, are ones that need to be cherished and passed on. My kids fell in love with Mentu and Twi and I know yours will too! Plan accordingly so that you can do this story and culture justice!

About the Author

Michelle is a 5th grade ELA teacher in Pensacola, Florida. Originally from Mississippi, she has over seven years of experience in grades 2nd - 5th. She holds a Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Delta State University. Michelle is an avid lover of the arts and believes in using them as a gateway to broaden her students' understanding and compassion.