Teaching Elementary School Students Citizenship with Cherokee Folktales
written by: Kena Sosa
• edited by: Sarah Malburg
• updated: 2/8/2012
Citizenship lesson plans can be difficult to teach, especially to elementary students. They involve abstract concepts students might have a hard time with. Using Cherokee folktales, students can learn about good citizenship in a concrete way and get a hands-on experience as well.
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Citizenship can be taught in so many ways, but the best way is by example. Combining citizenship with other subject matters will make the lesson feel less like a lecture and more motivational. Citizenship must be modeled by the teacher during instruction and encouraged when students interact with each other while studying anything from science to math to physical education. It is a cross-curriculum character development skill that all faculty and staff can contribute by making sure to reinforce it at all times. For this reason, citizenship lesson plans for elementary school can easily be integrated into various academic areas.
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Teach About Citizenship
Subject Areas of Focus: Social Studies, Language Arts, Drama
Grade Level: 4-5
Rationale: The goal of this citizenship lesson plan, is to teach students that helping your community and treating others with respect will lead to great things in life. This can be introduced through activities focused around Cherokee folktales and history that integrate literature, writing, and drama.
Students will be able to:
Recognize characteristics of the Cherokee culture, and good citizenship
Listen to literary examples of good citizenship and culturally diverse texts.
Explain what good citizenship is and give examples.
Compare examples of good citizenship with those in which good citizenship was not demonstrated.
Create and dramatize student examples of good citizenship.
Compose a folk tale in the Cherokee tradition that shows good citizenship.
Share and reteach good citizenship to younger students.
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Discuss the history of the Cherokee people. Although Native American Heritage Month is November, citizenship can and should be taught throughout the year. The chief, Sequoyah, showed citizenship by example, when he dedicated himself to helping his people advance through having their own written language. Sequoyah had seen how the white people could pass messages on paper and realized the usefulness of this skill. Yet instead of adapting the Cherokee language to the Roman alphabet, he worked tirelessly to develop his own alphabet to better fit his language. This, along with the push for the current revitalization of the Cherokee language, is one of the principal reasons that the Cherokee language is as strong as it is today, even having a degree program specializing in Cherokee at the University of Oklahoma.
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Reinforce this concept through Sequoyah’s example of good citizenship for the good of his people by reading the book, The First Strawberries, retold by Joseph Bruchac. The book relays the Cherokee legend of the first strawberries and how the Cherokee people feel that their sweetness is a reminder of how we should treat others. Folktales typically share moral lessons with their readers, therefore, making them good books to teach about good citizenship. There is no shortage of good stories told by the Cherokee people.
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A Writing Extension
To teach citizenship in the elementary classroom, you can divide the class into seven groups easily by dividing them into the same seven clans the Cherokee used in their culture: Wolf Clan, Bird Clan, Paint Clan, Blue Clan, Wild Potato Clan, Long Hair Clan, and Deer Clan. Each clan will be responsible for coming up with their own folktale about citizenship traits such as done with the strawberries in the book above. This is a great activity to develop writing skills, social skills, and cultural awareness as well.
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Activities for Drama
Performing plays on citizenship will help both older and younger students to develop their skills using analogies and by making the concepts of similes and metaphors concrete for later use in upper level literature classes. In demonstrating these abstract concepts in a hands-on way, your students will be able to actually "feel" what it is like to be a good citizen and how great it feels to spread generosity to their friends and/or neighbors.
Have students dramatize their written folktales and tell them to do so in the oral tradition, just as the Cherokees would have so long ago. The best way to do this, would be for them to travel to classes of younger children and perform their oral stories of citizenship. In this way, they will feel more comfortable performing for a younger audience, as well as exposing the younger classes to good citizenship as well.
Citizenship lesson plans can be taught in all elementary school classes, and really can be as simple and fun as this one.