Grade Literature Unit Theme: The Oral Tradition

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Jodie Michelle Giardino

8th Grade Literature

Unit Theme: The Oral Tradition


“La Cucarachita”






Write an origin myth using “Strawberries” as a model




telling story




(present your myth for the class)



“Aunty Misery”



“Racing the Great Bear”






Discuss presentation skills

Begin Research


10. Research day


Mock presentations

Presentations begin



Finish Presentations



“John Henry”



“Davy is Born”



“Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox”



“Song of the South”

“Brer Possum’s Dilemma”



The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

“The Monkey’s Paw”



“The Woman in the Snow”



“The Girl in the Lavender Dress”



Field Trip to see plays


Discuss plays from yesterday



Free choice reading



Free choice reading



Free choice reading



Free choice reading



Free choice reading



Free choice reading








The theme of this unit is oral tradition. I chose to create this unit because I used some of the stories in a unit that I created last year with my advanced literature classes, and the students really enjoyed them. Although I was pleased with the way that I used the stories in that unit, I did not really connect the different types of folklore with the storytelling or with each other. I think that this may be a good unit to begin about three months after school begins once I get routines established and I’ve covered all of the different reading strategies. Once students have a basis for understanding that all stories have an origin and that stories are meant to be told, they will better appreciate the stories that we read throughout the year.

The first day of the unit, students will view the video

“La Cucarachita”. This video shows a Latin American woman performing one of her favorite childhood stories. The woman demonstrates good storytelling techniques such as inflection in speaking, hand and facial gestures, and the use of “voices” to fit the characters. After viewing the video, we will discuss as a class what she did that made her story interesting to listen to and I will rewind and re-show clips so that students may internalize the discussion. Students will then write in their journals about stories that they remember from their childhood that relatives told.

On day 2, students will begin by copying a graphic organizer from the board into their notebooks. The organizer will be utilized throughout the unit for students to record traits of legends, tall tales, urban legends, and origin myths. After completing this task, I will tell the story that I learned as a child of why it thunders. I will utilize the storytelling techniques discussed on day one. I will explain that the story that I told is an example of an origin myth. We will then briefly discuss origin myths and students will insert information into the graphic organizer for these types of stories. Students will read the story “Strawberries” in literature circles and discuss the text. Students will utilize questions based on Aidan Chambers’ article Tell Me: Children and Reading. These types of questions force readers to go back into the text to justify their answers. Students will be familiar with these questions because we will have discussed them in previous mini-lessons. Literary techniques that we will discuss today include conflict and imagery.

On day 3 upon entering the room, students will choose from a list of topics on the board and write in their journals using imagery. They will be reminded of the previous day’s lesson to help with the technique. Students will work in pairs to write an original origin myth using “Strawberries” as a model.

Students will spend day 4 editing and revising their stories. We will spend the last ten to fifteen minutes discussing the storytelling techniques that we learned about on day 1. Students will be performing their stories on day 5, so they will be instructed to practice telling them for homework.

Presentations will take place on day 5, and any remaining time will be spent on silent reading.

On day 6, students will begin class by writing in journals about a time when they formed an opinion about a person that was not actually correct to get them thinking about the next short story that we will read. Students will read “Aunty Misery” in literature circles. We will discuss the story as a group at the end of class. Literary techniques that we will discuss are conflict, irony, and personification.

On day 7, the beginning activity will include adding the definition of legend to their graphic organizers. Students will listen to the recorded version of “Racing the Great Bear” and read along in their books. Students at Xavier University, Sandra Armstrong and Tina Rentz found that using auditory methods to such as this helps students retain more information. Literary focus will be over conflict, foreshadowing, and cause and effect relationships.

Day 8 starter will require students to think about arranged marriages. They will either write a journal entry discussing their feelings about arranged marriages, or they can make a list of details that they know about the topic. Students will read “Otoonah” in circles and discuss. Literary focus will be over character, onomatopoeia, and visualizing. Students will create a character chart to analyze the characters in the story. Chapter eight in Transactions in Literature discussed character maps and how they help students to elaborate on character connections in a piece of literature.
Day 9 will start with students writing about a good or bad presentation that they’d given or seen. We will discuss as a class what makes an effective presentation and what makes an ineffective presentation. Together, we will create a rubric for presentations that students will be required to do later. I will then explain that they will be doing research on Eskimo culture and presenting it to the class. Students will be encouraged to connect their findings to how accurate the story “Otoonah” depicted Inuit culture. Students will begin research before the end of class. Homework will be to finish research.

Day 10 will consist of research and silent sustained reading. My idea for Day 11 comes from an idea that I got from a student in someone in the cohort program. Michelle Goodsite said that she “tricks” students by letting them think presentations will be due a day before the actual due date. That way, students come in to class prepared to present. She then allows them to do mock presentations in small groups to prepare for the real presentations the next day. Students who watch the mock presentations offer suggestions for improvement. Day 12 will be the actual presentation day.

Students will look at a picture of John Henry from the textbook and write a list of thoughts that come to mind when looking at it on day 13. I will then break them into groups of 5 and instruct them to select roles to perform. Students will read (sing) the ballad several times to discuss it. Literary focus will be over ballad, foreshadowing, and repetition.

Day 14 will begin with students adding tall tale information to their graphic organizers. We will then have a brief discussion about tall tales. Students will read “Davy is Born”. Literary focus will cover irony, hyperbole, and a discussion of how the story reflects the way that men were dependent on the land. Students will close by writing a journal discussing other tall tales they’ve read or heard.

Students will be required to write a journal to describe how friendships begin and what makes them last in order to get them thinking about the day’s reading for day 15. “Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox” is the reading for the day. Students will read this story silently and come together as a group to discuss it. After we discuss the story as a class, we will discuss writing for an audience. Students will then work in pairs to rewrite the story for a much younger audience.

On day 16, students will view the video “Song of the South”. This video informs the viewer of how the Uncle Remus stories originated and gives a brief description of the time period. I will read “Brer Possum’s Dilemma” as students read along in their textbooks. We will discuss the story as a group. Literary focus will be on dialect and moral.

Day 17 will begin with a short clip of the animated movie The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. After watching the clip, the class will discuss the traits of an urban legend. Students will discuss how urban legends begin and why they are believable. We are using the clip because a study that was done by Anne Hibbing and Joan Rankin-Erickson proved that the use of external visual images is effective in teaching reading comprehension. We will next read “The Monkey’s Paw” in literature circles. Students will complete circle activities at home following the reading in preparation for discussions the following day.

When students enter the class on day on day 18, they will add information about urban legends to their graphic organizers. They will then break into their circles to share their thoughts on the story. After having a large group discussion, students will share appropriate urban legends that they’ve heard with the class.

Day 19 will begin with students listening to a recording of the song “We Shall Overcome” and writing a journal about their thoughts while listening to it. I will then explain how this song as well as others became popular during the civil rights movement in the 1950-1960’s. We will then have a brief discussion of that time period to give students background knowledge for the upcoming story. Louise Rosenblatt as well as other researchers has found that when students have background knowledge about the topic of a piece of literature, they are more likely to comprehend and connect with the text. Students will then listen to the recorded version of “The Woman in the Snow”. After a discussion of the text, I will model a visualization exercise for the students. Students will practice the visualization technique by creating a storyboard of the events from the story. They will work in pairs for this activity. Literary focus for this day will cover foreshadowing, context clues, and compare/contrast.

Day 20 will begin with students writing about why they chose the events that they did to include on their storyboards yesterday. They can also discuss their thoughts about the story. I will give students background information about what a frame story is to help them to understand the next story. They will then read “The Girl in the Lavender Dress” in literature circles. After the class wrap-up discussion, students will write in their journals comparing today’s text with

“The Hitchhiker”, a story that was read previously in the year. The literary focus this day will cover setting, metaphor, frame story, plot, subplot. For homework, students will create a timeline to show the important events from the plot and the subplot of the story.

Students will take a field trip on day 21 to view a series of one act plays. The plays will include “The Monkey’s Paw, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Woman in the Snow”. Before going on the trip, I will remind students how a good audience behaves (reminder from earlier class discussions), and I will let them know they will be graded on how well they demonstrate those skills.

We will discuss the plays on day 22. We will recall the good storytelling techniques from earlier in the unit. I will relate those techniques to the actors on stage. We will discuss why the actors used some of these techniques and how it would have changed our experience if they had not used the animation.

On days 23-27, I will give students a choice for what they want to read in their circles. The choices will consist of different folk tales from the textbook or of biographies and examples of oral history. Each of these days will be spent working in literature circles. The following stories will be included in their choices:

  1. “Mrs. Flowers from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (autobiography)

  2. “The Wise Old Woman” (folk tale)

  3. “The Old Grandfather and His Little Grandson” (folk tale)

  4. “We Are All One” (folk tale)

  5. “The Dogs Could Teach Me from Woodstong” (autobiography)

  6. “Why Animals Cannot Talk” (folk tale)

  7. “Coyote Steals the Sun and Moon” (folk tale)

  8. “Brer Rabbit and Brer Lion” (folk tale)

  9. “Go On or Die from Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad” (biography) with Go Down, Moses (spiritual)

Depending on the story(ies) they choose to read, there will be a variety of activities to do to reinforce comprehension of the text.

On days 28 and 29, students will present abrs over the books that they’ve been reading independently. On day 30, we will go to the library as a class and do book talks when we return.

Silent sustained reading will be utilized throughout the unit. Moore, Jones, and Miller found that allowing students time to read for pleasure during school hours helped in increasing reading comprehension. Students will create alternative book reports to present in order for me to assess individual reading.

Upon completion of this unit, I hope that students will gain an appreciation for stories that will carry through to the end of the year. We will periodically practice the storytelling techniques that were covered in the unit.

QCC’s Covered
LA. 8.13: Expands listening vocabulary

LA 8.14: Follows oral directions and asks questions for clarification

LA 8.15: Listens and responds to various forms of literature such as prose, poetry, and drama

LA 8.16: Demonstrates an awareness of and appreciation for the richness and diversity of language

LA 8.18: Records, summarizes, organizes, interprets, compares, and contrasts information presented orally.

LA 8.19: Evaluates messages and effects of mass media (newspaper, television, radio, film, and periodicals)

LA 8.20: Analyzes literal, inferential, and critical questions

LA 8.21: Discusses various literary forms (short stories, novels, epics, folk tales, poems, dramas, essays, and myths)

LA 8.22: Answers literal, inferential, and critical questions about literature

LA 8.23: Uses literary elements and techniques such as plot, setting, theme, characters, characterization, conflict, figurative language, and point of view to analyze literature

LA 8.25: Experiences traditional and contemporary literature through a variety of media

LA 8.27: Explains how cultures and values are represented in literature

LA 8.28: Analyzes the influences of human experiences on literary works

LA 8.29: Responds creatively to literature

LA 8.30: Identifies and chooses literature according to personal interests

LA 8.32: Reads a variety of materials for pleasure

LA 8.33 Expands reading vocabulary

LA 8.35: Uses context clues to determine meanings of unknown words

LA 8.39: Interprets written directions

LA 8.40: Analyzes explicit and implicit main ideas, details, sequence of events, and cause effect relationships

LA 8.41: Makes comparisons, predictions, and generalizations and draws conclusions

LA 8.42: Analyzes relevance of data

LA 8.44: Applies reading strategies to specific content and subject matter

LA 8.49: Selects relevant information about topic from various sources

LA 8.53: Organizes retrieved information using strategies such as note-taking, graphic organizers, SQ3R and outlining.

LA 8.55: Uses the media center as a source of information and pleasure

LA 8.56: Expands speaking vocabulary

LA 8.57: Communicates effectively through oral expression

LA 8.58: Adjusts manner and style of speaking to suit audience and situation

LA 8.59: Demonstrates a sense of audience in preparing and delivering oral presentations

LA 8. 60: Makes presentations from prepared materials

LA 8.61: Participates in dramatic activities such as puppetry, pantomime, plays, choral speaking and storytelling

LA 8.62: Uses nonverbal cues effectively

LA 8.64: Uses writing process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, proofreading, and publishing

LA 8.65: Writes paragraphs that include a unifying idea and supporting details

LA 8.67: Produces paragraphs and compositions for a variety of purposes

LA 8.68: Expands writing vocabulary

LA 8.69: Writes with organization, style, and sense of audience

LA 8.71: Uses descriptive words and phrases

Works Cited
Angelou, Maya. “Mrs. Flowers from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Evler.
Applebee, Arthur N. The Language of Literature Grade 8. Evanston: McDougal Littell, (2003).
Armstrong, Sandra, Tina Rentz. Improving Listening Skills and Motivation.

Diss. Saint Pauls.

Bruchac, Joseph. “Racing the Great Bear.” Applebee.
Cofer, Ortiz Judith. “Aunty Misery.” Applebee.
Erdoes, Richard and Alfonso Ortiz. “Coyote Steals the Sun and Moon.” Evler.
Evler, Mescal, ed. Elements of Literature: Second Course. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, Winston and Inc., 1997.
Farrell, Edmund J., James R. Squire, eds. Transactions with Literature. Illinois:


Fletcher, Lucille. “The Hitchhiker.” Applebee.
Hibbing, Anne N. , Joan L. Rankin-Erickson. “A Picture is Worth a Thousand

Words: Using Visual Images to Improve Comprehension for Middle School

Struggling Readers.” The Reading Teacher 56(2003): 8-31.
Jacobs, W.W. “The Monkey’s Paw.” Applebee.
Lester, Julius. “Brer Rabbit and Brer Lion.” Evler.
McKissack, Patricia C. “The Woman in the Snow.” Applebee.
Paulsen, Gary. “The Dogs Could Teach Me from Woodsong.” Evler.
Petry, Ann. “Go On or Die from Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground

Railroad.” Evler.

Petry, Ann. “Go Down, Moses.” Evler.
Ross, Gayle. “Strawberries.” Applebee.
San Souci, Robert D. “Otoonah.” Applebee.
Scott, Maureen. “The Girl in the Lavender Dress.” Applebee.

Shapiro, Irwin. “Davy is Born.” Evler.
Stoutenburg, Adrien. “Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.” Applebee.
Torrence, Jackie. “Brer Possum’s Dilemma.” Applebee.
Uchida, Yoshiko. “The Wise Old Woman.” Evler.
Uchida, Yoshiko. “The Old Grandfather and His Little Grandson.” Evler.
Yep, Laurence. “We Are All One.” Evler.
Zindel, Paul. “Why Animals Cannot Talk.” Evler.

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