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Storytelling Quilts: Folk Art Preserves the People's History

Build compare/contrast skills and promote interracial harmony with this primitive art peace quilt honoring the lives of Nelson Mandela and/or Martin Luther King.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Using a world map, ask one student to point out the African continent and another to point out North America. Explain that Africa is divided into many separate nations one of which is called South Africa. Ask students to identify its location.
    2. Introduce the term “apartheid.” Explain that although the native people of South Africa were dark skinned, the country was taken over by white Europeans many years ago and those people became the ruling class. Over the years they passed laws enabling them to dominate the original South Africans. This practice which separated the races became known as apartheid. These laws forced the native population into poor housing and required them to carry passbooks. There were African only busses, bathrooms and restaurants. Have students ever heard of anything like this happening in our country? Discuss.
    3. Read the book, “Peaceful Protest: The Life of Nelson Mandela” by Yona Zeldis McDonaugh. Then read a book about Martin Luther King, Jr. and/or the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Compare the lives of the two men. In what ways were their lives similar; in what ways were they different? What impact did each have on the lives of others?
    4. Ask students to examine the illustrations in the Mandela book. Discuss the term primitive art. Why do students think the illustrator chose this style of art for this book? What do they notice about the colors? What are primary colors? What are secondary colors?
    5. Discuss the art of quilt making as a mean of storytelling. Explain that, as a class, they will be designing a paper quilt based on the lives of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, or the civil rights movement in general. Invite students to reflect on the lives and accomplishments of these men. Ask each to picture a specific civil rights scene that could be depicted in a quilt. Encourage students to discuss their ideas for a quilt with classmates. What will be the theme? Do they want to focus on one man’s life or on the overall theme civil rights?
    6. Once a theme has been chosen, distribute boxes of Crayola® Multicultural Washable Markers as well as other assorted Crayola markers and squares of heavy white paper. (Be sure all squares are of equal size.) Provide time for students to create individual quilt squares in keeping with the theme the class decided on using a primitive art style similar to the style of illustrations in “Peaceful Protest: The Life of Nelson Mandela.”
    7. Once students are finished, lay out the squares where all can see them. Encourage a discussion of how best to arrange them. Provide time for students to assemble the squares into a quilt design. Ask an adult volunteer to mount the squares on a large classroom bulletin board using a stapler and staples.
    8. Invite parents or other classes in to see the finished quilt design. Ask students to take turns serving as docents explaining the origin of the quilt and stories of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
  • Standards

    LA: Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or a drama, drawing on specific details in the text.

    LA: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade level topic or subject area.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    SS: Explore and describe similarities and differences in the ways groups, societies, and cultures address similar human needs and concerns.

    SS: Identify and describe examples of tensions between an individual’s beliefs and government policies and laws.

    SS: Give examples of how government does or does not provide for the needs and wants of people, establish order and security, and manage conflict.

    VA: Employ organizational structures and analyze what makes them effective or not effective in the communication of ideas.

    VA: Know and compare the characteristics of artworks in various eras and cultures.

  • Adaptations

    Help students make a chart comparing the lives of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Guide them in a writing assignment comparing the lives of the two men.

    What famous man in India influenced Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela in their use of peaceful protests? Ask one or two students to learn more about this man and share what they learn with their classmates.

    Invite a volunteer to research the history of the Nobel Peace Prize and report back to the class. Does anyone know who the youngest person ever to receive it was? Who was she and what did she do?

    Invite an expert in conflict resolution to visit the class and teach the students some conflict resolution techniques. How might they use what they have learned in everyday life?


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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