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Storytelling Tree

For cultures around the world, trees symbolize a creative source of magical stories. Under their branches, stories unfold and are told to young and old.

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. The stories associated with trees often are told not only for entertainment but also as part of an oral education, passing down to future generations what is valuable and important to a culture. The native people of the Pacific Northwest call their totem poles storytelling trees. These trees primarily tell the stories of the families who carved them. The Baobab tree, found on the savannas across the continent of Africa, offers shade and many byproducts. For generations, it has long served as a gathering place to tell stories. Grown in tropical Asia, the Banyan tree is considered to be sacred. Its canopy can span up to 1000 feet (304 m) in diameter. Here is one way to create a dramatic storytelling tree while working in small groups.
    2. Suggest to student groups that they begin their artwork by creating the trunk. Decorate several pieces of dark construction paper with stripes and shapes using Crayola Gel Markers to give texture to your tree’s trunk. Embed faces and other storytelling elements in the bark. Interweave traditional design elements through your work.
    3. Turn over the pages and slightly overlap them. Tape pages together. Roll taped together pages into cylinder and tape. Cut snips along bottom edge and fold up tabs to create a sturdy base for the tree.
    4. Represent a story. Festoon the tree with tales as well as cutouts representing characters and action in the story. Cut out vivid branches, flowers, and leaves from dark construction paper. Cut very thin strips and curl them around a cylinder for a cascading design. Fold a leaf and snip a short cut through the fold. Unfold and bend the cut shape through the hole so that color from the other side of the paper shows. Crease shapes to lend dimension. Make fringe, flaps, and other detailed 3-D elements. The storytelling trees can be as intricate as one's imagination!
    5. Student groups determine a process for memorizing and sharing stories from other cultures using their trees as props to communicate to other students.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grade level complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

    LA: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade level topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Identify and use various sources for reconstructing the past, such as documents, letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, and others.

    SS: Explore ways that language, art, music, belief systems, and other cultural elements may facilitate global understanding or lead to misunderstanding.

    VA: Use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

    VA: Use visual structures of art to communicate ideas.

    VA: Select and use subject matter, symbols, and ideas to communicate meaning.

    VA: Describe and place a variety of art objects in historical and cultural contexts.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Totem Tale by Deb Vanasse; A Child's Alaska by Claire Rudolf Murphy; Totem Poles (Culture and History Superguides) by Pat Kramer

    Students work in small groups to research the meaning and roles that trees have played in the development of world religions, cultures, and history.

    Students research proverbs and sayings from around the world that make use of tree imagery. One example to use as a starter for students: "Keep a green tree in your hears and perhaps a singing bird will come." Students create a list of selected sayings referencing trees and display these in the classroom. Include, if provided, the author of the saying.


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