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Voices of the Canoe—Teacher Resource

Unit 1, Origin Stories and the Canoe

Lesson 3: Tell Your Own Story


Lesson Background

Putting a sail on a camakao (canoe), Fiji.

In this lesson, students will compose and tell their own story. Through this process, students will gain an understanding about the function of the oral tradition and how storytelling works to preserve identity and transmit culture through times of change.

Students can be directed to begin their research using the following resources from the Voices of the Canoe website.

Evidence (Reading Aloud):

Activity 1: Composing Origin Stories

After reading the two examples of origin stories, students will think of an event of significance to them that they will use to compose their own origin story in their heads, without writing it down.

By way of modeling, the teacher could compose their own oral story and share with the class.

A reminder about content: this story does not have to begin with their birth, but it should share similarities with the flood stories in exploring how the student came to be who they are today.

It might be something that affected them or their immediate family—e.g. a big moment for them in figuring out who they are (identity) or what they want to do  (purpose/vocation); something they will always remember as that day/event; something that changed their life. 

Activity 2: Sharing Stories

Students share their stories with the class. This act of sharing is another feature of the oral tradition and storytelling; stories are orally presented and meant to be shared. After sharing their stories, students will reflect on their experiences.

Guiding questions may include:

  • What was your reaction when you heard you couldn’t write the story down?
  • How did making it up in your head affect what you included?
  • How difficult was it to remember the story?
  • What was your experience telling the story the first time?
  • Why do you think some Indigenous cultures chose to tell their stories orally?

Activity 3: Why the Oral Tradition?

After telling their stories, students will have a greater appreciation of the skill and dynamics of oral storytelling. Teachers will then provide the students further background on the oral tradition to connect to their own experiences.

Features of the oral tradition:

  • Knowledge is passed down verbally from generation to generation
  • Stories are told in a group atmosphere to help build bonds between people.
    • For example: Why do people go to the movies together? To build bonds, even though they don’t communicate during the movie
  • Cultural identity is transmitted from person to person through storytelling

Conclusion: Would You Rather?

The teacher will ask students to debate:

  • Would you rather: watch an episode of your favourite TV show or read the script?
  • Would you rather: read the original novel (e.g. The Hunger Games), or watch the movie?

Just like TV shows and some movies, these origin stories are meant to be performed. The teacher may address the common assumption among people from written traditions that human error is a problem in oral histories.

Human Error: People may forget details and insert their own perspectives into a story. But what is also not realized is that not only are expert storytellers able to recall stories in their exact details, but they also bring the stories to life and give them greater meaning and significance than simply words on a printed page.