Christine A. Elmore
It is essential to provide some needed context to help young learners become more familiar with the Cherokee people before they begin their exploration of the Trail of Tears. Myths are fictional stories that explain seemingly unexplainable phenomena and reflect what the people in a particular culture value and believe. They were intended to be passed down from one generation to the next. Long ago, before the Cherokee syllabary was invented, the communication of mythical stories was done through the ancient oral tradition of storytelling. Before telling the Cherokee story of creation to the class, the teacher will create an anchor chart detailing common elements found in Native American myths. These elements include:
were old stories
showed what the people thought were important ideas
passed down orally from generation to generation
often explained natural events
often had animal characters
often taught a lesson
The creation myth, which tells the story of how animals and insects cooperated to create Earth, will help to convey the deep love that the Cherokee people held for the land they lived on and owned for over a thousand years. One of the important lessons taught in this story is that when one works with determination and perseverance, he/she is rewarded. Throughout their history, the Cherokee have kept these two values close to their hearts.
The teacher will begin with a dramatic telling of the story, using as a guide the detailed version entitled ‘Earth Making’ found on pages 105-107 in the book,
American Indian Myths and Legends
edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. Through word and dramatic gesture he/she will recount the story to the class as they sit in a circle. Following this, the teacher will read aloud a picture-book version of this tale adapted by Anita Yasuda entitled
How the World was Made: A Cherokee Creation Myth.
Thirdly, the teacher will show a visual and musical presentation of this same story on the classroom interactive whiteboard. This video is available on the ‘youtube’ website entitled ‘Cherokee Creation story Video.wmv’ created by Libby Baxter. From previous explorations done earlier in the school year of such genres as fables and fairy tales, the class will have already developed an appreciation of how different versions of a tale often exist as will be apparent in the presentation of the Cherokee creation myth using three different formats.
The teacher will use two activities that correlate nicely with this study of a creation myth and that will enhance students’ understanding of it. In the first one the teacher will use a 2-columned graphic organizer asking the class to envision and describe what the land looked like initially and then later.
Directions: Draw what the Cherokee land looked like in the beginning of the story and then later.
In the second activity the teacher will pair up the students with the direction that they retell the myth to each other. For greater ease the teacher will provide them with a few picture prompts copied from Yasuda’s book. Once they have polished their storytelling of the myth, they will visit another first-grade class where they will pick a partner to tell the story to. In this way the students will gain experience as storytellers and better appreciate the power inherent in such a means of communication.