In the third and fourth grades, we do a thematic study of the Wampanoag people of New England — their history, daily life, and culture. Within this theme, we study the role of storytelling and oral tradition in Native American cultures. We read Native stories, a novel called Guests by Michael Dorris, and we have visiting Native American storytellers. We travel to Plimoth Plantation and to Mashpee, MA, to learn from Wampanoag educators and to see and experience the daily life of the Wampanoag people both in the 1600s and now.
To ensure that students understand the significance of wampum belts and oral tradition in Native American culture, we do our own storytelling project. The children interview their families, gather stories about their ancestors and choose one story to retell. They write their story, including details that show what their ancestor’s life was like. They refine and practice telling their story to their peers and teachers, while designing symbols to represent main events in the story. They weave these symbols into a wampum belt, which serves as a visual aid in the retelling of their family stories. This project culminates with a performance for parents, where children proudly share their family stories with the rest of the community.