Connecting to Cultures and Community through Story

I am always looking for a way to connect with classrooms and support teachers. As I was going through the curriculum goals for third grade I saw one that sparked my interest. “How communities change over time” could combine so many things that I love including primary sources, local history, and global awareness. I was excited and so were my teachers.

Bringing the World to Your Classroom

My school is in a very rural community and making cultural connections can be a challenge. I wanted my students to connect emotionally to other cultures through story. Story is so important in creating empathy. If we know someone’s story we are much less likely to stereotype them. I decided to name my unit “Everybody Has a Story,” and I began with the film Marie’s Dictionary, which can be found on The Global Oneness Project website. Marie’s story explored how languages become endangered. This made me ask questions about other parts of culture that change or are abandoned. There are so many reasons that cultural traditions change including colonization, technological advancements, changes in land use, and many more. I wanted to dig deeper into cultural traditions with my students, but I knew these were difficult topics and needed a way to make them accessible. I chose traditions that I thought my students would enjoy. We looked at the sweetgrass basket crafts of the Gullah people, hula dancing, bluegrass music, and storytelling. With each I wanted to make personal connections for my students. When we studied crafts we learned to finger knit. We compared Irish step-dancing to clogging and learned some steps. We looked at instruments like the banjo or playing the bones, then learned to play the spoons. These experiences made the learning process more meaningful.

Right Outside Your Door

After students experienced cultures around the world, we looked at our own community to see how it had changed over time. This involved an extensive study of local history. I asked a local historian to speak to my classes and purchased books relating to the history of our town and county. One of my favorite activities was having students examine primary source photos. Copies of historical photos were made available by the local historian. I placed one photo at each table on butcher paper and had students jot down their thoughts and observations about the photo. We rotated through each photograph until they had a better understanding of how our town looked in the past and what businesses existed. Later I had students choose a photo of a building that has changed or no longer exists and create a replica in Minecraft. Students enjoyed learning about the building, what it was used for and where it was located and recreating that in a virtual world. Our study culminated in a walking historical tour of our town, led by the local historian. We stopped by the public library as well as the town visitor’s center where we were given more opportunities to observe primary sources relating to our community.

Finding the Best Resources

If you would like to create your own unit focused on how communities change over time, my suggestion is to make it hands on. There are wonderful resources to bring the world to your classroom including The Global Oneness Project, UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Map, and the Endangered Languages Project. Search out cultural experiences that connect your community to another in the world. Choose a dance form that is local to your area and compare to that of another style somewhere else in the world. Find a local historian. They are usually passionate and willing to share resources or visit as a guest speaker. Seek out help at your public library. They often have a local history collection and can make it kid friendly. Search for primary sources. The Library of Congress, Smithsonian, National Archives, local museums, and universities have free materials including maps, photos, and documents.

In 2017 I was awarded the Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming. This award opened new doors for me personally and professionally including becoming an educational consultant for the Global Oneness Project. I encourage you to find a program you are passionate about and then share it with your students and the world.

Author: Amy Harpe

Amy Harpe is an NBCT library media specialist at Pilot Mountain Middle School. She serves on the advocacy board of her local public library. In 2017 she was awarded the Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming. She currently works as a member of the Educator Advisory Committee for the Global Oneness Project.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. Thank you for sharing your exemplary work and connecting the KQ community to the Global Oneness Project: https://www.globalonenessproject.org/

    Yes! to cultural awareness, responsiveness, and competence.

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