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Clues to a Culture
This unit begins with students collectively defining and discussing the word culture. Next, students compare nineteenth-century America from the Ojibway point of view in The Birchbark House to depictions in texts such as Little House on the Prairie and If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie. In order to glean the similarities and differences across nations, students read trickster stories and informational text; they also listen to music and examine art from a variety of Native American cultures. Class discussions reinforce awareness of how someone’s perspective can affect their view of events and people. This unit ends with an informative/explanatory essay in response to the essential question.
These Focus Standards have been selected for the unit from the Common Core State Standards.
(E) indicates a CCSS exemplar text; (EA) indicates a text from a writer with other works identified as exemplars.
Note: The list of Native American nations below is illustrative, not comprehensive; please choose a local nation to examine in a similar manner.
As an individual and as a class, keep an index card file of words studied (e.g., tribe, tribute, nation, nationality, nationwide, culture, cultural, etc.). Keeping the words on index cards will help you when you sort words by prefix, suffix, root words, meaning, and so on. How do the prefixes and suffixes help you understand the meaning of the words while changing the part of speech? (Note: This will be an ongoing activity all year long.) (RI.5.6, L.5.4a,b,c)
Consider the speech of Chief Joseph the Younger (“I will fight no more forever”). In your opinion, do you think he needed to be consoled or encouraged to go on? Write your position on a sticky note, and your teacher will divide the class based on your position. Share ideas with classmates who are of the same opinion. Then, begin by individually drafting an essay in your journal. Work with classmates to revise your essay, ensuring that it includes accurate quotations from the speech to support your opinion. Edit your writing for verb tense and punctuation, especially commas (see Standards for more details). Publish your essay on a classroom blog to encourage additional conversation. (SL.5.3, W.5.1a,b,c,d; W.5.6, L.5.1a,b,c,d; L.5.2a, L.5.2b)
Discuss how art and music can provide insights into a culture. From which do you prefer to learn? Why? Your teacher may ask you to write your own response and reasons on sticky notes, on a whiteboard, or in your journal before discussing as a class. (SL.5.1)
Sharon Creech uses sound imagery, often linked to personification, throughout her novel Walk Two Moons. Find an example of how these literary techniques were used to increase the feeling of being part of the story, mark it with a sticky note, and share it with a partner. (RF.5.4c)
The title of Sharon Creech’s book Walk Two Moons comes from the Native American phrase, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” What have you learned about the Native American nation studied? Turn and talk with a neighbor about this prompt before responding in your journal. (RL.5.1)
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is described as a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of a Native American culture during the period of westward expansion. Compare pioneer life as presented from Omakayas’s perspective in The Birchbark House with Laura’s perspective in Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder or If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie by Anne Kamma and James Watling. Choose an event in the story and write about what surprised you the most about Omakayas’s experience. (RL.5.1)
What is meant by the word culture? For which elements does one look when learning about a culture? Write your ideas down on a sticky note and “Give one, get one.” (Note: Answers may include language, social organization, customs/traditions, arts, religion, symbols, etc.) Create a class chart of elements to look for, and look to find examples in texts read during this unit. (SL.5.1)
Read all you can about a Native American nation, drawing on information from multiple print or digital sources. Be sure that the digital and print sources are credible. Use indexes, tables of contents, digital searches, and key words as you work. Use the most relevant and useful information to write an informative/explanatory piece about your nation of choice. Your response should be a well-developed essay with three sources of information cited, including accurate quotations from the texts. Edit your writing for proper verb tenses and punctuation, especially commas (see Standards for more details). Your teacher may give you the option of adding a multimedia component to your paper—either creating an electronic slide presentation to highlight key points or sharing links to music and/or images of the Native American nation of choice. Publish both and present them to the class. Answer questions from classmates about your presentation. (RI.5.1, RL.5.1, RI.5.7, RI.5.8, W.5.2a, b, c, d, RF.5.4b, c, L.5.1a, b, c, d, L.5.2a, b)
Write an informative/explanatory essay in response to the essential question (“How does literature provide clues to a culture?”) Your teacher may give you the opportunity to “Give one, get one” before writing your response. Edit your writing for verb tense and punctuation, especially commas (see Standards for more details). Your teacher may ask you to type your essay and respond to a poll about the unit on the classroom blog. (W.9a, W.9b, W.5.4, W.5.7, L.5.1a,b,c,d; L.5.2a, L.5.2b
View Rose’s and Curtis’s photographs, along with Indian Village, Alaska. What can we learn about these tribes through images of their housing? Why do you believe each tribe has a different form of home? For instance, why might the Apache build more temporary housing and the Hopi build into the land? What about these images can lead you to make educated guesses? Ask the students to write an essay describing what they have learned by viewing the photographs. (W.5.1, W.5.2, W.5.4, W.5.8)
Compare the Haida mask with the Kachina doll. Are the colors, fabrics, and textures used similar? Why do you believe this is so? What is the purpose of each of these objects? Discuss the use of pattern in these two works. (SL.5.1)
Why do tricksters ignore conventional cultural behavior? Why are these characters often personifications and not human? What impact does culture have on the tale? Talk with a classmate to share ideas and then write your favorite ideas down in your journal prior to class discussion. (RL.5.9)
As a class, discuss how trickster stories can reveal insights into a culture different from your own. What did you learn about the nation from the trickster story you’ve just read? What does a story/poem reveal about a culture that reading solely from an informational text does not? Write your ideas down in your journal prior to class discussion. (RL.5.9, SL.5.3)