John Hamm's Teaching Portfolio

American Folkore Learning Center

Unit: Creative Writing with American Folklore

Learning Center: A Fine Hootinanny!


Forget A Tale of Two Cities and Macbeth. Did Hamlet ever lasso a raging cyclone, or skin a bear live with his own teeth? I didn’t think so. American literature is founded on the story telling tradition from the colonial and pioneer periods.

Stories about people like Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, and John Henry continue to inspire us today. They portrayed an American spirit of adventure, courage, and quick wits, during a dangerous and difficult time to live. We may not be pounding rail road spikes like John Henry, but we still identify with his personality of determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

American folklore crosses all cultures and people in this country. From African Americans to Ozark Hillbillies, to American Indians; everyone has a story to tell. These stories are rich in history, culture, and social issues.

The range of stories to draw from is almost endless. Books on American folklore are swelling with tall tales, legends, myths, parables, jokes, and songs. A unit on American folklore offers many opportunities for creative writing, literary criticism, social criticism, adaptation and exploration.

This learning center encourages students to express themselves with poetry, song, illustration, story telling (both written and verbal), and critical writing. In addition, the unit itself incorporates grammar issues, social issues, technology, reading and writing workshops, and a culminating activity based on public speaking.

American folklore is filled with humor and excitement that will engage students in ways that Henry VIII never will. Students can participate in this cultural heritage that is over three hundred years old through this unit.

Learning Center: A Fine Hootinanny

You must earn 40 points to get 100% on the learning center.

You choose how many activities and which ones you want to do.

Please see the rubric for each activity to make sure you have completed it for full credit.

Steer your wagon clear of racial jokes and slurs unless yor a’fixin to go belly up in this here unit!

Any work that has racial jokes, slurs, or any other insensitive material will be returned as incomplete. A second offense will fail the assignment.

Learning Center Activities

Windy Circle – 10pts

Start a possum club or a windy circle with two or more people. A possum club is when people get together to stretch the blanket, spin a yarn, and chop off a whopper.

Give your club a name. Meet a few times a week to tell big windies. Try to tell a different story each time.

Learn to tell your story by heart before the meeting, and use storytelling techniques like tone, pacing, and dialect.

During the final activity, hold a club meeting for the class and tell one of your whoppers.

Each person must submit at least one story in text to me.

For ideas on how to tell whoppers, see Vance Randolph’s book, We Always Lie to Strangers.

Web Quest – 5pts

Find several websites that have lists of words and phrases from different American areas and cultures.

Make a list of 10 words and 10 phrases, including their translations. Then write ten sentences using words or phrases from the list.

Start out with these websites:
(Long list of hillbilly words and phrases)
(Western slang and words)
(Texas Talk)
(Mountain Speech: how to talk hillbilly)
(Missouri slang with example sentences)

Jolly Joes Jugband

Jugband Blues – 10pts

Perform a song related to folklore, gospel, or any other style from this period. Write songs of your own, or learn a classic like Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Perform alone, or create a band with your classmates or friends and play different instruments.

For example: you might use a harmonica, fiddle, guitar, banjo, clay jugs, washboard, and washpail bass. (Search google for ideas…)

Big Rock Candy Mountain and other songs with notation: A Treasury of American Folklore. Edited by B. A. Botkin. Pg. 884.

Other songs: American People. Botkin.

Favorite musicians:
Robert Johnson
Muddy Waters
Johnny Cash
Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Band
Old Crow Medicine Show
Woody Guthrie

Raven by McDermott

For the Chillun’ – 10pts

Adapt (or write) and illustrate a children’s folk story, tall tale, myth, or legend.

Include a brief one page reflection on your choices:

Why did you pick this story?
Does the graphic style represent a culture?
How did you choose to edit grammar?
What did you cut?
What literary techniques did you use?

Three examples of illustrated stories:

Coyote by Gerald McDermott
Raven by Gerald McDermott
Brer Rabbit Stories, retold by Jane Shaw and illustrated by William Blackhouse

Critique Two Stories – 10pts

Choose two versions of a story (like two versions of Brer Rabbit adapted by different authors) and discuss the following questions:

What choices did the authors make?

Is the grammar different?

How is the story line similar or different?

Did anything get lost in the difference?

What literary techniques were used (or not)?

Humor? Suspense? Personification? Irony?

Which one tells the story better, in your opinion?

Did the stories come from different cultures?

One possibility:

Compare Gerald McDermott’s Raven, compared to Cherokee tale, How the Sun Came.

Pecos Bill rides a wildcat and has a rattle snake for a whip!

Spin a Yarn – 10pts

Write a story based on any genre we have covered or that you find in the books at the learning center.

Tell a tall tale, folk tale, trickster story, a whopper, a legend, a creation story, etc.

Include any appropriate vocabulary and phrases that you feel make the story fit the genre.

It would be helpful to do the webquest activity or do research on the style of story, especially if we have not done it in class.

You could also do the character sketch activity to get started.

Your story should be about two pages long.

Write a Ballad – 5pts

Write a short country ballad on a famous person or character, or make one up of your own.

Tell about their accomplishments, adventures, and personality.

Use poetic verse, rhyme schemes, and any other poetry techniques you learned in class.

Read songs from these books first to get an idea of how they are written:

A Treasury of American Folklore. Edited by B. A. Botkin. Pg. 884.

American People. Botkin.

John Henry painting by Palmer Hayden

Big as a Mountain – 5pts

Create a character sketch. A character sketch describes a character you might use in a story. The character can be a man, woman, child, animal, or even a monster.

What unusual characteristics does this person/thing have? What does he look like? What can he do? Feats of strength? Cleverness? Courage? Exaggerations?

This should be at least half a page.

Read tall tales about Pecos Bill, Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, John Henry, and others to see how other people have written character sketches.

Adrien Stoutenburg has great sketches of all these characters in his book, American Tall Tales.


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