Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pourquoi Stories and the Interactive Notebook

I'm home with a sick child (and a sick me) the last few days. It's amazing how dull my brain is when I'm sick. I've been wanting to get this post finished for almost a week. I finally decided that it was never going to be "perfect" and I needed to just let it go, so here it is.

Getting an Interactive Notebook lesson ready for new curriculum is kinda scary, so I wanted to be prepared. One of the literature links in our new social studies curriculum involves the use of pourquoi stories. Some of the suggested readings were familiar to me, while others were not.

Pourquoi Stories Explain the Natural World

I decided to start with the definition of pourquoi stories, as well as some background vocabulary for the students. Pourquoi means "why" in French, which helps explain the meaning of pourquoi. These stories attempt to explain why certain things are the way they are in the natural world.

This pocket would be glued in the Interactive Notebook, with each unit vocabulary word and definition as an item to be placed inside. (That way students could pull them out to study.)



Fortunately, I found this cool video reading of one of the stories, Grandmother Spider Brings (Steals) the Sun. It's read by a member of the Navajo nation, (although my teacher's guide says it is a Cherokee story) and I love that when it comes time for grandmother spider to sing a song, this reader is able to lend her distinctive voice to the task.


The video is ten minutes long, so I decided I would show this right after lunch, then have students fill out the first part of the foldable for their Interactive Notebooks using this story. Here's what the blank page would look like before starting the process.



Pourquoi tales use animal characters to explain why something occurs in the natural world, as well as give the listener guides for correct behavior. We needed to find out what the story was trying to explain. After some class discussion, here's the result I was hoping for: where did the sun, light, and fire come from? Why do opossums have "rat tails?" Why do buzzards have bare heads? and How did the people learn to make pottery?

Next, we needed to find out what lessons for correct behavior the story was trying to teach. Each of the animals who tries to get a piece of the sun has special gifts or abilities. Even after repeated failure the animals do not give up. Even the smallest or most frail among us has the power to do good. If we all work together, we can achieve what may seem impossible at first.

I figured this would be plenty for one day's instruction. I resolved to make finishing the foldable part of centers for the week.

The next pourquoi tale would be one of my all-time favorites. (Since this story does not originate among the tribes of the Southeast, I would not use it in my graphic organizer, but I do want to expose students to various native cultures. Those of you who teach in other states might find this book meets the standards there.)



Raven: a Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest tells the story of the Raven, who feels sorry for the people who must live in darkness, so he travels to the house of the Sky Chief, where he steals the sun. He places the sun in the sky, so that the people may have warmth and light.

This book is beautifully illustrated, showing the foggy coast, mountains, and native dress and housing of the people of the Pacific Northwest. It also makes a terrific read aloud for the whole class. Here's my  favorite illustration, which shows the Raven stealing the sun from the house of the Sky Chief:


In addition to explaining how the sun and light came to light the world, this story also explains why the Raven says, "Caw! Caw!" It tells why the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest always feed the bird (which I did not know before I first read the story), because they are thanking him for delivering light to the world.

The story teaches that through perseverance even a small creature can accomplish mighty acts. Helping others is noble.

The next pourquoi tale for this lesson would be How the Rabbit Stole the Fire. This story is associated with the Creek tribe of the Southeast.



Just as the title suggests, this story explains how the people received warmth and light. It explains why some animals look the way they do. It also explains why the sun rises in the sky every day.

I like how all three of these stories tell the same basic tale, but in different ways. This is evidence that the tribes had contact with each other over time. However, since the raven story does not meet the standards for my state, I needed one more Native American trickster tale. This one is from the Choctaw tribe, also from the Southeast. According to the book's description, all the clothing worn by the animals in the story is based on authentic, traditional clothing of the Choctaw people, so this book was especially interesting to me.


"Chukfi Rabbit is lay-zeee!" is the idea behind the story. The other animals want to build a house, which sounds like far too much work for lazy Chukfi. However, when Chukfi finds out that the animals plan to share a feast including some delicious butter when they have finished their labors, the lazy rabbit devises a plan to skip the work, yet still get the reward of the yummy butter. Of course, he ends up with a huge bellyache!

This story teaches that working together helps the community. Together, we can accomplish great things. Beware of laziness and greed.

Here are examples for each page. I used different colored ink for each story. I also think it's important for students to sketch out a visual for each story. This becomes important as an example for when they design their own stories. Simple thumbnails are fine for this. I've included clipart on my example just to give you an idea of what it can look like.

Example for Front Page

Example for Inside Left Page

Example for Inside Right

Of course, you may need to use different stories in order to meet the standards in your state. There are pourquoi stories from around the world, with many different tales to match your needs.

Finally, students will need to write their own pourquoi stories. To help them get started, I've designed a brainstorming graphic organizer. On it, students will need to write down some ideas of things from the natural world which they could explain in a pourquoi story.



Since many pourquoi stories are also trickster tales, I would encourage students to think of ways the animals could be tricked, or trick others, to accomplish their goals. These graphic organizers will be used to plan students' own pourquoi stories during the writing block. Students will be asked to come up with about six different ideas for natural world items to explain, along with the animals they would use and how the items would be explained. For their final stories they would choose from these to get started.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about pourquoi stories and the Interactive Notebook!  If you are interested in purchasing this lesson, you can find it in my TpT shop here. 

If you're not following me yet, just click on the Bloglovin icon at the upper right of the screen, or on Google Connect, in order to make sure you get all my posts on implementing Interactive Notebooks for social studies. Please leave a comment if this post has been at all interesting or helpful to you! Thanks! Have a wonderful week!

"See" you next time!

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