Activities that explore other cultures and integrate
language arts and science
By Kama Einhorn and Dana Truby
Why do chameleons change color? Why is the ocean blue? Children are naturally
curious about the wonders of nature. To feed this interest in the natural
world — as well as inspire great imaginative writing — you
can use pourquoi tales! Pourquoi [por-kwa] means "why" in French.
Pourquoi tales are old legends told to explain why certain events happened.
These tales often start in the past, e.g. A long, long time ago . . .
and end when the explanation is complete. Pourquoi tales are most often
concerned with animals and the natural world. As you begin to read pourquoi
tales together, encourage your students to discover similarities and differences
in the various stories. Keep a large class chart labeled "What We
Discovered About Pourquoi Tales." As you talk about each story, record
the class's new discoveries on your list.
HOW THE LEOPARD GOT ITS SPOTS
Exploring the Tale
A Read-Aloud Retelling
A long, long time ago, Leopard was the plain, solid brown-yellow color
of the desert. He was so plain he was almost invisible against the brown-yellow
desert. When he headed out to hunt, Giraffe and Zebra and the other animals
didn't know which way to jump. To escape Leopard's appetite, Giraffe and
Zebra headed into the great shadowy forest. When Leopard tried to follow
them, he stood out like a bright-yellow sunflower against a dark fence.
He could not hunt at all. Giraffe and Zebra saw yellow Leopard right away,
and ran off deeper into the forest. Leopard had to do something. He asked
his human friend to help him. So the Man carefully dipped his five fingertips
in black ink and painted spots all over Leopard's fur. Now Leopard could
blend into the shadows, and once again he became a great and powerful
Talk with the children about the story of Leopard and his spots. Ask them
to consider the story from Leopard's point of view and from Zebra's. Is
it good that Leopard was able to get his spots and hunt again? As part of
their exploration of the story, take a vote to decide whether leopard should
have gotten his spots. Your class might want to try dramatizing the story.
WHY THE SUN AND THE MOON LIVE IN THE SKY
After you've enjoyed "How the Leopard Got Its Spots," try this
counting-by-fives activity. In the fable, a human paints spots on the
leopard using his five fingertips held closely together. Give each child
two sheets of yellow construction paper. One piece serves as the body
of the leopard. The children use the second sheet to draw and cut out
the head and legs. After they paste their leopard together, ask students
to dip the tips of their fingers and thumb in brown paint to print 100
spots on their leopards. When the leopards are finished, count their spots
by fives and by tens up to one hundred!
A Read-Aloud Retelling
A long time ago, when the world was new, the Sun married the Moon and they
lived happy as can be in a little cottage near the Ocean. One day, Sun and
Moon invited Ocean over to their house for a visit. Ocean liked it so much
he wanted to stay. Sun and Moon liked Ocean, and hoped the cottage would
be big enough for all three of them. So Sun and Moon invited Ocean to stay
with them. In came Ocean with all his friends: the whales, the fish, the
porpoises, and all the creatures that live in the sea. The water rose higher
and higher in the cottage. Soon there was no more room for Sun and Moon,
so they rose up into the sky where they have lived ever since!
THE SUN AND THE MOON LIVE IN THE SKY
Exploring the Tale
(A Zuni Legend of New Mexico)
A Read-Aloud Retelling
A long time ago, there was no day. It was always dark and always summer.
This was because the Kachina, a very powerful people, had stolen the Sun
and the Moon and locked them away in a box. In the dim light, Coyote and
Eagle, two friends, wandered the desert. Coyote and Eagle had always hunted
together, but Coyote could not hunt anymore because he could not see at
night. Coyote suggested that they go to find the Sun and Moon and make
them light up the world. Eagle was worried. He reminded Coyote that the
Sun and Moon were very strong, and it was dangerous to try to trick them.
In the end, Eagle agreed to help Coyote. While the Kachina were sleeping,
Coyote and Eagle crept into their village, stole the Sun and Moon, and
headed into the hills. Coyote told Eagle that he wanted to open the box
containing the Sun and the Moon. Eagle said no. They must wait until after
their travels and open it with their eyes closed. Coyote grumbled. He
couldn't wait to see what was in that box. Finally he grew so curious
that he threw it open. The light of the Sun was so bright it blinded Coyote's
eyes. The Sun and Moon laughed and flew far away, up into the sky where
they are today.
Talk with the children about these two tales of the origin of the sun and
moon. How are they different? Do the children like one explanation better
than the other? In the Nigerian tale, Sun and Moon are forced up into the
sky. Why does this happen? Is it fair? Ask the children to think about the
character of Ocean in this story. How is he like the real ocean? In the
Zuni tale, the Sun and Moon are stolen and Coyote decides to steal them
back. Talk to the children about the meaning of this story: Why did Coyote
do what he did? Was Coyote right? Encourage the children to argue both sides.
Finally, use this story as a writing prompt. Ask the children to write about
night. What would the world be like if one morning the sun forgot to rise?
Sun, Moon, and Ocean Poems
As you read these tales, it's a good time to work on imaginative language.
Ask the children to write poems that describe the sun, the ocean, or another
natural feature of the Earth. Begin with the stories. What descriptive
words can students find? Adjectives that might describe the Sun in the
Nigerian tale are generous and happy. Other "Sun-ny"
adjectives are fiery and enormous. Ask each child to
come up with twelve adjectives, and then choose the best six for his or
Learning About the Sun and Moon
Gather children in a circle and invite several children to act out each
of the sun and moon fables. Then, help the class to understand the scientific
knowledge we have about the Sun and Earth. Here's an easy way to demonstrate
the relationship between two. Stick a sharpened pencil into an orange
to make a simple model "Earth." Ask a child to act as the Earth
and hold it lollipop-style. Put a lamp without its shade in the middle
of the circle. This represents the Sun. Explain to children that both
the Sun and Earth rotate on their own axes, and the Earth revolves around
the Sun. With the room darkened, have the child holding the Earth model
circle the lamp, while slowly turning the pencil holding the orange. The
children will see the way the light and shadow fall upon the model, simulating
night and day.
WHY MOSQUITOES BUZZ IN PEOPLE'S EARS
A Read-Aloud Retelling
A long, long time ago, Mosquitoes didn't buzz, they talked. And talked
and talked and talked. One day, Mosquito was talking to Iguana, telling
him about his vacation, about every minute of his vacation. Mosquito would
not let Iguana say one word. Iguana was so annoyed that he walked away,
leaving Mosquito still talking. Iguana grumbled and waved her tail. She
was still grumbling when she passed her friend Snake, and forgot all about
saying hello. Snake's feelings were hurt. He felt so sad that he slithered
down a rabbit hole. "Help," yelled Rabbit as she scurried out
of the hole, terrified of Snake. "What's wrong?" cawed Crow
as he saw Rabbit racing. Danger must be near. "Run for your lives!"
cawed Crow. Monkey heard Crow's warning and took off through the treetops,
leaping branch to branch. When monkey landed on Owl's branch, high up
in a leafy tree, Owl's nest tipped off the branch and fell to the ground,
breaking Owl's eggs. Owl was heartbroken, so much that she didn't hoot
for the sun to come up. The whole jungle was in darkness. Everyone was
mad at Mosquito. Finally Owl hooted for the sun to come up and when it
did, Mosquito lost his voice. All he could do was buzz in everyone's ears:
"Zzzzzz! Is everyone still mad at me?"
Exploring the Tale
Brainstorm with the children about the mosquito who talked too much. Ask:
Is Mosquito to blame for everything that happened? Did he deserve to be
punished? This is a good story with which to explore cause and effect,
action and consequence. Next, encourage children to explore their own
feelings. If only one person is talking, is it a conversation? Why is
it important to listen? Then ask: How would they feel if someone broke
something of theirs, as Monkey broke Owl's eggs? What if it was an accident?
After your discussion, ask the children to write short letters from the
characters: For example, Iguana could write a friendly letter to Snake.
And Then What Happened?
In Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, one thing after another
goes wrong in the jungle! On large index cards, have children illustrate
each event, and write a sentence summarizing the picture. Then mix up
the cards and have children try to put them back in order. The children
will enjoy the mixed-up story and learn important sequencing skills as
they reorder the events.
Mosquitoes and Iguanas
Use this fable as an opportunity to explore the difference between fact
and fiction. Learn the facts about mosquitoes iguanas, owls, and the other
animals mentioned in the story. In small groups, have your students record
the creature's factual characteristics and those according to the fable.
Write Your Own Animal Pourquoi Tales
Encourage your students to learn about the animal world by writing their
own pourquoi tales. After reading a series of pourquoi tales with your
class, talk about the many elements they contain. Ask your student to
choose animals for their stories that arouse their curiosity, from alligators
to yaks. Encourage them to learn about their animals using the Internet
and the library. Next, have children start to write using a story frame:
Begin with "Long ago...," and end with "...and that's why
(example: the whale has a spout!)" When the stories are finished,
have the children illustrate them and bind them into a book titled "The
World According to (name of teacher)'s Class."
Kama Einhorn is the author of several professional
books for teachers, including Cursive
Writing Practice Pages With a Twist (Scholastic Inc., 2002). Dana
Truby is the senior editor of Instructor. This article was originally
published in the April 2001 issue.