A Chapter Book Writing Lesson from WritingFix & HistoryFix
Focus Trait: VOICE Support Trait: IDEA DEVELOPMENT

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Students: Publish your writing to this prompt on-line

Teachers: Discuss how you used this lesson on-line


This Lesson's Title:

Native American Oral Storytelling

borrowing the voice of
's storyteller to re-tell
a different story

This lesson was built for WritingFix after being proposed by NNWP Teacher Consultant
Bernice Servilican
at an
AT&T-sponsored in-service class for teachers.

The intended "mentor text" to be used when teaching this on-line lesson is the chapter book Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria. Before writing, students should listen to and discuss the writing style of this book's author, especially from chapter 6 of this novel.

Check out Waterlily at Amazon.com.

If you are a Washoe County teacher, click here to search for this book at the county library.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step…before sharing the published model: Begin this lesson by discussing the importance of stories and story-telling to the Native America people. There are countless books and internet resources explaining how Native American storytelling was a form of entertainment, much like playing a video game or watching television is today.

If you have the ability to view videos from You-Tube on the computer you're working on, you will be able to see/watch the video below called "Coyote Steals Fire." If you cannot see the video in the space below, try visiting this off-site link to view it.


Show this video to students. Then have them read this version of the story, and talk about the two versions of the same story. How are they alike? How are they different? You might need to re-show the video after reading the story to get a really strong comparison/contrast discussion going.

Talk about how all storytellers (be their medium written, oral, or video) brings something unique to the story they are telling. The story's basic plot always stays the same, and its the unique way that each storyteller tells the story that makes storytelling an artform.

Step one (sharing from the published model):    Lead into the writing activity by explaining that during the winter, the Dakota Native Americans stayed in their campsites, playing games such as bowling on the ice, the moccasin guessing game, toss-and-catch with deer hooves, and the plum pit game. But one of their most cherished activities involved the art of storytelling.

No one was more proficient at this art than Woyaka (translation: He Tells), the storyteller from the story Waterlily, by Ella Cara Deloria. He traveled from camp to camp of the Sioux bands in the winter, sharing his stories. When he arrived at the Dakota camp, the children and adults treated him with utmost respect and adoration; after all, he was an exceptional talent at this art of storytelling. Children were encouraged to sit at his feet and listen with respect.

Read the excerpt from the book Waterlily, chapter 6 (pp. 49-51 of our copy) where Woyaka, a gifted storyteller, comes to the camp circle to share stories with the people. He is showered with gifts. The Dakotas value his time with them as he is in demand among the various bands of the Sioux people for his storytelling skill. He learned at a young age that "speech was not intended to be set free only to be wasted." In this excerpt, he tells them how he came to be the storyteller. Talk about what makes his voice unique in this passage.

Then skip to pp. 54-56 where Woyaka tells the story of how the people caught the buffalo. Notice how Woyaka develops the story of the buffalo. Notice how he explains what the people's predicament was, and how they called upon another to come and help them. Most importantly, notice what high regard the people had for the buffalo after they had only what they needed; it was not a slaughter for hides, but a kill for survival of their people.

Tell students they will be preparing an oral-telling of story based on the Native American experience. When they tell--and ultimately write--these stories, they will need to capture the voice of Woyaka with their words.

Step two (introducing student models of writing):  In small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups should certainly talk about the idea development, since that's the focus of this lesson, but you might also have your students talk about the voice in the writing too.

  • We're looking for both written and orally shared student samples for all grade levels for this prompt!  Help us get some, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Contact us at publish@writingfix.com for details.

Step three (thinking, talking and pre-writing): After hearing the two excerpts from Waterlily, students will need to choose a Native American story to use for this assignment. Pressing the interactive button on the Student Instructions Page will give your students ideas for the unique story-telling topics they can use; these story ideas all come from the novel Waterlily, based on the Dakota people. For this assignment, you might also choose to have students re-tell a story from other Native American cultures that you are studying. If you're looking for a book of easy-to-read Native American stories that students can easily learn and re-tell for this assignment, we might suggest Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.

Have students pre-write, using this graphic organizer. Have students think not only of the most important details to include in their oral tellings but to write them down in a way they think Woyaka would say it. With a graphic organizer filled out, students can pair up and practice telling each other their stories, using the organizer like an index card with notes on it.

Pair students up with others several times, challenging students to make their stories more detailed and more unique with each telling. Challenge them to keep elements of Woyaka's voice alive in their oral tellings but allow them to begin inserting their own voice into the re-tellings as well.

When students are ready to begin writing down their oral stories in a rough draft, you might use this Drafting Sheet with a Voice Checklist, which is designed to make them think about the focus trait before, during, and after composing.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to rough draft writing, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing for the portfolio):   When they are finished revising and have second drafts, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block.  Their stories might become a longer story, a more detailed piece, or the beginning of a series of pieces about the story they started here.  Students will probably enjoy creating an illustration for this story as they get ready to publish it for their portfolios.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at publish@writingfix.com if you have questions about getting your students published.


Learn more about anthropologist and author Ella Cara Deloria by clicking here.

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