American Folklore: A Jigsaw Character Study
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Collaborative groups will read a variety of American tall tales, then report elements of their story to the whole class. Students add story information to a collaborative, whole-class character study matrix that summarizes all the stories. In a writing activity, students compare two characters of their choice. Support for English Language Learners (ELLs) is embedded in the guided collaborative process, while the content of the stories adds to all students' knowledge of American culture and history. The stories used in the lesson include well known and lesser-known diverse characters. The lesson process is applicable to any set of related texts.
Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet: Students use this worksheet within their groups to plan and understand their roles.
Character Study Matrix Sample: This matrix is used as a sample to be reproduced for whole-class discussion and study.
From Theory to Practice
Through her study of traditional folk tales, Robin Mello found that "...the telling of traditional texts in educational environments enriches the linguistic life of students. This enrichment, in turn, can influence classroom discussion and the development of language skills. Stories can also furnish students with a broader cultural lens with which to explore the world. Therefore, educators are encouraged to use stories as models for teaching literacy skills, encouraging critical thinking and reflection, as well as presenting multicultural and equitable perspectives."
In this collaborative group lesson, a modified jigsaw technique is used in a literature lesson in which students compare characters and plot points of folk tales.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- A set of folk tales reflecting diversity in gender and culture, enough stories and copies so that students can work in groups of four, with each group reading a different story
- Large sheet of butcher paper for a character study matrix
- 8 1/2 x 11 white paper
- Writing and drawing materials
This folklore site contains retellings of American folktales, Native American myths and legends, tall tales, weather folklore and ghost stories from each and every one of the 50 United States. You can read about all sorts of famous characters like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Daniel Boone, and many more.
This site includes Tall Tales of many American heroes, as well as comprehension and vocab quizzes on these tales.
- Gather a set of tall tales and/or folk tales that reflect diversity in gender and culture, using the American Tall Tales Annotated Book List or by downloading and printing stories from websites such as the following:
- Prepare the Character Study Matrix: Divide the butcher paper into a matrix with seven horizontal cells and enough vertical cells to include the same number of stories being read, i.e., the number of groups (see Character Study Matrix Sample). Label the columns across the top as follows:
- Title (Left-hand vertical cells, under Story Title, should be labeled with the titles of each story being read. Note: If possible, make the character study matrix large enough so that each cell is the size of a regular sheet of copy paper.)
- Main Character’s Name
- Appearance and Abilities
- Setting - Time and Location
- Relationships with Others
- If necessary, cut unlined white paper to fit cells on the character study matrix, enough sheets to equal the number of cells.
- Create heterogeneous, collaborative student groups with five members in each group.
- Make copies of the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet and Jigsaw Group Self-Assessment Sheet, one copy for each group.
- Bookmark the following interactives:
- read and discuss folk tales, with particular focus on character actions and traits.
- work in collaborative groups to summarize plot points and character traits.
- work in collaborative groups to post story information onto a multi-story character study matrix.
- assess their own participation in the collaborative process.
- Post the prepared character study matrix in view of all students.
- Read aloud a traditional tall tale or folk tale of your choice that will not be read by any of the student groups. To model what students will do in their groups, discuss the story by asking the following questions, referring to the related columns on the Character Study Matrix as you ask the questions:
- Who is the main character?
- What does the main character look like?
- What special abilities does this character have?
- Where does the story take place?
- How does the setting of the story affect the character or his/her actions?
- What other characters are in the story?
- How does the main character relate to other characters?
- What problems does the main character face, and how are those problems resolved?
- How can you compare this character with any other character you’ve read about recently?
- What other comments do you have about this story?
- After the discussion, inform students that they will be working in groups using a special strategy called a Jigsaw, where everyone in the group will read the same story and each person in the group will be responsible for reporting on a different part of the story to the class. Explain that each group will read a different story, and that they will discuss the main character’s actions and accomplishments, then write and post the details of their story on the character study matrix before reporting on their story to the class. Also explain that later, they will compare, in writing, any two characters from any of the stories.
- Discuss with students the Student Self-Assessment Worksheet that will be used to assess their group work on the project.
- Refer to the Character Study Matrix and review the labels. Review with students the story that was read aloud to demonstrate what students will be asked to discuss about the stories they will read in their groups. Inform students that they will be filling in the character study matrix as a class after they discuss their stories in their groups.
- Explain the Jigsaw strategy: everyone in each group will read the same story and each person in the group will be responsible for reviewing with the group and then reporting to the class on one element of the story. Refer to the character study matrix to remind students of the story elements they will be asked to report on:
- Show students a sample of the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet. Explain that each group will fill out one of these with everyone’s name according to which part of the story for which that person will be responsible. Point out to students that the labels on the character study matrix correspond with the discussion topics:
- Main character
- Supporting characters
- Main plot points
- Problem and solution
- Assign students to collaborative Jigsaw groups. Hand out the books or copies of the stories each group is to read, and one copy of the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet for each group. Remind students that each of them will report on one element of the story, and that they will record on the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet who will be responsible for reporting on each part of the story.
- Give students time to read and discuss the stories in their groups, using the questions on the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet. Groups should be given the responsibility for deciding how they will read the story (i.e., independently, orally, round-robin, etc.). As they read, circulate among the groups to ask and answer questions about the stories and assist students as needed.
- Students who finish reading first should be asked to refer to the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet to individually review the story until all are finished. When all reading is finished, refer all groups the character study matrix and ask them to make sure they have covered all aspects of the story in their discussions.
- Have student groups turn in their completed Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheets. Tell students that during the next session they will be filling in the character study matrix.
- Students will create one collaborative, whole-class Character Study Matrix with written information about the stories they read in their groups. Review the labels on the Character Study Matrix and remind students how they correspond with the topics they discussed in their groups. Tell students they can discuss and decide what to write as a group, and then each person will be responsible for writing about the part of the story they are signed up for on their discussion worksheet.
- Have students get back into their Jigsaw groups. Hand back the Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheets and distribute blank white copy paper (or the specially-cut paper) to students.
- Give students enough time to review and discuss their stories, do the writing, and glue their papers onto the character study matrix. Invite students to include drawings with their writing, as long as all information fits on one side of one sheet of the white paper. Have students write large enough so that their writings can be viewed from a distance. Model the size of the writing needed, if necessary, and allow the use of colored markers for the writing. Additionally, suggest that students can include drawings to help relay information.
- When the Character Study Matrix is complete, quickly review each story and make sure all groups agree that their information is complete.
- Each group will tell the class about the story they read. Remind students that each group read a different story, so they will need to include enough details so that the rest of the class will learn about their main character and what happened in the story they read. Refer to the Character Study Matrix and point out that it can be used for reference.
- Explain to students that they will be reporting to the class as a group, and that each person in the group will tell the class about the part of the story they signed up for on their Jigsaw Group Discussion Worksheet.
- Have students get into their groups and give them a little time to plan what they are going to say in their report to the class.
- Have each group tell the class about the story they read. They should include all elements on the character study matrix and any other interesting information they would like to share. As each group shares, invite the class to ask questions about the stories.
- Upon finishing the group presentations, have students write down and share with a partner the most important detail they remember from each story that was presented. As students share this information with their partners, walk around the room to check for understanding and comprehension.
- Students will choose any two characters from the Character Study Matrix and write a paragraph or essay about the characters, including both similarities and differences between the two chosen characters. Students can choose the main character in the story they read to compare with another main character, or any two main characters from other stories. Length and complexity of the paragraphs or essays will depend on grade level as well as student ability. For examples, some students might write a paragraph, while other students might write a longer essay with more details.
- Review the matrix and ask students if there is any information they think needs to be added about their stories. If there are additions, write them into the appropriate cells.
- Explain to students that they are to compare and contrast two characters using as much detail as possible and that they will draw an illustration to go along with their writing.
- To aid them in comparing, contrasting, and organizing their writing, students may choose from two interactives and a printout to assist them:
- The Two-Circle Venn Diagram interactive can be used for sorting and categorizing information about the characters, using the character study matrix as a reference.
- The ReadWriteThink Compare and Contrast Map interactive can be used for organizing character information.
- Students may want to use the Essay Map printout to help them organize their writing.
- Before students begin, take time to introduce and explain both interactive tools and the Essay Map printout.
- If there are enough computers in the classroom and time allows, this session can be done by individuals. Alternately, groups of students can work together. If students will be working in groups, have them meet to decide which tool/printout they would like to use.
- After students or groups have completed their sorting and/or comparison work, have them print out their results. For those working in groups, make enough copies of the charts so that each student will have one.
- Give students ample writing time to complete their character comparison. As they complete their writing, have them do a color illustration that supplements their writing. Students may share their writing with a partner before turning it in.
- Reintroduce and explain the Student Self-Assessment Worksheet and give time for students to complete it to assess their group work on the project. For the open-ended response, make sure students understand that they should be specific regarding their contributions to the group. If necessary, brainstorm some possibilities with the class.
- Debrief with the entire class using a T-Chart to identify what worked and what did not work for them in the Jigsaw process so that they may use the ideas generated for the next time they do a Jigsaw project.
- The Character Trading Cards tool will be offered as one option for extending the lesson. These could be used for a bulletin board display, or students might use them as references for their paragraphs or essays.
- The Character Map printout and/or Story Map interactive can be used to delve deeper into character traits or one of the folk tales.
- Have a collection of additional Folk Tales or Tall Tales for students to read during independent reading times.
- Create a Tall Tales bulletin board of character studies using selected student illustrations and writings.
- Have students write and illustrate their own Tall Tales and share their writings with the class. Compile the stories into a class book.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Student Self-Assessment: Introduce and explain the Student Self-Assessment Worksheet and give time for students to complete it. For the open-ended response, make sure students understand that they should be specific regarding their contributions to the group. If necessary, brainstorm some possibilities with the class.
- Unit Portfolio: Have students compile all appropriate and related records for the process, including their self-assessment worksheet, any notes they may have, printouts of their Venn Diagram or Compare and Contrast Map, and their comparison writing. Use these packets to assess individual students’ work.
- Student Work Assessment: Review each group’s contributions to the Character Study Matrix, focusing on organization, specific details, and clarity.
- Whole Class Assessment Discussion: Debrief with the entire class using a T-Chart to identify what worked and what did not work for them in the Jigsaw process.