Standard Lesson

Pourquoi Stories: Creating Tales to Tell Why

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Six 45- to 60-minute sessions
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Read-alouds of The Story of Lightning and Thunder (a Nigerian tale) and The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale introduce the concept of a pourquoi tale, a folk tale that explains how or why something came to exist. Background information on the Nigerian and Cherokee cultures (assembled by the teacher from the listed websites) sets the stage for discussion of how beliefs and customs might influence the narrative and the moral of a story. The class works together to outline the key elements of pourquoi stories, and students read and analyze an additional story using the Pourquoi Reading Worksheet. Working in cooperative groups, students then use these stories as a framework on which to write their own pourquoi tales. Final production is either a skit or illustrated narration of each group's story.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Being exposed to literature leads to children "borrowing" ideas and incorporating them into their own writing.

  • Children independently borrow elements from a genre and actively use stylistic devices they have read.

  • This literary "borrowing"  is an important stage of children's writing development and is incorporated into this lesson.

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.

State Standards

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.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 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.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 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

  • Computers with Internet access

  • LCD projector (optional)

  • The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross (Dial Books for Young Readers, 1995)

  • The Story of Lightning and Thunder by Ashley Bryan (Athenaeum, 1993)

  • If You Lived With the Cherokee by Peter and Connie Roop (Scholastic, 1998)

  • Nigeria From A-Z by Tamara Orr (Children's Press, 2005)

  • Chart paper and markers

  • Overhead projector and transparencies

  • Art supplies



1. Gather and familiarize yourself with pourquoi stories, including two to read aloud during Sessions 1 and 2 and two for students to read as homework. The Pourquoi Stories Booklist has several books to choose from, including The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross and The Story of Lightning and Thunder by Ashley Bryan, which are used as examples for read-alouds in this lesson. Search for books online by visiting Zuckerman's Barn. (Type pourquoi stories in the box next to Continue Search, and select the grade and challenge levels to see a customized booklist for your students' abilities.) Pourquoi stories are also available at the Cherokee Stories and Native American Lore websites.

2. After identifying two stories to use as read-alouds, gather background information about the cultures from which the stories came. Suggested resources for this lesson include:

For Nigeria

For the Cherokee

Your goals are to give students a general understanding of the culture, language, values, and traditions. You may choose to have copies of books for students to look at or to allow students to explore some of the websites.

3. Divide students into cooperative groups of three to four students each for the writing project.

4. Make a transparency of the Write Your Own Pourquoi Story handout and plan your own pourquoi story to use as a model for students during Session 3 (see the sample for an example). You may choose to use elements from Nigerian or Cherokee culture that you have found during your research. Make a copy of the handout for each group of students.

5. Make a copy of the Pourquoi Writing Rubric, Reflection Sheet, and Guidelines for Presentations for each student in your class. Make two copies for each student of the Pourquoi Reading Worksheet and a transparency to use for modeling purposes.

6. Gather art supplies for students who choose to create an illustrated narrative for their final project.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Recognize the style and elements of pourquoi stories by reading and analyzing them as a class and also independently

  • Extend cultural understanding as they explore the cultural origins and significance of pourquoi stories

  • Apply what they have learned by collaboratively writing a pourquoi story in a group setting

  • Demonstrate oral presentation skills by presenting their group's story to the class

Session 1

1. Introduce The Story of Lightning and Thunder by Ashley Bryan to students by showing them the cover. Tell them that the story in the book comes from Nigeria. Use the Xpeditions Atlas to show them where Nigeria is located in Africa and provide background information about Nigerian culture (see Preparation, Step 2).

2. Read the story aloud to students and discuss how the culture may have influenced the story. Questions for discussion include:

  • What do you think the moral of the story is?

  • Why do you think this moral is important to people in Nigeria?

  • What did you learn about Nigeria from hearing the story?

  • Why do they think this story came into existence?
3. Explain to students that this type of story is called a pourquoi story. Ask them if they have any idea where this name comes from or what it means. Explain that pourquoi is the French word for why, and that these stories explain why certain things in the world are the way they are. Pourquoi stories are usually folk tales that have been handed down for many generations. They often describe something that happened a long time ago as the basis for what we see or hear today.

4. Ask students to help you outline on chart paper some key elements of a pourquoi story, including

  • The story explains why something exists

  • It is often about a natural occurrence

  • The main characters can be animals or humans

  • The story has a distinctive "storytelling" voice

  • The story tells something about the people it came from and what they believe
Visibly post these pourquoi story elements in your classroom for the duration of the lesson.

5. If there is time at the end of this session, allow students to explore some of the materials and information you have assembled about Nigeria.

Session 2

1. Introduce The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross to students by showing them the cover. Tell them that the story in the book comes from the Cherokee people, a Native American tribe. Show them where the Cherokee nation is located in Oklahoma using the Xpeditions Atlas and provide background information about Cherokee culture (see Preparation, Step 2).

2. Read the story aloud to students. When you are finished, use a transparency of the Pourquoi Reading Worksheet to model for students how to fill out the worksheet. Make sure they understand the meanings of the words culture (the beliefs, customs, art, literature, and skills of a group of people that are passed from one generation to another) and moral (the lesson a story teaches). When you come to the last question, ask students to compare this story to the one you read during Session 1.

3. If there is time at the end of this session, allow students to explore some of the materials and information you have assembled about the Cherokee.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 3): Assign one pourquoi story for the class to read as homework. They should fill out the Pourquoi Reading Worksheet when they are finished reading.

Session 3

1. Ask a few volunteers to retell the pourquoi story the class read for homework. Engage the class in a discussion of the story. Can students identify the elements in the story that make it a pourquoi? Use the list you created in Session 1 to guide your discussion.

2. Tell students that they will work in groups to write and present their own original pourquoi stories. Groups have the option of presenting their story in one of two ways: either as a skit or as an illustrated narrative.

3. Divide students into groups. Distribute and review the Pourquoi Writing Rubric to help them understand the project.

4. For inspiration, you may choose to project and read a few pourquoi stories written by a third-grade class. While you are online, you might also read aloud some of the stories you bookmarked from the Cherokee Stories and Native American Lore websites, emphasizing the pourquoi elements within these stories.

5. Distribute the Write Your Own Pourquoi Story handout. Model how to fill out this handout and encourage groups to use this organizer to plan their stories (see sample). Explain to students that they should feel free to borrow from the things they have learned about either Cherokee or Nigerian culture as they write their stories.

6. Conference with each group as students plan their stories. If a group is having trouble choosing one story idea, suggest that they brainstorm a list of ideas and vote for the best one. Circulate to ensure that there is no duplication of final story ideas.

7. Once groups have decided on an idea, have them write a how or why statement to summarize it. They should also brainstorm characters, plot points, and the setting as a group. Again, voting is a great way to make a decision if the group finds itself at an impasse.

Encourage groups to think about a problem or situation that will drive the action of the story. It may also be helpful for students to create a character web or storyboard to plan the details of the story. What drives the main character to act? What happens in the beginning, middle, and end of the story? How does the story affect how we see this thing today? Students will find it beneficial to plan this all out before writing.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 4): Assign another pourquoi story to read and have students complete the Pourquoi Reading Worksheet. Depending on your resources and the abilities of your students, you may choose to assign one story to the entire class again, or allow students to select their own story to read from the collection of pourquoi stories that you have gathered (see Preparation, Step 1).

Session 4

1. Begin this session by engaging students in a class discussion about the pourquoi story or stories that they read for homework.

2. Using the Write Your Own Pourquoi Story transparency you filled out during Session 3, model for students how to turn the notes into a pourquoi story. Be sure to explicitly show how to integrate the pourquoi story elements into the story. If you have chosen to include elements from Cherokee or Nigerian culture, point these out to students.

3. Groups should begin writing their pourquoi stories. You may wish to assign certain tasks to group members (e.g., storyteller, scribe, illustrator).

4. Conference with each group to provide support and editing help as needed. Read each group's story aloud with them and pose some leading questions to the group, such as:

  • Does the story make sense?

  • Does it have a beginning, middle, and end?

  • Does the story have enough information? Too much information?

  • Does it tell how or why something is as it is?

Session 5

1. Distribute the Guidelines for Presentations to students and review it, explaining that students have a choice about the format they will use to present their stories.

2. Have groups continue to edit their stories and plan their presentations. Visit each group to give feedback and support as needed. Help students proofread their final drafts for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

3. By now, groups should have come to a consensus about how they plan to present their pourquoi stories. Provide art materials for those choosing the illustration option, or feedback and prop ideas for those choosing the skit option.

4. Allow students time to prepare and practice their presentations.

Session 6

1. Students should present their stories to the class. At the end of each presentation, ask the audience to share one or two positive things about the presentation. Ask them to identify the how or why of the story. If students have made efforts to include cultural references, ask the class to identify them.

2. When all of the groups have finished their presentations, have students complete the Reflection Sheet.


  • Arrange for groups to perform their skits for other classes and laminate the illustrated stories for the classroom library.

  • Have each student independently write another pourquoi story, either in class or for homework.

  • Help interested students publish their stories online. Stories from the Web and Writer's Area both publish student work, anonymously and free. If you have a webpage devoted to your classroom (similar to the pourquoi stories written by a fourth-grade class), you can also publish the stories there. Don't forget to share the online versions with parents!

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informally assess students’ understanding of pourquoi story elements during class discussions and small-group conferences.

  • Use the Pourquoi Writing Rubric and completed Reflection Sheets to assess students’

    • Understanding of the pourquoi story elements, structure, and style

    • Creativity, style, and execution in the stories

    • Dramatic presentations

    • Cooperative work in groups

  • Collect the Pourquoi Reading Worksheets to make sure that students can identify various pourquoi story elements.

  • Evaluate how well students understand the concept of culture and how it is reflected in these stories during the class discussions in Sessions 1 and 2, by looking at the responses to questions 8 and 9 on the Pourquoi Reading Worksheets, and by checking to see if students incorporated elements of other cultures in their pourquoi stories.