Proverbs: At Home and around the World
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Proverbs in one culture are frequently similar to proverbs expressed in other cultures. For instance, the French "Qui vole un oeuf vole un boeuf" translates to "He who steals eggs steals cattle," but your students will likely be more familiar with the American proverb "Give him an inch and he'll take a mile." In this lesson, students work with proverbs from home and from around the world, exploring how these maxims are tied to a culture's values and everyday experience. Students first discuss how proverbs convey cultural knowledge and values, as well as how proverbs from other cultures are similar to and different from American proverbs. Next, students share family proverbs and explain their significance. Finally, they select one or two proverbs and use art materials, PowerPoint, or a word processor to create mini-posters that reflect the culture from which the proverbs originated.
From Theory to Practice
Cruz and Duff argue that working with proverbs in the classroom can improve students' learning experiences, their language skills, and their understanding of themselves and the world. Among several advantages they mention, they maintain that working with proverbs "acknowledges the learner as an expert...(and) lightheartedly and often humorously exposes common beliefs and traditions among a diverse set of learners," "encourages respect for oneself, for each other, and for shared values of the community," "provides learners with the opportunity for insight," "creates the transition from home culture to school culture," and "enriches thinking and writing skills."
This lesson gives students the opportunity to use proverbs as a vehicle for exploring other cultures, their values, and their experiences, while making comparisons to their own family and cultural identities.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 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).
- While this lesson can stand alone, it is designed as the second of three lessons on proverbs. If your class hasn’t worked with proverbs before now, you may wish to begin with, adapt, or refer to “Proverbs: An Introduction” to help introduce proverbs.
- Print out the Proverb Definitions handout if you want a quick reference guide to proverbs and their cultural significance.
- Print out one copy of the Proverb Handout for each student.
- Print out one copy of the Proverbs from around the World handout for each student.
- learn about proverbs, how they work, and their cultural significance.
- share, study, and interpret proverbs from around the world.
- use the Internet to find proverbs.
- find a proverb that rings true for them and explain its significance.
Session One: Exploring Proverbs from around the World
- Explain to students or remind them what proverbs are and discuss the ideas that different cultures have different proverbs, that proverbs convey cultural knowledge and cultural values, and that proverbs will sometimes assume a familiarity with a culture the students may not know. (Refer to the Proverb Definitions handout if needed.)
- Distribute the Proverbs from around the World handout and read through it as a class, making sure everyone is familiar with the words in the proverbs. (They don’t need to understand what the proverb means at this point, just the words.)
- Break the class up into groups and ask each group to work through the proverbs, trying to decide what they mean and when they might be used. You might also ask them if they can think of an American proverb that has the same or similar meaning or that would be used in the same context.
- As a class, discuss the proverbs. Ask them how the proverbs are similar to common American proverbs and how they are different. What proverbs were difficult to decipher? What made them difficult?
- Distribute the Family Proverb handout, explain the instructions, and ask students to collect some family proverbs for homework.
Sessions Two and Three: Exploring Proverbs and Home Cultures
- Ask students to share their family proverbs and explain the significance of those proverbs.
- Discuss the proverbs in terms of culture. Do students from similar cultural backgrounds have similar proverbs? Do students of widely different backgrounds have widely different proverbs (say, for instance African and East Asian)? What similarities are there between proverbs from different cultures?
- Ask the students to use the Websites listed in the Resources section to search proverbs from their cultural background. Proverbs by Country of Origin and CogWeb’s Proverb Resources are good sites to use.
- Have each student select one or two proverbs, making sure to note its cultural origins.
- Using arts and crafts materials, PowerPoint, or a word processor, have students create one or more mini-posters reflecting their cultural background. Each mini-poster should have the proverb and indicate which culture it is from.
- Have the students share their mini-posters with the class. Encourage them to discuss similarities and differences between proverbs and proverbs as reflections of culture. If possible, display the mini-posters in the classroom.
- This lesson can be followed up with the ReadWriteThink lesson “Proverbs: Contemporary Proverbs.”
- Exploring Family Proverbs: Have each student choose one of their family proverbs or a proverb they found on the Web and write an essay about an occasion in which that proverb rang true or, alternatively, write a fable which illustrates the proverb.
- Proverbs in Literature: As you explore literature from different cultures, ask your students to keep an eye out for proverbs. When you find them, discuss their significance to the text and the culture in which it is set.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Observe the students as they present and discuss their proverbs. Are they interested and engaged with the discussion? Do their comments demonstrate a growing understanding of the material?
- Observe the students’ thinking and involvement as they work in groups to discuss the proverbs. Are they interested and engaged? Are they making contributions? Working together to help each other learn?
Sessions Two and Three
- Collect the Family Proverbs worksheet and check for completeness. Has the student gathered proverbs and explained their significance?
- Observe the students as they use the Web to search for proverbs. How comfortable do they seem with navigating the sites and finding proverbs related to their cultural background?
- Observe the students as they present on their family proverb. Are they able to explain the meaning of the proverb and its significance to their family? Pay particular attention to their ability to present information orally.
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