Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media
Intro Lesson 1 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Activities
Tell Me a Folktale
- To evaluate students knowledge of folktales and facilitate discussion of folktale characteristics
- To provide students with a list of Appalachian values in order to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the people
- To provide students the opportunity to evaluate several folktales in light of their characteristics and Appalachian values
- To enhance critical thinking skills as students analyze and compare several versions of an Appalachian folktale
- To focus on the writing process as students develop their own comparison paper
Notes to the Teacher:
This lesson will probably take three days to complete.
During the Roosevelt administration, Richard Chase was employed, along with other writers, in the Federal Writers' Project. He collected stories from oral interviews taken from members of the Council Harmon family of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and from three families in Wise County, Virginia. Chases versions of the tales are collations of these collected oral tales.
Pages in AppLit that are relevant to this lesson (see also Complete List of AppLit pages on Folklore):
- Article: Wonder Tales in Appalachia by Grace Toney Edwards
- Article: Oral Traditions and Modern Adaptations: Survey of Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Background Resources on Appalachian Folktales and Storytelling by Tina L. Hanlon
- Bibliographies: Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature and Collections by Tina L. Hanlon and others
- Study Guides: Activities for Teaching Appalachian Folktales and Dramatizations by the Jack Tale Players by Tina L. Hanlon and R. Rex Stephenson
- Study Guides: Guidelines for Teaching with Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, Fables, Ballads, and Other Short Works of Folklore by Tina L. Hanlon
- Links: Folklore
The following books are excellent resources for teachers:
Chase, Richard. Grandfather Tales. Illus. Berkeley Williams, Jr. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1948.
Chase, Richard. The Jack Tales. Illus. Berkeley Williams, Jr. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.
Higgs, Robert J., Ambrose Manning, and Jim Wayne Miller, eds. Appalachia Inside Out: Conflict and Change. 2 vols. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1995.
The following article provides several folktales transcribed as they were told:
Perdue, Charles. "Old Jack and the New Deal." Appalachian Journal (Winter 1987): 108-152.
AppLit's Fiction and Poems section also reprints tales transcribed directly from the oral tradition.
Teachers can also find a great deal of information on the Internet. "A Uniquely American Hero: Jack and His Place in the Folktale Tradition" by Susan Tillotson Light offers an interesting survey of folktales and Jack Tales in general. It also provides a list of works cited and works consulted.
1. Prepare the board ahead of time with the following heading: What is a Folktale? All information should remain on the board until the end of the lesson.
2. Ask students to provide a definition for the term folktale. Enlist the aid of a willing student to write the responses on the board.
3. Conduct an open discussion of the definitions supplied by students. Encourage students to reveal their sources.
4. Provide students with the following definition:
- Folktale: story from the oral tradition, handed down, becoming a story of cumulative authorship
5. Discuss/Explain the three aspects of the above definition.
- Stories that are told rather than read
- Passed from generation to generation
- As they are passed down, the stories take on characteristics of the time and place in which they are told, as well as the personality of the person telling the tale
6. Prepare and Distribute Handout 1 "Characteristics of Folktales" using the information provided below. You should place the characteristics to the left of the page and divide the remaining page into two columns (a total of three columns) so that there will be room to analyze two tales. Students can write the name of the tale above the second and third columns. Advise students to write notes on the back of the Handout, if necessary, since they will be using this handout with a later assignment. Discuss and provide (or ask for examples of) the characteristics.
CHARACTERISTICS OF FOLKTALES
- Universal and timeless themes
- Speak to our need to understand and make sense of our existence
- About the common person
- Include trickster tales (Note to Teacher: Wicked Jack - or - Wicked John and the Devil is one example—do not provide for students at this time)
- Supernatural elements
- Function to validate certain aspects of culture, conformity, escape from frustrations and repressions as well as geographical and biological limitations, to educate, and to entertain
- Themes such as overcoming difficult situations, rites of passage
- Motifs include series of three events or objects or people, youngest child prevails
Notes to the Teacher:
Explain to students that the following Appalachian Values were identified by Loyal Jones, an insider, in response to similar, though negative, values identified by Jack E. Weller, an outsider. In 1965 Jack E. Weller wrote a book based on his thirteen years as a preacher residing in West Virginia. His book is considered by most Appalachian writers and scholars to be vicious and discriminatory.
Jones, Loyal. "Appalachian Values." Voices From the Hills. Ed. Robert J. Higgs and Ambrose Manning. NY: 1975. 507-517.
Weller, Jack. Yesterday's People: Life in Contemporary Appalachia. Whitesburg, KY: Kentucky UP, 1965.
7. Prepare and Distribute Handout 2 "Appalachian Values" using the information provided below. Or you may simply write these values on the board for students to copy.
- Strong religious beliefs
- Individualism, self-reliance, and pride
- Neighborliness and hospitality
- Strong sense of family
- Personalismto relate well (be tolerant, respectful) with others; not to confront or offend
- Love of place
- Sense of beauty
- Sense of humor
- Strong sense of patriotism
- Strong work ethic
8. Encourage students to provide examples from their own experiences which support or contradict these characteristics. Allow for open discussion of the reason(s) why students believe any of these are or are no longer accurate. Allow students to delete values they no longer believe describe Appalachians and add new values that they feel better describe Appalachians.
- Students may feel that time and progress (much of Appalachia is no longer isolated from the rest of the world in quite the same degree as it has been in the past) has caused many of the values to change or at least lessen in importance.
- Students may feel that many younger people may wish to leave their home state in search of adventure and economic stability, believing that Appalachia no longer supplies either.
Prepare and Distribute Handout 3 "Appalachian Values: Modified" as modified by the class, for use with later assignments. You should place the values to the left of the page and divide the remaining page into two columns (a total of three columns) so that there will be room to analyze two tales. Students can write the name of the tale above the second and third columns.
9. Ask for volunteers to retell a familiar Appalachian folktale. (Limit to two tales.) Ask students before they begin if they read or heard the stories, where, when, etc. If no student can recall an Appalachian folktale, provide two summaries for them. While the stories are being retold, ask students to listen carefully, writing down specific examples of Characteristics of Folktales and Appalachian Values: Modified. (Students should use Handout 1 and Handout 3: Modified for this assignment.)
- Student responses will vary.
10. Ask students to refer to the notes they made on the two folktale summaries. Allow for open discussion and debate by students. Encourage students to supply specific examples from the folktales.
- Answers will vary; however, some students will have more specific responses that will easily fit into the categories.
- Example of Folktale Characteristics: if students indicate that both main characters are poor, or are more like them from an economic standpoint, they would be correct in assuming that the stories are about common people.
- Example of Appalachian Values: if students indicate that the tone of the narration and the description of the land are very positive, they would be correct in assuming that the stories reveal a love of place and a sense of beauty.
11. Direct students to AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales, by Tina Hanlon. Ask students to choose one tale from the list of Jack Tales, click on that tale, and choose at least two variants of the same tale. Be sure they choose from the different written (not oral) versions of Jack Tales rather than the Compare With versions. In addition, exclude from their choices "Jack and the Doctor's Daughter" since this tale will be used in Lesson 4 in film version. For homework, have students read and analyze (using a clean copy of Handout 3: Modified) the two versions of the folktale. Students should be able to locate these tales in their school or local library.
- Student responses will vary.
12. Allow an entire class period for discussion of Handout 3: Modified.
13. Prepare and Distribute Handout 4 "Appalachian Folktale Variants" with the following information. Advise students to follow the writing process. Allow for in-class time for revision and editing.
APPALACHIAN FOLKTALE VARIANTS
Directions: Use Handout 3: Modified and any additional notes you may have.
1. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast one or several aspects of the two folktale versions (Appalachian Values, Use of Humor, or a combination of both). Work in Folktale Characteristics as you judge them to be indicated.
2. Final paper should be typed or word-processed. Include internal citations and Works Cited page.
Write an essay that includes the following:
- The titles, underlined if from a picture book and in quotation marks if from an anthology; author/editor; and illustrator (if applicable)
- A brief summary of the two folktales
- An analysis (comparison/contrast) of the two folktale versions
- Support your answer by incorporating information obtained from your analysis of the folktales. Use specific details and information to support your thesis.
Suggestions for structuring your paper:
- Start with your introduction/thesis paragraph. Begin with an interesting opening sentence that attracts the reader's attention.
- Be sure to include the title of the folktales (underlined or in quotes), the author/editor, and the illustrator (if applicable) somewhere in the first paragraph, possibly prior to summarizing each of the two versions (the next step).
- Then, transition smoothly into brief summaries of the two variants (3-4 sentences for each summary).
- Again, transition into your thesis statement, which will be the last sentence. It is a good idea to formulate a question that you would like to answer, based on Appalachian Values, Use of Humor, or both. The answer to this question then becomes your working thesis.
Body Paragraphs (at least three):
- Each paragraph should support your thesis.
- Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence (controlling idea) which limits the content of the paragraph.
- Primary support sentences answer the questions "how?" and "why?" for each of the topic sentences (they elaborate upon the basic idea put forth in the topic sentence). Secondary sentences give details—examples to explain or clarify the primary sentence.
- The first sentence begins with the specific point of the thesis statement (sums up everything said in the paper in a precise way).
- The second and following sentences should effectively make general statements about the subject.
- OR You can restate your thesis; give your personal opinion, why you enjoyed or did not enjoy each folktale; explain which folktale you would recommend, why or why not, to whom; and offer any suggestions you feel might be relevant to others.
Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media: Intro
Complete list of AppLit pages on Folklore
The Page Created: 11/08/2001
This Page's Last Update: 7/13/05