Celebrating Cultures through Stories

Bringing Students’ Cultures into the Classroom

In traditional homogenous societies, all the children grew up absorbing the same culture.  Life was simple. Today, in big bustling cities throughout the world, school classrooms will more often than not include children coming from other countries.

 

Immigrant children often experience a disconnect between their home culture and school culture and may feel disoriented and anxious because of this. This is especially true when the child does not know the language spoken at school.

When a teacher welcomes a student’s home culture into the classroom, it gives the immigrant child a sense of connection and creates an atmosphere in the classroom and among the students of acceptance and support.

One way to do this is by inviting immigrant parents into the classroom to share their skills and interests.

Another way is through cultural stories.

A French Story Is Born

I was planning to present a story in my friend’s Montessori preschool. As one of her students was a recent immigrant from France, and because at that time the class was studying European geography, it seemed doubly appropriate to bring in a French story.

I did a little research online and found a strange but fascinating French story called Bout-d’canard or Drake’s Tail (a drake is a male duck).  To give the story a French feel, I decided to include some French words.

But…. since I didn’t know a word in French, where did I turn? Google Translate!

Bringing in a Foreign Language

I decided it would be easy enough to learn the story’s main characters in French. And so Duck, Fox, King, Ladder, River and Wasp’s Nest became canardrenard, roi, échelle, rivière, and guêpier.  (Yes, oddly enough, the last three objects in this list had speaking parts.)

My experiment was to use the French words when saying the character names. I was curious to see if the non-French speaking students would eventually be able to retell the story using the French.  I included character picture props to aid their comprehension. So, for example, whenever I showed the picture of the duck, I would say canard rather than duck.

Telling Bout-d’ canard with picture props.

Additionally, two French phrases were used, which I did immediately translate into English while telling the story: On n’a jamais trop d’amis (One can never have too many friends.) and Vive le roi! (Long live the king!), plus a greeting: Bonjour.  (Bonjour was one word I already knew! phew!)

After practicing my French for several days with Google Translate, I contacted a native French speaker – a friend of mine – to help fine tune the phrasings and pronunciation.

More Cultural Connections

Another cultural connection was established by including a traditional French hopscotch game design shaped as an escargot (a large snail) to represent the kingdom of the roi in the story.  We drew this in chalk on the playground.  After one sit-down telling, we dramatized the entire story with several simple sets including this one.

Repetition to Help Teach Language

Children’s stories often include repetitive phrases to anchor children in the story’s language and encourage them to become participants in the storytelling process.

The French story followed this pattern with repetitive phrases such as the canard’s suggestion to each friend he met, “But we have to travel far, so make yourself small, get into my throat and I’ll carry you with me,” as well as rhyming patterns such as, “Off to the roi! To request my money back! Quack! Quack!”

This repetition was perfect support for the many English Language Learners in the classroom.  It provided them with multiple opportunities to hear the pattern and rhythm of English and chime in when they felt ready.

I would also point out that adding French words helped even out the playing field, offering a similar challenge for both the English-only and dual language learners.

Supporting Understanding through Movement and Drama

To enhance the story, I also included movement and dramatization – two universal languages that need no translation. This supported the English language learners even further.  Acting like a duck waddling down the road, for example, is easy for all students.  It allows them to participate on par with fluent English speakers while also aiding their understanding of the story.

The Result

I first told the story to a small group of four 4-year olds that I pulled from the larger class.

“I am from France!”

When I introduced the story as a French tale, the student from France exclaimed with a big smile, “I am French!” He also commended me on my French pronunciation:) That felt pretty good.

Video clip of child responding to French story:

Remarking on the escargot that he saw drawn on the playground he said, “I know what we need to do … because I have that in my house.”

After we finished dramatizing the story together, he asked the other group members, “Who want to be the mom duck? Who, who, want be the mom duck? Who wannbe, who wannbe the mom?”  There was no mom duck in the story, but perhaps he wanted to link the story to his family and further strengthen his feeling of home-school connection.

Several times throughout the day he asked, “Can we do that again?” He also dramatized the story  during his free play while chanting “quack, quack, quack” throughout his enactment. At the end of the day, he again remarked, “That was a good story!”

In fact, the children all responded enthusiastically to the story and revisited the story on their own time – retelling it among themselves and dramatizing it as well.

“Oh! What fun! Take me with you! said renard. Sure! said canard. One can never have too many friends,” retold one student from the French tale.

One child retold the story to her friend who was not part of the group  and used the French words for all the characters while holding up the picture props.  (My experiment was a success!) These two then dramatized it again and again throughout their free-play.

At the end of the day, I gathered the small group of four and we retold the story to the entire class. These four students presented the story as if they owned it – enthusiastically saying the repetitive rhymes and phrases along with the French words – almost verbatim.

It was a fantastic experience all around!

The Story in English & French: Bout 'd canard | Drake's Tail

Once upon a time there was a canard who was very wise. He was also prudent and soon he made a lot of money. In fact, he became so wealthy that the roi himself came to borrow money from him. After loaning money to the roi, the canard waited one year, but didn’t hear back from the roi. So, canard bravely decided that he would go to the roi himself to request his money back.

And so canard set out on his trip, waddle waddle, quack quack, down the road he went shaking his feathers.

Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouette,
Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouera.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it, shake it, everywhere.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it everywhere.

After a short while canard heard a familiar voice:

Bonjour! said renard. Where are you going my friend?

Off to the roi! said canard. To request my money back! Quack! Quack!

Oh! What fun! Take me with you! said renard. Sure! said canard. One can never have too many friends. On n’a jamais trop d’amis. But we have to travel far so make yourself small then get into my throat and I’ll carry you with me.

Ah, yes! said renard. And so renard made himself small and leaped into canard’s throat and settled in.

And so canard set out again on his trip, waddle waddle, quack quack, through the swamp he went, shaking his feathers.

Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouette,
Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouera.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it, shake it, everywhere.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it everywhere.

After a short while canard heard a familiar voice:

Bonjour! said échelle. Where are you going my friend?

Off to the roi! said canard. To request my money back! Quack! Quack!

Take me with you! said échelle. Sure! said canard. One can never have too many friends. On n’a jamais trop d’amis. But we have to travel far so make yourself small then get into my throat and I’ll carry you with me.

Ah, yes! said échelle. And so échelle made herself small and climbed into canard’s throat right next to renard and settled in.

And so canard set out again on his trip, waddle waddle, quack quack, across the bridge he went, shaking his feathers.

Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouette,
Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouera.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it, shake it, everywhere.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it everywhere.

After a short while canard heard a familiar voice.

Bonjour! said rivière. Where are you going my sweetheart?

Off to the roi! said canard. To request my money back! Quack! Quack!

What joy! said rivière. Take me with you! Sure! said canard. One can never have too many friends. On n’a jamais trop d’amis. But we have to travel far so make yourself small then get into my throat and I’ll carry you with me.

Ah, yes! said rivière. And so rivière made herself small and flowed into canard’s throat right next to renard and échelle and settled in.

And so canard set out again on his trip, waddle waddle, quack quack, over the mountain he went, shaking his feathers.

Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouette,
Secouons ci, secouons là, à la secouera.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it, shake it, everywhere.
Shake it here, shake it there, shake it everywhere.

After a short while canard heard a familiar voice.

Bonjour! said guêpier. Where are you going my comrade?

Off to the roi! said canard. To request my money back! Quack! Quack!

What adventure! said guêpier. Take me with you! Sure! said canard. One can never have too many friends. On n’a jamais trop d’amis. But we have to travel far so make yourself small then get into my throat and I’ll carry you with me.

And so guêpier made himself small and buzzed into canard’s throat right next to renard, échelle and rivière and settled in.

And so canard set out again on his trip, waddle waddle, quack quack, across the sea he went, shaking his feathers.

Until he came to the kingdom of the roi and arriving at the palace, he bravely knocked on the palace door. The ministers told the roi that a canard was knocking at the palace door. But the roi was reckless and had spent all of canard’s money and so didn’t want to be bothered with him. Throw him in the chicken coup! said the roi angrily.

And so canard was thrown in with the chickens, and the chickens, hundreds of them, saw that he was different and began to peck at him mercilessly. Canard fortunately remembered his friend and cried, “Renard, renard! My friend so true! Please help me as I helped you!” Renard eagerly jumped out of canard’s throat and pounced on the chickens. Then he dug under the chicken coup to let canard free.

The roi was surprised to see canard again.

Quack! Quack! Give my money back! canard persisted bravely.

Throw him in the well! said the roi now furious.

Down went canard into the cold, dark well. He flapped his wings, but he could not fly out. Canard then remembered his friend and cried, “Échelle, échelle, My friend so true! Please help me as I helped you!” Out came échelle. She grew and grew until canard climbed her out of the well.

The roi was surprised to see canard again.

Quack! Quack! Give my money back! canard insisted bravely.

Now the roi was about to explode. Cook this canard for my supper! he cried.

The soldiers seized canard and put him in a wood-burning oven. As the oven became hot, canard suddenly remembered his sweetheart, and cried, “Rivière, rivière, My friend so true! Please help me as I helped you!” Out flowed rivière, right onto the fire. In fact, Canard swam rivière all the way back to the palace door.

The roi was shocked to see canard again.

Quack! Quack! Give my money back! canard demanded bravely.

But the roi was red with fury. “Get him!” he cried to his soldiers. Their swords drawn they charged, when canard remembered his comrade just in time. “Guêpier, guêpier, friend so true! Sting these soldiers black and blue!” Out came guêpier from canard’s throat. Bees came buzzing and aimed their stingers. Out they all went, the roi, soldiers and all, running helter-skelter, out of the palace, out of the kingdom, never to be seen again.

But poor canard. He looked everywhere for his money and not finding it, he sank into the roi’s throne covering his eyes with his wing despondently.

The people of the kingdom discovered the roi missing. Good riddance, they said. Finding canard on the throne they thought he would make a brave king, and so they put the crown on canard’s head.

And shouted joyfully, Vive le roi! Long live the king!

Many years later, when people asked canard how be became roi, canard would say, “You can never have too many friends! On n’a jamais trop d’amis.

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