Students become anthropologists in order to explore folktales from their cultures with a focus on language. 


In this study of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, students were encouraged to think of themselves as anthropologists and applied this anthropological lens to their own cultures to anticipate these elements of folklore in Hurston’s novel.

Lesson Highlights:

  • Teacher read aloud a sample folktale, Brer Rabbit and Sis Cow 
  • Students engaged in a whole-class discussion about the definition of folklore and the purpose of vernacular and figurative language in the folktale
  • Students self-selected groups and chose a folktale of their own to transcribe and analyze
  • Students wrote the folktale in language(s) of choice, then translated into English
  • Students created posters of transcribed folktale on a narrative arc
  • Students presented folktale to class and discussed which words or phrases were not able to be translated and why.

The universal design of this project allowed all students to access the content by allowing for self-selection in group makeup, group roles, and folktale.  Multiple modes of learning include oral language when retelling, written language, graphic presentation, and physical presentation in the language(s) of choice.  Reflecting during and after this project, students expressed they were enthusiastic about retelling stories from their childhood and cultures. They were visibly confident in presenting their stories, either in English or Native Language.  Many students were also thoughtful and curious about language use: idioms, metaphors, dialect, vernacular, and translation of these elements. As an anticipatory and context-building activity, it seemed successful in “warming” students to these elements appearing in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Further Reading:

CUNY-NYSIEB – Sunisa (Nisa) Nuonsy

YouTube – Nisa Nuonsy

UDLforTeachers – Invite Students’ Oral Texts from Home

UDLforTeachers – Bridge Content with More Accessible Texts

UDLforTeachers – Support Students in Choosing Groups

UDLforTeachers – Promote Understanding of Idioms

UDLforTeachers – Have Clear Roles for Group Work


Created by Sunisa Nuonsy
Reviewed by Louis Olander


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