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The stories people tell give us an idea about how they lived and what they thought was important. Stories can explain nature or relate memories. Storytelling teaches students that they can learn about history through legends and true accounts. Storytelling also gives students an insight into how some Native Americans related to their world and the realities of a changing culture.


After viewing Storytelling, students will be able to:

  1. Describe how stories reflect a way of life and preserve the history of a people.
  2. Discuss how Native Americans responded to the coming of white settlers and the reasons for their responses.
  3. Explain the reasons for the sadness many Native Americans felt at being moved onto reservations.

Storytelling examines two Native American legends; a true story about the daily life of a Shoshone woman before white people came, as told in her own language; and a true story about a Native Americans first encounter with white people.

The video begins with the host, Phyllis Edmundson, and some friends sitting around a campfire. She describes how Native Americans used storytelling as a way of passing on history and to explain how their world operated. Nez Perce historian Allen Slickpoo relates the story of Coyote and the origin of the various tribes. Shoshone Bannock storyteller Ramona Walema tells the story of the squirrel chief and how he saved her tribe from starvation.

The video moves into real life stories. Josephine Thorpe recounted her life for BSU anthropologist Jon Dayley in 1968. The video presents Thorpe's description in her native Shoshone, followed by Dayley's translation. This gives students a chance to hear the Shoshone language.

Finally, Emaline George tells her grandmother's story of her first encounter with white people. The video describes the conflicts between Native Americans and white people, and how Native Americans were eventually disenfranchised. George tells how her people are working to improve their lives and are trying to reclaim their heritage. The video ends as Phyllis challenges the students to find stories about their past. She also asks them to think about what stories they will give to their children and what those accounts will teach them about Idaho history.


(Before Viewing)

  1. Talk with students about stories that they have read or heard that explain natural events, which may include Greek myths or Indian legends. Ask why people created stories like these and how they are handed down.
  2. Give students some examples of stories from American history. Discuss how and why these stories began and why we repeat them today.
  3. Ask students to relate family stories about things that happened long before they were born. Discuss what those stories mean about the history of their family and how they approached life.
  4. Explain to the students that Native Americans in Idaho created stories which helped them to understand and to live in harmony with the natural world. They also told stories about things that happened in their past to help young people understand and remember. Ask students, while they are watching the video, to see what they can learn about the way these people lived. Then have them see what they can learn about how these people felt about the coming of the white people.

(During Viewing)

  1. Why is it important to learn about these stories?
  2. Do you have a story about your life that you can pass on to your children?

Ancestor- A person from whom one is descended
Anthropology- The study of the development of human beings and their culture
Anthropologist- One who studies human beings and their culture
Culture- The arts, beliefs and customs of a group of people
Dwindle- To become smaller or fewer
Legend- A story passed down through the years
Reservation- Land set aside by the government for Native Americans to live on


(After Viewing)

  1. What role do stories play in history?
  2. Why do you think animals played an important role in the legends of Idaho's Native Americans?
  3. How is the Shoshone language different from English? Why would it be important to hear a story in its original language?
  4. What stories do you know about some part of Idaho history? What stories can you tell about your history?
  5. How did Native American's lives change with the coming of white people? How is the relationship between white people and Native Americans changing today?
  1. Teach students how to tell some Native American stories or legends. (See below)
  2. Make some illustrations for one of the stories told on the video. Have students re tell the story using their pictures to illustrate it.
  3. Make a picture book about one of the stories on the video or a new story.
  4. Have the students ask parents, relatives or friends about their family history. Have them tell a story about something that happened before they were born. Have them tell the story to the class or write a book.
  5. Invite a storyteller into the classroom to tell students more Native American legends.

Tell a Story
Humans are natural storytellers. Ask students what they did that day and you'll hear stories. The key to encouraging students to tell a story is not to suppress their natural impulses. There are ways to channel your students' natural skills to improve their public speaking abilities. Below are suggestions to improve your students' storytelling skills in the areas of content and delivery. They are in no particular order. And don't forget, above all, to make storytelling fun. It is a skill students will use and enjoy the rest of their lives.


  • Use descriptive words.
  • Work with a familiar subject the more you know the material, the easier it will be.
  • Use metaphors.
  • Make sure the characters have "character," make them as real as possible or if they are real, let the audience know who they are.
  • Use feeling words.
  • Try to get the audience to see what you're seeing and feel what you're feeling.
  • Make sure the story has an introduction and a conclusion.
  • Remind the student that how they prepare to tell a story is more important then how they deliver it. If they are prepared, they will tell their story well.


  • Revisualize familiar things in the story.
  • Use gestures, but only if they come naturally. Don't inhibit or force their use.
  • Practice out loud. Practice before a mirror.
  • Tell the story as if you are talking to just one friend. Be sincere, enthusiastic, and convincing. Vary the pitch of your voice. Don't label the feeling of speaking before an audience as "fear." Tell students to think of it as their body's reaction to doing something special. Compare it to the excitement of doing something new or the anticipation of receiving a gift. It is something they can overcome. And remind them that everyone has the same reaction.


Circle of Stories - explore a gallery of stories and learn about the history of Native storytelling.

Native American Storytelling - lesson plan exploring Native American Myths and Legend.