In cultures around the world and throughout history, stories pass on traditions and wisdom from one generation to the next. Every society has narratives—myths and folktales, as well as accounts of historical events and actual people. Telling stories heightens cultural knowledge and awareness of heritage as well as literacy skills.
Start with the stories of the children and families you serve by asking young people to retell the folktales, fables, and other stories they know and help them to search for narratives from their own backgrounds. To find out more, have them talk to their siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, guardians, and friends to learn where the stories came from and what cultures they represent. Mark the locations where these stories take place, as well as the different places where they are told, on a wall map and compare common themes across cultures. You will be laying the foundation for cross-cultural understanding while building literacy skills.
Oral histories of lived experiences are another type of story, and youth research projects can use local communities as a source of global knowledge. Help young people conduct interviews with children and adults in the community about life experiences and cultural traditions. Encourage them to reflect on the similarities and differences between the people they interviewed and their own lives.
As a culminating project, you can have participants produce a collection of favorite stories to share with families and friends. At Hamilton International Middle School in Seattle, a partnership with the non-profit writing center 826 Seattle enables students to self-publish books with their own stories and photos that reflect the diversity of their backgrounds and cultures.
Write Across Cultures
Writing and creating with an international focus brings out new talents and builds an array of 21st century skills. Whether young people are exploring a particular country, region, or global issue, they can produce essays, posters, newsletters, and research reports that convey to their peers, families, and communities what they learned. Involve writing teachers, professional writers and journalists, and communications experts to help young people get their message across. Make writing part of all your global projects with some of the following ideas.
Poetry workshops can introduce writing from many cultures while allowing for great variation in literacy levels within the program. Study poetry genres across cultures and time periods, such as rubai from Persia, haiku from Japan, or ghazals from the Middle East and South Asia, and give young people the chance to express their own culture in poetic form.
Connect young writers on social networking websites. The My Hero Project is an archive of hero stories written by people around the world. Have participants comment on blogs of young people from other countries. Figment.com is for young people to upload (via computer or mobile phone) short- and long-form fiction.
Use youth-produced stories to make firsthand connections to other heritages and cultures and hook participants into reading. Youth Communication has a database of stories written by youth for youth, including published anthologies such as Growing Up Asian and Growing Up Latino, as well as an afterschool curriculum called Real Stories developed in collaboration with Development Without Limits.
Mount a news team to present international news and events to their peers on a weekly basis. News articles can examine the local impact of a global issue or vice versa. Look at the websites of Y-Press Youth News Network in Indianapolis, Children’s PressLine in New York, and iEARN’s PEARL World Youth News Service for strong examples of the range of reporting young people can produce.
You can engage young people in presenting their findings through writing, even when they are drawing comics. The Comic Book Project, helps children design their own path to literacy by writing, designing, and publishing original comic books. Children write and draw about their personal experiences, interests, and current events, and in the process they embrace international culture, arts, and media. Introduce youth to the growing number of compelling graphic novels about or set in other countries, such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Then have students create their own comics using literacy as well as artistic skills.