Utah State University Library

Link to Utah State University Home Page.

Folklife & Folk Art Education Resource Guide


Teaching Students about Folklore

Give each student a blank piece of paper. Write the word "folk" on the board. Lead a discussion regarding the meaning of the word "folk." Tell the students that folks are people--all people--living and dead, rich and poor, old and young.

Write "group" on the board. Ask the students to give examples of the groups of people they belong to, such as: family, ethnic (Swiss American, African American, Mexican American, etc.) religious group, age group (school class, sports team, etc.) occupational (paper carrier, babysitter, etc.) regional (westerner, neighborhood/school, etc.)

As you write these groups on the board under the word "group," have the children list the groups they belong to on their paper. Explain that all people belong to groups and that in each group we belong to we learn how to function in that group. For example, our family has rules (such as when and how to be excused from the dinner table, jokes that are appropriate and jokes that are inappropriate) that teach us what we should and shouldn't do in order to be a member of the family. Have the students put the specific folk groups they belong to under one of the six groups listed above. For instance if someone lists neighborhood club as a group they belong to, they would list this group under "age" folk group. (See example below.)

Folk Groups

Family: O'Brien family, Ethnic: Irish American, Age: Hornet Baseball team Family: Begay family, Ethnic: Navajo, Age: Scouts

Write the word "folklore" on the board. Explain to your class that the traditions (like nicknames, hand gestures, special foods, and beliefs) that folk groups create and pass on to their members are folklore. Tell your students that folklore is the everyday traditions of folk groups and that these traditions are passed on by example and by word of mouth, usually in personal, common settings: home, school, church, playground. Give the children some examples of folklore from some of the folk groups that you belong to as well as the folk group the expression comes from, such as your nickname (family), special holiday food tradition (ethnic), special cheer your ball team gives to someone who hits a home run (age).

Now, have the children list examples of the folklore from their folk groups on their paper under the word folklore. (See example below.)

Folk Group

Family: O'Brien family

Folklore : get to choose favorite food for birthday dinner

Ethnic: Irish American

Folklore : every boy's middle name is Sean after great grandpa

Age: Hornet baseball team

Folklore : when the coach scratches his nose the runner on 3rd goes home

Explain to your students that folklore is not the "official" information that they learn, but rather the unofficial information that they share with one another. To impress this point upon your students, lead a discussion with the children on playground games and rules: official games and rules that teachers set and the games and "folk rules" that are set by children. For instance, teachers have structured games, such as soccer, that they teach children to play, with the accompanying "official rules," but children play folk games, like king of the mountain, hop scotch, and jump rope, with accompanying rhymes, chants, and activities for choosing teams which are governed by the folk, in this case children. These folk games do have rules, but they are seldom written in books, rather they are taught orally and passed from older child to younger child. (This may be an interesting time to talk about another childrens' folklore custom: initiation activities, such as pranks, fools errands, nicknaming, teasing, taunts, and dares that older children use to "test" or initiate younger children into the school, neighborhood, and even gang.) In this activity children learn that they are the "tradition bearers" of much folklore and that although they have many rules set for them, they also make and enforce rules themselves.

Now, ask the children to make something out of the paper they have been writing on. After the children are done, discuss the various items the students have made and which folk group they learned to make the object in and from whom. The children will probably make paper airplanes, "cootie catchers" or "fortune tellers," fans, boxes, origami birds, and the like. This exercise helps the children learn that they have folklore and that it is learned informally, from family and friends.

Review the terms folk, folk group, folklore, and traditions.

Additional Activities

Naming Traditions Game

Objective: Help students understand that names can be an expression of their folk groups. NAMES: Lead a discussion on the folklore of naming. Explain to your students that naming patterns are an expression of folklore (family, region, ethnicity, religion). Give a brief overview of your name, how you got it, who named you, if it is associated with your ethnic, religious, regional, or religious folk group. Have each student (who wants to) tell the class where his or her name (or nickname) came from. For example, some families name their children after a deceased loved one, while others give their children names that carry an ethnic identification, and others name their young by local naming patterns, like Peggy Sue or Jim Bob.

NICKNAMES are also an expression of folklore. Ask the students to find out why they were given their name or nickname. Some students will have traditional names that have been passed down from their parents or grandparents. Others may have names that are a result of their parents' folklore or activities they like to do. Ask students to list their nickname and how or why they received it. Students who do not have "nicknames" or do not know the origin of their name may wish to discuss or use names of famous athletes. For example: "Air Jordan," "The Shaq," "The Babe," etc.

Occupational Folklore: CB Handles

Objective: Have students understand that the folk group of truck drivers have created their own language for names. NOTE: As with all folklife education activities, this activity will work best when it is set within a natural context, i.e. when it accompanies an inclass unit on Utah occupations, transportation, etc.

Invite a truck driver to visit your class and share his (or her) commonly used folk expressions. He could share with the students how he was given his "handle" and the terminology (expressions) he uses.

Children's Folklore

Objective: Help students understand that they belong to a folk group of children.

Ask the students to list some of the things they do for fun. How did they learn this activity? Which folk group did it come from? Some ideas for children's folklore discussion include: