Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 2: Oral Tradition

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Small chime, gong, or bell
  • Timepiece (minutes)

Preparation for Activity

  • Think of a story that was told to you that has been important in your life.

Description of Activity

Participants discuss the power of storytelling in their lives and share their own stories.

Tell participants many indigenous religions practice an oral tradition. Suggest that learning from another person is a learning experience different from learning from a book or on online source. Ask participants if they can remember someone teaching them something-for example, how to tie their shoes, use a computer program, or play basketball.

Say, in your own words:

All of us have experienced someone telling us a story that left a strong impression: Maybe a parent once comforted us with a story of their own failure, loss, or disappointment or shared a story about an eccentric aunt that helped us understand her better. Maybe we have heard a grandparent's story about their childhood or a story about an ancestor who died before we were born. Family stories told through the generations can take on an almost mythic quality.

Mythic qualities also appear in many fairy tales and wisdom tales. All cultures have stories with morals that are told generation after generation. It is fascinating that often the same story shows up in many different cultures in different times and places, with slight variations. An example is the story of Cinderalla. Fairy tales, wisdom tales, and fables can transmit values that are important for cultures to retain. Along with family stories, they can help us understand the culture we are part of, and through it, ourselves.

Ask participants to think for a few minutes about stories people have told them that have made a difference in their lives. Allow several minutes. Then, sound a tone to end the reflection time. Ask the youth if they remembered some stories that were important to them and invite volunteers to share with the group. Remind the youth that people's stories are important to them and everyone's stories must be respected.

If no one volunteers, offer to go first. Stand in front of the group and briefly tell the story that influenced you. If participants still are uncomfortable with this level of sharing, ask them to tell a story about the funniest thing that has happened to them.

If participants tell about an event in their own lives, respectfully ask why it was memorable. Did they ever tell other people about it? Why or why not? If they told others, how did it feel to tell the story? Which aspects of the story were important for them to convey?

Also ask:

  • Have you taken a family story that was told to you and repeated it to others in your family? What was that like? Did it make you feel more connected to the story or the family member the story involved? How did your family react?
  • Have you ever told a child a fairy tale or fable? Did you tell it for amusement only, or to teach a moral?
  • One of the basic human needs religions serve is our need for a sense of belonging. How does a religion with a strong oral tradition accomplish this? (The stories you hear connect you not only to the people in the story, but the people who have told and will tell the story. Knowing the stories of a group helps you feel you belong. Sharing the stories gives you a purpose, a responsibility to fill that helps the group thrive and survive.)