Resources

For Teachers, Folklorists, Academics, and Beyond

Folk arts contribute not only to students’ understanding of cultural traditions but also to their ability to think critically, gather and analyze evidence, and express their ideas and interpretations through personal creativity. Folklife and the tools of the folklorist can support learning in all subjects, including the arts. Folk arts are uniquely suited to explore the ways in which traditional art forms reflect the history, culture, geography, and values of different cultures and communities.

Everyone has folk traditions — expressive customs practiced within a group and passed along by word of mouth, imitation, and observation. Calling on the work of folklorists and the field of folklore in the classroom educates, motivates, engages, and fosters the creative expression of students and powerfully links them to their communities. Integrating the study of folk arts into existing curricula awakens self-awareness in students of their own roles as tradition bearers, their families as repositories of traditional culture and history, and their communities as unique resources.

(Text above adapted from: Local Learning: A Folk Arts Integration Handbook)

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Learning Activity and Lesson Plans

Learning with Cemetery Secrets

Cemeteries may seem unlikely fieldtrip destinations, yet they offer intriguing clues about history and local culture and opportunities to conduct primary research and practice documentation skills such as note taking, sketching, and photography.

Thanksgiving Foodways

Many people in the United States celebrate the national Thanksgiving holiday by sharing a special meal. Although there is a stereotype about turkey and dressing as the iconic meal, we all have different ideas about what foods we want on Thanksgiving Day. Turkey or tamales? Mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole? Collard greens or green bean casserole? Pecan pie or apple pie? What would your favorite Thanksgiving meal include? Who would share the meal?

Music Around the Year

So much music surrounds us, we may not always be aware of it. This activity invites you to find and celebrate the music that you hear all around you—all around the year.

Seasonal Round Lesson Plan

Use the Seasonal Round lesson plan to introduce students to your classroom or school culture, as well as their own. Students can learn about themselves, their families, their region, and the world by examining the seasonal round.

Collecting!

Kids are natural collectors, piling up treasures like seashells and Pokémon cards. Likewise, museum curators deal with many types of collections, from paintings to train engines. Curators organize collections for public exhibits, showcasing what they have learned about objects. By thinking like a curator, how would you organize one of your collections for a home museum?

Dress to Express

Our clothes are important cultural elements. We use them for many reasons. They are practical, fun symbols of our identity. Let’s find some surprises while exploring how we Dress to Express.

Good for What Ails You

Our beliefs about health and wellness are part of our personal and family folklore. Collecting cures, home remedies, and health sayings reveals how much a part of daily life our folklore about health is.

Tradition, Innovation, and Hawai'ian Cultural Identity in Lau Hala Papale

How is the weaving and wearing of lau hala papale (hats) connected to Hawai’ian history, identity, natural resources, and culture?

Exploring Dress, Culture, and Identity in American Indian Objects and Dress

How would you feel if someone (outside your identity group) used your identity design references in a clothing line? What might change how you feel about this use?

Song Circle

Everyone sings. This means everyone knows some songs. Singing alone or with others can make us feel playful, help us through tough times, and bring us together.

Exploring Portraits, Dress, and Identity in Asian Art

What can art objects from distant times and places express about the identity of the people and the cultures depicted in them?

Games and Play

Games are fun to play at any age and tell us a lot about our families, friends, and communities. There are many cool ways to think about and study games.

Bread Journal

Paying attention to a cultural element like bread tells us about ourselves as well as others. Think about bread broadly—from matzo to pancakes, tortillas to crackers! Here are some activities to do on your own or with others to find art in your daily life.

Family Mapmaking

Mapmaking is a wonderful way to engage family members in looking closely at how each experiences where they live. Family members may discover that each sees their neighborhood differently, that one includes a place that the others never noticed, or that certain neighborhood spaces, such as a vacant lot, are valued by one and considered an eyesore by others.

Folk Song Remix

This activity offers a creative way to interact with favorite folk songs. Follow these directions to tap into familiar folk songs and give them your own, unique spin by remixing them!

Museum Observation Field Journal

Consider a museum an important text that deserves careful reading. Before visiting a museum, inventory your assumptions about what you expect, even if you are familiar with the institution. Think about where it is, how it sits on the landscape, its relationship to the natural and built environments.

Then and Now

This activity invites you to think about how objects in your life have new uses and meanings.

On the Job

There is mystery in every job, even those of students, whose jobs are to study and contribute to school, family, and community life. How do we learn the secrets of doing a good job at our work? Folklife! Occupational culture is one of the dynamic areas of Folklore Studies. By closely observing work spaces and interviewing people about their work culture, we make fascinating discoveries.

How We Celebrate

Face to face or distant, celebrations feature cultural elements that we find very meaningful, such as special foods, music, gifts, jokes, clothes. This activity invites you to relish the fun of celebrations by analyzing them and consider how celebrations during the pandemic are the same and different from how they usually occur.

Come Rain or Come Shine

From song lyrics to predictions, we use weather lore every day. Have you ever worn your pajamas inside out in hope of a snow day? What sayings do you use to predict the weather? Do you have stories about storms or rainbows or really hot days? This activity looks at a variety of ways we are all folk meteorologists.

Zoom! Representing Ourselves Online

This activity will help you identify some of your important folk groups and traditional knowledge. You will then create a virtual background that may be used on Zoom or other meeting platforms as a way to share something about ourselves in these online spaces.

Heritage Fellow John Cephas Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Eva Castellanoz Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Mary Louise Defender Wilson Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Rosa Elena Egipciaco Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Heritage Fellow Michael Doucet Virtual Residency

Local Learning’s virtual residencies with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows take us into the communities and lives of master folk artists.

Dress to Express: National Heritage Fellows' Portraits Unit

Access portraits portraying artists who have mastered their art forms through years of study with elders and family members and have received the NEA National Heritage Fellows award to learn more about the relationship between dress and culture. This unit includes classroom-ready exercises, worksheets for students to study their own fashion choices, and ideas for local research that connect learners with their community.

Interviewing Virtual Unit

By interviewing family and community members to document their stories, songs, crafts, and skills, we encounter deep local learning, which we can record and share in many ways. Visit our Inquiry Resources to go more in-depth!

Research and Readings

Local Learning: A Folk Arts Integration Handbook

This 24-page handbook outlines how to incorporate folk arts and folk artists into arts integration programs.

Artists as Educators

Our featured artists consider educating young people essential to their lives as artists. Their stories of sharing a specialized skill or passing on knowledge of a culture or tradition offer insights into effective practices and ways of teaching and learning that are underutilized. They collective make the case for preserving pedagogical diversity in education. Read […]

Teaching with Foodways

The study of foodways offers compelling ways to explore local and world customs and cultures through an accessible, universal, everyday practice. The foods we eat provide a firsthand, sensory experience that can build an appetite for learning in any subject and offer opportunities for active, experiential education. Read the 28-page issue of the popular 2010 […]

Interviews: The Heartbeat of Our Inquiry

A 1st-grade teacher demonstrates how much even young children can learn from interviewing. “Books and the Internet are useful, but perhaps the most child-friendly and exciting way for young people to find answers is by interviewing people in their community. Information and concepts children can discover at an interview often go well beyond what they […]

Listening Is an Act of Love: The Power of Storytelling in Education

StoryCorps has inspired thousands of Americans to share their stories. Here a StoryCorps advisor shares tips for bringing personal storytelling into the classroom.

The Art of Work/The Work of Art: Interview with Brad Bonaparte by 4th Grade Students at PS 78, Long Island City, New York

Occupations are a perfect topic for student interviews. People like to talk about their jobs and how they learned them, what their skills are, what they contribute.

Discovering Community

A 4th-grade teacher in Vermont introduced her students to the concept of community teachers, people who the children learn from in everyday life. Their resulting interviews and art projects helped students see how they are part of history and a community.

The Artful Interview in Documentary Production

An Oregon folklorist who has guided many young people to document community culture through video shares her framework for producing successful video projects. See the reprint of this article in the 2019 Journal of Folklore and Education.

Clara’s Song: Writing Songs from Interviews

In City Lore’s Songwriting Artist Residency, students write songs inspired by their interviews with family, school, or community members. This article focuses on one interview with an immigrant teacher and the students’ songwriting process.

Kentucky Remembers

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and a consortium of organizations developed Kentucky Remembers to train students to collect stories of human rights movement activists. The project demonstrated that through the folklore of our daily lives we can articulate what is strong and beautiful in our cultures and also what we hope to change.

Diversifying Arts Education: A Conversation with Sarah Bainter Cunningham

NEA’s Arts Education Director describes her interest in traditional pedagogy as well as ethnography. She says, “The folk arts remind us, teach us, and train us in context. This is vital to our aesthetic lives, to the living heartbeat of our local communities, and to the success of our citizenship within a democracy.”

The Power of Informal Learning

The NEA Heritage Fellows can inspire young people to investigate the masters of tradition in their own families and communities.

Norma Miller: Stompin’ at the Savoy

This Heritage Fellow grew up in Harlem during the 1920s and as a young child loved to dance. She was among the original performers of the Lindy Hop and is renowned among swinger dancers worldwide today. Alan Govenar compiled text from his interviews with Norma to create a picture book of her life. Here we […]

Carriers of Culture: Teaching and Learning Native Basketry

This extensive project examines the contemporary state of Native American weaving in the U.S. and the ways Native baskets—and their makers—are carriers of culture.

Cajun Weddings

Weddings are very familiar rites of passage, yet each differs. Cajun wedding traditions provide a window for researching this life passage.

The Life Cycle: Folk Customs of Passage

“In an age when it is easy to live vicariously through t.v. shows and other popular media, attention to the life cycle returns the focus to ourselves and our families, the arenas in which the real work of life takes place,” writes the Director of City Lore.

Welcoming a New Life: Yoruba Naming Traditions

By exploring what names mean and how different cultural groups have special naming traditions, students have a lot to learn about themselves, their families, their community, and the world.

A teen and his mother consider the milestone of a first motorbike.

A teen and his mother consider the milestone of a first motorbike.

Cemetery Secrets

Cemeteries may seem unlikely fieldtrip destinations, yet they offer rich possibilities for engaging students in primary research.

Rangoli: Traditions of the Threshold

Threshold traditions offer a concrete form for exploring how rites of passage help practitioners make a transition between two states, such as secular to sacred, outside to inside, child to adult, and so on.

At Home In the World

If membership and identity remain such vexing issues in our country, what can educators do to help students not only cope with the problem but also take action to resolve it? Written by Jim Carnes, editor of Teaching Tolerance, a national education project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

From Imagine! Introducing Your Child to the Arts

Find a chapter dedicated to folk arts education in this publication, including tips for parents on the best ways to interest children in art–helping them explore connections between their own life experiences and the artistic processes of others.

May I Borrow?

30 teens from across the country gathered at the University of Maryland for an intensive two weeks of dance and composition classes, rehearsal, and creation. They were African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Caucasian. They studied diverse dance techniques, from jazz and modern to salsa and traditional Hmong. Some were dramatic, some were shy. Some skateboarded, […]

More Than Feathers and Casinos: Rethinking Native American Education

“….The most difficult thing to impress upon your students is that there is not one standard of Native American culture, dress, art, language, or experience. Over 400 native groups in the U.S. have very different realities. Our cultures are as different from one another as Japanese culture is from Polish culture…”

Walk in Another’s Shoes

“The trim, silver-haired man sits ramrod straight, a legacy of his former military training. Sitting close by, not quite as still or straight, his eight-year-old Swapping Stories partner’s smile reflects his own. After the storytelling session, the former Mr. America finalist states, ‘Even though there’s a 75-year difference in our ages, we’ve had very similar […]

Words Are Serious, Words Are Divine

Taking students to visit community sites can provide rich, authentic experiences that inspire powerful personal responses. Often young rappers are—as freestyler Toni Blackman put it—”stuck in style” so writing about dramatic new experiences forces them to experiment. African-American high school students who participated in City Lore’s Poetry Dialogues project worked with poets Toni Blackman and […]

Poetry Dialogues

“I was in the sixth grade when I started writing poetry. I had never realized how special poetry was to me. I started writing not just as an assignment, but almost as a way to let myself be free from everything around me. As I grow older, my poetry seems to evolved from blue hummingbirds […]

Fieldwork Builds Learning and Community

Elementary school teacher and folklorist Mark Wagler shares fieldwork methods he uses with his classes. The article includes exercises and inspiration for teaching folklore in the K-12 curriculum. “I am convinced”, he says, “that the single most important factor for teaching folklore in the K-12 curriculum is for teachers to think of themselves, and act, […]

Sense of Place

“What is a ‘place?’ Is that strip of grass between the lanes on the Interstate highway a place? Is a Web site a place?” Michael Umphrey, a poet and former principal, who currently directs the Montana Heritage Project explores the many notions of place. Umphrey also provides examples for how students can learn the skills […]

Family Maps

Luanne McLaughlin, a parent at PS 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, shares a family mapping activity that works in any locale.

How Deer Came to the Kodiak Archipelago

Josh Wood, a student from rural Alaska, writes about an unusual relationship between people, animals, and place.

La Trace du Boudin

An engaging profile of Acadiana and Lafayette High School students who prepared the “Guide to Acadian Stores and Meat Markets That Sell Boudin.” The guide, a French and English tourism brochure, explores the boudin, a Cajun sausage made and sold in small family-owned markets all over South Louisiana.”

Cowboy Poetry Adventures

“Imagine herding 21 high school students from the coast of Oregon to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada over nine days in the middle of the school year….” Join Paddy Bowman as she chronicles the literary adventures of two teachers and 21 students (cowboy poetry resources provided).

Writing Exercises

“One of the toughest tasks for educators teaching young writers is to get them to see that poetry is everywhere in our lives….The “site” of the Work Poem is a good place to engage young writers to focus on a specific subject matter and to encourage them to explore the language that surrounds the jobs […]

Poetry Slam in the Classroom

A detailed description of poetry slams and the pros and cons of hosting them with young people in a classroom.

The Blues

“‘What are the blues?’ Well, as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, cousin to the blues, ‘Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.’” That said, folklorists, Amanda Dargan and Steve Zeitin provide a brief history of blues poetry—with examples.

Fieldtrips to Find Poetry

The Handbook of Poetic Forms published by Teachers & Writers Collaborative regards a ‘found poem’ as a piece of writing that was not intended as a poem, but is desclared to be by its ‘finder.’ Poetry can be ‘found’ in everything from newspaper articles, store signs, lists, scraps of conversation, and other everytday uses of […]

Poetry Contests and Improvisations

An international and historical overview of poetry contests and improvisation.

Teacher's Self-Discovery

Teaching teachers acceptance and respect through training that begins with the teacher examining their own culture and then expanding to the cultures of other people. For a similar approach with students, see “Engaging Diversity: A Teacher Talks about Folk Arts-Driven Educational Reform” by Susanne Nixdorf

Sculpting the Face of Immigration

Using art to tell a story of immigration, George Zavala creates works of art with several different 4th grade classes in Woodside, Queens.

The Florida Music Train: Moving to the Sunshine State

Using traditional music as a window into the increasingly diverse migrant population in the United States.

Capitalizing On Diversity And Immigration

How a Virginia elementary school uses the diversity of their students to enrich their learning experience and multicultural understanding.

A Child's Salute: Iowa's Project Honors Newcomers

Information on how teachers can identify folk groups and then incorporate the exploration of these groups into the classroom learning experience.

A Community Celebration Of Place

A program brings rural Alabama communities together when students interview community elders and get the stories to music.

Among Folk: Using Folklife To Build Partnerships With Students And Their Families

A folklife curriculum bridges the generational gap between students, parents, and grandparents and aids in student’s quest for their own identity.

A Patchwork of Our Lives: Oral History Quilts in Intercultural Education

How oral history can help young people develop intercultural and intergenerational competencies.

Writing the Range

Reflections on the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada by student participants.

Folk Culture Inspires Writing Across The Curriculum

Two folklife activities that encourage writing across the curriculum: reading cultural objects and fieldwork about Halloween and Day of the Dead.

That Zora Sure Could Write

Looking at the work of Zora Neal Hurston, Anokye examines how oral discourse can be transferred into writing. He argues that Hurston’s work provides a model teaching tool for preserving oral traditions through writing. Also includes a short biography of Hurston.

Finding Folk Arts in Teachers' and Students' Lives

How teachers can identify folk groups and incorporate cultural explorations into the classroom learning experienceHow teachers can identify folk groups and incorporate cultural explorations into the classroom learning experience. .

Mining Values in the Montana Heritage Project

Through asking her junior English class to investigate an old building that was once a gym, Rasmussen “discovered the joy of using cultural heritage in the classroom.”

Holidays and Schools: Folklore Theory and Educational Practice, or, Where Do We Put the Christmas Tree?

How an Ohio parent and folklorist successfully engaged the issue of holiday celebrations in schools by integrating community study, family folklore and social studies curricula.

A Teacher Talks About Folk Arts-Driven Educational Reform

How a rural Pennsylvanian school district taught about diversity and respect for other cultures through a folklife/folk arts program.

Storytelling at the Crossroads

Teaching storytelling: the power, importance and influence of the storyteller

Negotiating Pitfalls and Possibilities

Kodish and Westerman outline the steps taken toward understanding folk art and locating it within communities. They also explore how students come to understand the history, economics, style, culture and traditions of people through folk arts.

How to Teach Folk Arts to Young People: The Need for Context

In a a speech at New York University, Chalmers challenges the practice of “aesthetic scanning” by providing art teachers with ways to teach students the social context in which art is created.

American Folklife: A Commonwealth of Cultures

Folklife is community life and values, artfully expressed in myriad interactions. It is universal, diverse, and enduring. It enriches the nation and makes us a commonwealth of cultures. The traditional knowledge and skills required to make a pie crust, plant a garden, arrange a birthday party, or turn a lathe are exchanged in the course […]

Passing it On

Excerpts from the now classic folk arts-in-education book, Passing It On which explores collaborative programs between classroom teachers and folk artists/community educators. We have excerpted four sections that map the New Jersey Main Road School’s sixth grade residency with auctioneer Andrea Licciardello. Licciardello worked with classroom teacher Glenn Christmann to present a study of auctions […]

An Accessible Aesthetic

The folk artist is very much like a curator and the community is a living museum. In unpacking this metaphor, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explores how the folk artist learns various traditions and then teaches adults and children to develop strong ties to their communities and cultural history.

Folk Arts in the Classroom: Changing the Relationship Between Schools and Communities

The publication of this article launched Local Learning in 1993.