Culturally Responsive Teaching

Retelling Myths to Foster Creativity and Cultural Identity

Myths can teach students about different cultures, and retelling the stories in their own words lets them share their cultural heritage.

May 21, 2024
Kimberley Wiseman / The iSpot

Our goal as educators is to create engaging learning experiences for our students. This is the essence of constructivist learning theory. Learners don’t just passively acquire knowledge. Rather, they actively engage with it. As students experience the world and reflect upon those experiences, they build their own representations and incorporate new information into their preexisting knowledge. 

One of the best strategies I employ to retain the interest of my middle school and high school students is to have them study myths. Modern teenagers are inundated with myths, albeit packaged in pop culture entertainment like the superhero movies they watch or the manga comics they read. When we utilize myths, students get to see that literature is not stale and dead but a subject that is alive and exciting. 

In facilitating this unit, I usually use the following four-step process.

Step 1: Facilitating Presentation Skills

The first step is to provide sample myths. Usually, we start with myths that students are already familiar with, like Greek or Norse mythology. Students are each given a mythological character to research and present in class. In this first step, we work with familiar myths to increase the students’ buy-in. 

Here are some guide questions for research.

  • Explain who the character is.
  • Explain where and how the character can be found.
  • Describe the circumstances of their birth or reason for being, etc.
  • Discuss the significance of the character.

Each student answers the same guide questions, thereby giving everyone the chance to practice the same skills. They will be discussing different stories, however, serving as the subject matter expert of their chosen myths or mythological characters. Students will have increased engagement during the discussion because everyone will have something to contribute.

Step 2: Facilitating Reflection Skills

Now that students are familiar with popular myths, we have to ease them into redesigning myths and stories. For an activity, I provide reflection questions to each student, giving them the option to choose which questions to answer. Word count ranges from 50 to 150 words per question.

Here are some sample questions:

  • Now that you know Medusa’s story, create a speech to reintroduce her to the rest of the class.
  • If you were Paris, who would you choose to give the Apple of Discord to? Would you choose Athena, Aphrodite, or Hera? Why? 
  • If you could be Athena for a day, what would you do? Why?

Step 3: Facilitating Critical Thinking Skills

To deepen students’ critical thinking skills, the next step is to give them a work of literature in popular TV or social media platforms, also called authentic texts, that demonstrate the concept of retelling. 

As the facilitator, I usually look for contemporary texts that specifically engage my particular set of students. These authentic texts are differentiated. For example, some seventh- and eighth-grade students might read and watch Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, while a largely musically inclined class might listen to and watch Jorge Rivera-Herrans’s Epic: The Musical retelling of The Odyssey.

As the facilitator, you are free to choose the authentic texts that fit your students’ interests and learning needs.

Step 4: Facilitating Creative Thinking Skills

In the previous steps, students have the opportunity to appreciate popular myths. However, minority cultures often get silenced or rendered invisible in mainstream society. The last step allows our classroom to be at the forefront of systemic change, a place where the voice of the minority becomes front and center. 

In order to make them feel that their cultures are as equally valid as other cultures, we give explicit tasks that celebrate their cultural heritages. I ask my students to ask their parents or community members for local folk stories, read books about their local areas, or watch their local TV shows for folk stories that interest them. Then, they will have to retell that story.

Students have many ways and multimodal options for presenting their retelling. Here are some examples:

  • Creating poems or short stories of their local folktales, but done from a different perspective (such as a villain’s) or from a different context (such as modern times).
  • Presenting their local folktales in a different media format—for example, in a graphic novel form, as a musical performance, or as a series of short-form reels.

    The following is from an original poem written by my 10th-grade student Ilham Rhine:

In this cursed Neem tree

Lost I was born, lonesome I stay

Looking for love to flee away

Those weasels don’t know

I don’t crave for love

Trapped in this tree

I’m a daemon, thirsty for love.

The title of this poem is “Shakchunni’s Lament,” featuring the perspective of what is usually portrayed as an evil green witch from local Bangladeshi folk stories. In this poem, the student presents a nuanced view of the green witch as a victim of her circumstances, changing the way the Shakchunni is viewed. 

This is one example of how we, as facilitators of learning, can concretely leverage the retelling of myths to foster students’ creativity and cultural identity. 

I taught this unit in the Philippines and in Bangladesh. The structure is the same. Yet, the impacts and outputs of students are always original, interesting, and unique. When replicating this unit, feel free to follow the step-by-step process or skip a step that you think will not fly with your students.

Here, the diversity of our students is never an impediment but rather a gold mine of unique and interesting cultural stories. When students are given project-based tasks that allow them to retell their own myths, they gain a deep sense of pride in their cultural heritage.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • 6-8 Middle School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.