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McREL Standards Activity

Coyote and Anansi

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will be able to participate in small groups and 1) produce a folktale that mimics or is inspired by the themes, characters and messages of folktales previously heard and discussed, and 2) generate and discuss ideas about how to function in their own and other people’s cultures.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
Language Arts
 Standard 6.Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 2. Knows the defining characteristics (e.g., rhyme and rhythm in poetry; settings and dialogue in drama; make believe in folktales and fantasies; life stories in biography; illustrations in children’s stories) and structural elements (e.g., chapter, scene, stanza, verse, meter) of a variety of literary genres
Language Arts
 Standard 6.Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 4. Understands similarities and differences within and among literary works from various genre and cultures (e.g., in terms of settings, character types, events, point of view; role of natural phenomena)
Language Arts
 Standard 6.Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 6. Knows themes that recur across literary works
Behavioral Studies
 Standard 2.Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function
   Level II [Grade 3-5]
   Benchmark 7. Knows that language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations are expressions of culture
Student Product:Original skit.
Material & Resources:Other sources of coyote and Anansi tales are:
"Coyote Goes to the Land of the Dead," Core Knowledge Series (Delta, 1995); Keepers of Animals: Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities, by Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac (Fulcrum, 1991); Earth Magic, Sky Magic: North American Indian Tales, by Rosalind Kerven (Cambridge, 1991);  "Coyote Stories/Poems," found on "Indigenous People’s Website" (; Coyote Goes Hunting For Fire: A California Indian Myth, by Margery Bernstein and Janet Kobring (Edison Project, 1994); "From Tiger to Anansi," Core Knowledge Series (Delta, 1995).
Teacher's Note:The length of this activity may vary depending on how many stories are read and how many skits are developed.  Expect the activity to require at least two hours of class time.
The teacher and/or student volunteers read aloud in class the folktale, "How Coyote Stole Fire."  This story can be found on the internet at "Myths and Fables from Around the World",  It can also be found at "Native American Tales" at (For other excellent coyote tales that can be used in place of this one, see the list of sources.  The coyote tale used in this activity should be one that offers an explanation for how things have come to be.)

Discuss in class what a folktale is and describe the characteristics of folktales.  Some characteristics that might be emphasized are:

  • folktales are stories that have been told in many different cultures from many different parts of the world;
  • the name ’folk’ refers to ’people’ and hence, folk tales were stories told by ordinary people;
  • folktales have been passed down orally from generation to generation;
  • folktales frequently teach a lesson or describe how things have come to be.

Explain that Coyote is a popular character who appears in the stories of many different Native American tribes from various parts of the United States.  Now read "Anansi Tries to Steal All the Wisdom in the World."  Explain to the class that, like Coyote, Anansi is a character who appears in the stories of many African tribes.  Then ask the class what similarities exist between the stories.

  • How are the characters alike in personality (e.g., are they smart? tricky? lazy?)?  
  • Do these two characters help other animals or people in the stories?
  • Do both of the stories provide an explanation for how something came to be (e.g., how people have fire)?
  • What other similarities do students notice?

Divide students into small groups (3-4 children each).  Each group will come up with their own "Coyote" or "Anansi" story.  Half the groups should create a Coyote story while the other half should create a story with Anansi.  Each group’s story should explain how or why something came to be.  Possible subjects might be why it snows in winter; why stars can be seen in the night sky; why people like sweets; why mosquitoes bite people; why owls sleep during the day; why flowers have pleasant smells.  Once they have decided on a story topic, each group should work together to produce their own "Coyote" and "Anansi" skit.

When they are finished, have the groups take turns presenting their skits to the class.  Once the skits have been presented, finish with a discussion of why these two characters are so clever and mischievous.  Why would different cultures enjoy these stories about trickster characters?  Explain how, long ago, among the tribes people of Native America and Africa, being clever and smart was necessary for survival.  Because the people of these tribes did not have all of the comforts that we have today (big houses, heating systems, grocery stores), they had to be clever in order to survive (hunting for food, creating shelter, and staying warm).

Finish by posing the following question to students:  How do you and/or your parents have to be clever to survive today?