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Using narrative - levels 2 to 4

Narratives have emotional appeal that engages students.

– Best Evidence Synthesis in Social Sciences - Interest

For the diverse learners in the New Zealand classroom, the use of narrative follows a tradition of oral storytelling and easily integrates family stories and experiences into class discussion and study. Narrative allows for students and whānau to tell their stories and be experts in the classroom.

Koi and turtle drawing
Narrative in the social sciences classroom is:

  • culturally “normal” and responsive
  • easily accessible
  • repetitive – the same story can be read in exactly the same way as many times as needed
  • able to be read in a language children understand, including first languages
  • the provision of the unknown in a known format, with emotional appeal that engages students.

The personal voice of narrative is more likely to invite and stimulate discussion and debate among students. In a New Zealand context, narrative can enhance power sharing for Māori learners, and acknowledges the importance of people’s stories. Using stories addresses the diversity of learners in the classroom, as stories can be told from a variety of perspectives.

Image (right): 'Koi and turtle', sourced from Flickr

Key competencies

Using language, symbols, and texts: Children interpret spoken text and visual illustrations to decode the message of the story. Children use a variety of stories to make connections – to their own lives, to the lives of others and between texts.

Building conceptual understandings

Explore the role of families in celebrations, any special food, songs, dances or rituals, the passing down of traditions and stories from one generation to the next.

Suggested narratives

The following is a suggested list of books on Asian cultural identity that we know to be readily available from public libraries in the country, and from the National Library of New Zealand.

The Dragon New Year: a Chinese Legend

Dave Bouchard and Zhong-Yang Huang. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1999.

“Every spring, the Chinese New Year is heralded by noise and sound: a clash of cymbals, the splash of colourful fireworks across the sky, shouts and whistles and bright lights. Yet how did these traditions begin? A young girl, frightened into sleeplessness by the celebrations outside her bedroom window, takes comfort in her grandmother's wise, soothing words as she tells a tale of the Dragon New Year.” (Publisher’s blurb)

The illustrations and text style of this book reflects, recreates and describes the Chinese Dragon Dance.

Good for looking at:

  • Passing of traditions and information from one generation to the next
  • Reasons for celebrations
  • Change, identity and organisation
  • Links to the past
  • Is this story true? Why? Why not?
  • Religious ties to celebrations
  • Celebration of a common goal or ideal.

The Moon Lady

Amy Tan and Gretchen Schields: Macmillan

“The first book for children by the author of The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife. On a rainy afternoon, Maggie, Lily, and June listen as their grandmother tells a story from her childhood. Long ago, during the Moon Festival while waiting for the Moon Lady to appear and grant wishes, Ying-ying discovers the best wishes are those you make come true yourself.” (Publisher information)

Good for looking at:

  • Special food
  • The sharing of food
  • The participation of the extended family and community in celebratory activities.

The Gold-Threaded Dress

Carolyn Marsden: Candlewick Press.

“In Thailand, Oy was called by her own name, but in her first school in America, the teacher renames her Olivia. Everything else is different too. The other girls leave her out of their games, and a boy called Frank teases her. Then Lilliandra, a popular girl in the class, sees a photo of Oy in her Thai dancing dress and offers to let Oy into her club if she brings the dress to school. Oy knows it would be a betrayal of her family’s traditions, but she wants so much to belong. At home, fingering the pink silk of her dress, Oy makes a decision” (publisher’s information).

Good for looking at:

  • Traditional dress, dance and food
  • Cultural conflict and understanding
  • The Thai festival of Loy Krathong
  • Differences in family structures
  • Expectations and stereotypes.

Long-Long’s New Year: A story about the Chinese Spring Festival

Catherine Gower, illustrated by He Zhihong

Grandpa and Long-long go to sell the cabbages they have grown in order to get money to buy what the family needs to celebrate at home the spring festival. Beautiful illustrations of the bustling market. (Nat. Library information)

Grandfather’s Journey

written and illustrated by Allen Say: Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

A Japanese American man recounts his grandfather’s journey to America which he later also undertakes, and the feelings of being torn by a love for two different countries. (National Library information)

Tea With Milk

Allen Say. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

After growing up near San Francisco, a young Japanese woman returns with her parents to their native Japan. However she feels foreign and out of place, torn between two cultures as she strives to live out her own life. (National Library information)

Chin Chiang and the Dragon’s Dance

Written and illustrated by Ian Wallace. New York : Atheneum, 1984

Chin Chiang has long dreamed of dancing the dragon’s dance, but when the first day of the Year of the Dragon arrives and he is to dance with his grandfather, he is sure he will shame his family and bring bad luck to everyone. (National Library information)

Lights for Gita

Rachna Gilmore; illustrated by Alice Priestley. Toronto : Second Story Press, c1994.

Recently emigrated from India, Gita is looking forward to celebrating her favourite holiday, Divali, a festival of lights. But things are so different in her new home that she wonders if she will ever adjust. (National Library information)


Bernard Ashley & Derek Brazell. London: HarperCollins, 1993

Unable to tie his laces or write his name like the other children, Ling Sung never wants to go to school again. Then one day he discovers something he can do which nobody else can - not even the teachers. Ling Sung decides that school isn't so bad after all. (National Library information)

Teacher reflection

“I love the use of narrative – it proved to be extremely valuable, and led to all sorts of discussions around values. The children could relate to this story (Cleversticks) as it is about a child beginning school for the first time and their fears and worries. The boy is of Asian origin and it is excellent for our children to see children of all nationalities and backgrounds acknowledged and in picture books- it is a great endorser. After reading the story we sat in a circle and our Chinese experts (class members) demonstrated how they used chopsticks to eat by picking up maths equipment. They then helped other students to achieve this. Lots of giggles and some quite impressive chopstick action.”

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