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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Writing Workbooks  >  Elementary School
Weavers of Words: Mask and Legend Exercise
By Melanie Janigo

I firmly believe that visual images and art can inspire students to write, so every year I commission my students to create a story that integrates legends and mask making. Masks are used all over the globe for various cultural reasons. Studying masks, here in Alaska, is also an effective way to teach Native Alaskan traditions. Students also learn about myths, legends, and stories, as they are invited to create one of their own.

Once I begin talking to my students about mask making, they are usually very excited about all the possibilities the project has to offer. They are not let down either: their creativity is stimulated as their ideas are transformed into both legends and artifacts. The students complete their projects feeling self-satisfied.

In Preparation:

  1. I have my students begin by brainstorming answers to the question, "Why do People Wear Masks?" I collect their ideas on butcher paper.
  2. We then watch a video, Masks From Many Cultures, and the students add information about the history of masks to their list.

Making the Masks:

  1. I chose plaster gauze masks for the students to make, so each student begins by applying plaster gauze to a partner's face.
  2. The students then build up their masks with cardboard and more gauze.
  3. Later, after the masks have dried, students paint them, adding embellishments of feathers, beads, and glitter.

Writing Legends:

  1. My students are to read a minimum of two legends, looking for common ingredients in the genre of legends. Many different legends, myths and creation stories are available to the students to draw from; look in your school's library and the public libraries for sources. The students can also do Internet searches for mask-related sites and information.
  2. The students then use a graphic organizer (one we've developed together) to take notes about the stories and compare them to each other, looking at their common themes and traits.
  3. The students then create their own legends, integrating their masks into the stories, perhaps by giving their mask a special power or by using it as a symbol in their legend.
  4. The finished product is a three-dimensional artifact and a piece of writing that tells its story.
Melanie Janigo's Mask Makers

We hope you enjoy this collection of stories and artifacts

Why People use Dream-Catchers, by Kim Alcorn
Legend of Bad , by Brandon Cope
The Snow Demon, by Grant Dye
Kar vs. Dar , by Avery Fogels
Snow Queen, by Mary Hennessey
Why Lizard is Afraid of Eagle , by Karen Herceg
Sun vs. Moon , by Sara Schroeder
Poor Rabbit , by Melissa Sullivan
Pigdeer, by Cameron Smith

About the Author: Melanie Janigo teaches fifth grade at Kincaid Elementary.

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