Learning Eco-Literacy (Lessons from an Orca Grandmother) Pt. 3

by Sally Hodson, Ed.D.
author of Granny’s Clan, published by Dawn Publications
See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

killerwhalesboat Part 3: Tell a Story
How do we prepare young people for the 21st century challenge of caring for our planet so that it can sustain future generations of plants, animals and humans? In short, how do we educate our kids to be eco-literate?

To be literate in the language of our planet, we need to understand how life on Earth functions and how we interact with it. And we need tools to help our heads to think, our hearts to feel, and our hands to act.

This month, we’ll add Tell a Story to our Eco-Literacy Toolkit

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Tell a Story
”Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Native American Proverb

We are all storytellers. Stories are part of every human culture. Stories connect us with others across time, place, culture and species. History tells us stories about our past. Science brings us stories about our natural world and the plants and animals who share it with us. Movies, books and TV fill our lives with stories

Think of your own life as a story. How do you tell your story to others? When we share and listen to stories, we integrate our left brain’s language with our right brain’s emotions and imagination. A great story helps us understand the world and gives meaning to our lives.

Where can we find powerful stories for our Eco-Literacy Toolkit?
1. Explore natural places where you live. What plants and animals share these places with you? What are their stories?
2. Read stories about plants (maple tree), animals (prairie dog town), ecosystems (kelp forest), ecological processes (salmon life cycle) and ecological changes (re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park).
3. Look for stories that inspire hope for the future (saving an endangered species).
4. Find stories of people who help us learn about the natural world (Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, Wangari Maathai, Rachel Carson).
5. Watch nature and wildlife documentaries that tell visual stories

How can we use these stories to develop ecological literacy?
1. Write Stories
– Write and illustrate a Picture Book that tells a story about nature, a plant or an animal.
– Write the Autobiography of an animal or plant. Imagine their life story and tell it from their point of view.

2. Tell Stories
– Story Circle – Choose a nature topic. With a circle of students, the first student starts the story with a sentence. Each student adds another sentence to the story. Continue until everyone has a turn and the story is completed.
– Magic Story Box – Fill a shoebox with natural objects (stone, leaf, feather, seashell). Each student picks a different object from the box. Students spend several minutes getting to know their object and then each tells a story about their object.
– Describe Me – Select a natural object (stone, leaf, feather, etc.) and place in the center of circle of students. Each student offers a different word to describe the object.
– Story Treasure Hunt – Select a picture book story about an animal or nature. Divide students into two groups. Group 1 writes out each sentence of the story on a different index card, hides the cards out of sequence and draws a treasure map to show where to find the cards. Group 2 uses the treasure map to locate the cards and then assembles them in the correct sequence to tell the story.

3. Create Visual Stories
– Design a shoebox Diorama to show plants and animals that live in a natural place.
– Paint a Mural that tells a story about a natural place.
– Make a classroom Story Quilt. Select a nature topic and ask each student to design their own story square. Assemble to create story quilt.
– Create a Comic Strip graphic story about nature.

4. Dramatize Stories
– Produce a Puppet Show about an animal’s life or a nature story.
– Create a Reader’s Theatre Script or Play about your favorite animal or nature story.

Many free downloadable activities are available at this website relating to Dawn books (go to the Teacher’s/Librarians tab on the website and select Downloadable Activities from the drop-down menu). Activities related to Granny’s Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas that show how to use story include: .
– All in the Family (see Family Totem Pole and Family Story Quilt)
– Salmon Journey (see Salmon Life Story)
– Great Grannies (see Granny’s Life Story) and
– Tell Me a Story (Orca Rangers Comic Strip, Story Treasure Hunt and Story Circle).


Dr. Hodson is a K-12 teacher and a trainer of teachers, and was executive director of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA.

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