Illustrative Examples of Units of Practice

In the Earliest Times, Exploring Oral Traditions of the Mi'kmaq through Drama


Through drama, students will have an opportunity to experience traditional story telling of the Mi’kmaq people and to enhance their understanding of the Mi’kmaq nation. Through active engagement with the story, the students will gather information about the roles of men and women, cultural beliefs of the Mi’kmaq and the role of story telling in the culture.

 Subjects:                 Social Studies, English/Languages Arts

Learning Levels:     Grades 4-9

Author(s):                Susan Spence-Campbell



What can story telling teach us about the culture of others?

This is the introduction to a larger unit in which the students take on roles of archaeologists investigating pre-European Mi’kmaq peoples. Using one tool available to the student archaeologists, story telling, students will gather information about Aboriginal peoples, in this particular case the Mi’kmaq nation. Students may use the Internet to investigate additional published tellings and representations of Mi’kmaq tradition stories. The end result of the whole unit is a living museum.


Language Arts - Listening and Speaking

Social Studies - 


This set of experiences is the beginning of a Mi’kmaq study unit. It can be done daily or every second day depending on the time available to the teacher. Initially, there are eight classes of one hour each. The extended lesson is adaptable enough to fit many timetables. For the dramatic activities, one needs an empty classroom or gymnasium.

Writing activities can be done in a classroom during Language Arts periods. For access to the actual story telling by the Mi’kmaq, one computer with internet access is helpful but not necessary as the story and audio tape are available through the NS Museum First Peoples kit.

This unit of practice is designed with 25 - 35 students in mind. I have taught this unit in 4 days to another class where the other teacher taught the writing activities and I taught the drama activities. This unit focuses on one particular Mi’kmaq legend about Jenu, a cannibal giant who was transformed by the kindness of a family. The legend chronicles Jenu’s transformation as well as aspects of life and the beliefs of the Mi’kmaq people. Traditionally, story telling was used to teach children the ways of the people.


Tasks and Interactions

Day 1 (Dramatic)

Establish groups of 4-5 students to create a moving image (no dialogue) and a sound scape of their concept of the very earliest of times. This will be presented as a performance for the class. Emphasize that there are no wrong answers.

Protocol for performance:

Day 2 (dramatic)

  I put on a robe of aboriginal background and quietly read the creative visualization.

  Day 3

Using the events of the third day in the story “Jenu” as a catalyst, ask the students to write a poem or story about the vomit of Jenu. This poem or story should detail another situation in which Jenu finds himself but which does not have the same positive results as the one the students have heard.

  Day 4

The teacher should reread or play a recording of the story of Jenu. A recording of the story is available through the First Peoples kit from the NS Museum as well as being listed on the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau. While rereading the story, ask the students to make notes about details of the story, paying particular attention to the arrival of Jenu, the return of the husband, the third day, the visit to the spring, the battle of the Jenua and the return to the encampment.

  Day 5 (dramatic)

Divide the class into 6 groups.

Each group of students is given a scene from the story:

  Have each group recreate a scene from the story in a dramatic form using dialogue, sound and movement to bring the scene to life for an audience.

Discuss the importance of sound, dialogue and movement to the audience’s developing understanding of the scene from the story. In chronological order (around the room), have all groups, except the last, present their scenes. Do not stop within the scenes but go from one to the next. Students should freeze to indicate when their scene is finished. Do not worry if minor details are not presented.

After the presentation of the scenes, have each group create the scene again.

The teacher asks the students to thought track themselves as characters to consider how they have revealed their inner thoughts and feelings through the sounds, dialogue and movement they have developed. For more information on this technique called Thought Tracking see [Neelands, 1990 #2].  Many applications of thought tracking in drama and other contexts can be found on the Internet using a search engine and the key phrase “thought tracking”.

  Beginning with the first scene, do thought tracking with the characters.

In scene 3, ask Jenu to identify his motivation for asking for the boiling fat?

Initially students may have difficulty describing these inner thoughts as they are not deeply in character. However, with added description from the teacher about the situation, they are able to come up with ideas. As a last resort, other students may offer suggestions but I tend not to allow this because I want each student to develop a greater sense of character him or herself.

Save the last group presentation, the return to summer encampment, until the beginning of the next day. Explain to the students that it will be a perfect segue to the final activity.

  Day 6

Students should come to class ready to describe how they would think and feel if they were a member of the camp.

  Day 7 (dramatic)

Begin the class with the thought tracking of the return to the summer encampment. Bring out the conflict that could arise because of what Jenu represents.

As a member of the community, each student then must decide which side they are on. Do they agree with Jenu being brought back to camp or do they feel the whole camp is in danger?

Those who played Jenu, the man, woman and child in the final scene will continue in those roles. Other students will play member of the community.  

If sweetgrass is available, it could be used as a traditional talking stick. This too is available in the First Peoples kit. The argument should continue as long as is reasonable and productive

A discussion should then take place about the role of consensus within the Mi’kmaq community and how each person had an opportunity to express his or her opinion. The chief had no more power than the others but was often the most persuasive member and was able to convince others to agree with him.


Elizabeth Cleaver.The Enchanted Caribou,Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985.
30pp., paperbound boards, $8.95.
ISBN 0-19-540492-0. CIP.

NS Museum First Peoples kit

The story “Jenu” is from Six Mi’kmaq Stories by Ruth Holmes Whitehead.

Thought Tracking Technique – Use your favourite search engine and the search phrase “thought tracking” to identify additional explanatory resources about this drama technique.