Myths can be exciting stories for students to learn about. A myth is a story that plays a fundamental role in society. They often tell the origins of why something is set up the way that it is. The main characters often are gods or have supernatural powers. For ELLs, myths can be both exciting stories and challenging. One of the challenges is that the events take place in the past and might contain references that the student is unfamiliar with. Here are some ideas for teaching myths to ELLs.
Check about Students Background Knowledge
One year I was working with a group of 5th-grade students studying Greek Mythology. One student was a newcomer from Ethiopia. At the beginning of the unit, he got very excited and told me that he had read some of the stories back home in Amharic. He was able to use his background knowledge of the myths to take part in the lessons at a high level.
If you have newcomers that are literate in their native language, see if you can find any of the stories the class is learning about in their native language. This is particularly helpful for more complex stories. Students will then have a higher amount of background knowledge when they begin reading the English text.
Compare Myths from Different Cultures
Myths often explain why something in nature is the way that it is, or try and teach a lesson. There are many similarities across cultures. See if you can find a myth from some of your students’ cultures to compare with those in the curriculum. This is a great opportunity to practice comparing and contrasting.
Myths From Around the World
Here are some collections of short stories to use when teaching myths to ELLs.
Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You– This is an anthology of Goddesses from around the world. It is organized by the type of power that the Goddess is best known for. This makes it a great book for comparing and contrasting.
Greek Myths for Young Children– This anthology is a collection of short Greek Myths. This text is simple, which makes it possible for ELLs with lower reading levels to read them independently.
Famous Myths and Legends of Central and South America– This collection of Myths and Legends has background information about the culture that they come from. The stories are at a 6-8 grade reading level. Each story would make a great read-aloud for students at a lower reading level.
Gods and Heroes: Mythology Around the World– In this encyclopedia there are over 70 characters and 23 world cultures represented. This book is organized alphabetically. There is a brief history for each character and most have a short myth where the character is featured. These myths would be great to use as a read-aloud for listening practice.
Pictures are helpful for ELLs when they are reading and listening to myths. They help students to visualize what is happening in the story. You can also have students use pictures to retell myths.
I created a set of Speak then Write Greek Myths. This comes with pictures for students to sequence, speak, and write about.