First the standard itself:
Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
This is actually a standard wrapped in a standard. Why? Because most fourth graders aren’t familiar with the idea of “themes.” Before they can compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes from different cultures, they kind of need to know what a theme is, right? Like I said: a standard wrapped in a standard.
So first things first. Here’s a list a themes that a bunch of fourth grade teachers in my district came up with at a workshop this summer: acceptance, courage, perseverance, cooperation, compassion, honesty, kindness, and loyalty. Obviously there are a lot more out there, but for young readers, it’s probably best to start small.
The key to teaching theme is to get kids to understand how it’s different from teaching plot. Plot is the sequence of events, usually focused on an important problem that the main character is trying to solve. They story is about the plot, but the story is really about the theme. We have to get kids to understand that most stories are written not to show us how certain characters solve their problems, but to make us understand our own lives and how we solve our own problems. To find the commonalities between characters in a story and ourselves is to find the theme.
Fables can be a good introduction to this. They’re short and very theme-based. Not only that, but they usually end with a moral, which makes it pretty easy to figure out what the theme is. Moving beyond fables might take us to fairy tales, which like fables are not very subtle when it comes to theme. Cinderella is not about an unfortunate girl who finally gets lucky; it’s about justice.
Fortunately, both fables and fairy tales are common genres in many different cultures, including those of Native Americans, which ties in nicely with the fact that fourth graders study the culture of local Native Americans.
I think you see where this is going. My approach to teaching standard 4.9 is to focus on fables and fairy tales, using stories from many different cultures, including Northwest Native Americans.