A World of Myths

How did past civilizations explain natural phenomena?


Key Staff

Classroom teacher

Key Skills

Making Art: Composing and Planning
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving


In this lesson, students will explore how myths help to explain nature and science. Students will read, discuss, and respond in writing to a variety of myths. They will then create a graphic representation of one of those myths.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Read for literary experience and to be informed
  • Write to express personal ideas and to inform
  • Activate prior knowledge and relate it to a reading selection
  • Identify special vocabulary and concepts
  • Identify main idea and supporting details
  • Read and interpret myths from various cultures
  • Identify the structure of literature
  • Respond to literature through writing and discussion
  • Read for a variety of orientations and purposes, including reading for literary experience and reading to be informed
  • Write for various audiences with the purpose of informing and expressing personal ideas

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Guided Listening
  • Reflection
  • Problem-Solving
  • Large or Small Group Instruction

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Virtually every civilization in the world has its own mythology. Some civilizations used myths to explain the inexplicable phenomena they experienced (e.g.: droughts, hurricanes, severe weather) while others used myths to explain creation and how man and earth came to be.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should have some familiarity with mythology in general and the role it played in past civilizations.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Make copies of the myths for students (see list in Materials section).

Accessibility Notes

ELL students’ background can be easily incorporated by including myths from their native countries.



1. Discuss the following vocabulary words with your students:

  • Myth: a story of unknown authorship that people told long ago in an attempt to answer serious questions about how important things began and occurred; myths generally involve nature or the adventures of gods and heroes
  • Pourquoi: a French word meaning "Why"
  • Pourquoi tale: a fictional story that explains why something is the way it is
  • Renditions/versions: a performance or interpretation of a piece of music, poetry, drama, story, or character's role
  • Origin: the beginning; the source

2. Explain to students that myths are stories that people told long ago in an attempt to answer serious questions about how important things began and occurred.

3. Have available familiar pourquoi tales such as "Why Rabbit Has a Short Tail" or "How Elephant Got Its Trunk." (These are available in the resource carosuel above, either to project or use as printable worksheets.) Ask students to read the tales, then lead a brief discussion about the content of these tales. Ask students the questions:

  • What did the students learn?
  • And what kind of myths do they already know?

These stories are lighthearted renditions explaining why certain elements and processes occur in life and the universe.

Build Knowledge

1. Distribute copies of "Pele," or have it displayed through the Resoucre Carousel. Have students read the myth to find out what serious question is being answered. When the reading is completed, discuss their answers. Explain to students the story of Pele, which exists in many forms throughout the South and North Pacific, where volcanoes are common and represent a destructive force, as well as a constructive one. (Volcanoes help to build up fertile land.) In some renditions of the myth, Pele has many sisters who try to carry out her wishes. In other renditions, Hi'aka is the main heroine and Pele is a secondary one. On the inlands of Hawai'i, the myth of Pele not only accounts for the origin of volcanoes, but also for the origin of the hula, in which the many and varying episodes of the full story are told in dance, song, and gesture.

2. Distribute copies of "Hephaestus," or display through the Resource Carousel. Have students read this myth to find out how the Greeks sought to answer the question of the creation of volcanoes. When the reading is completed, discuss the answers the Greeks told in this story.

3. Discuss with students why it is possible for different cultures to interpret the same natural phenomenon differently. Also acknowledge that with every culture that develops, a totally different group of myths develop as well in order to explain the world around them.


1. Instruct students to compare and contrast the two creation myths using the Venn Diagram handout located within the Resource Carousel. When the prewriting ideas have been collected, have the students write two paragraphs explaining the similarities and differences of the Hawaiian and Greek explanations. The first paragraph should tell the similarities and the second should explain the differences. Follow the writing process to complete the task.

2. Recall with students some of the types of myths the ancient cultures told: specifically, creation myths and explanatory myths. "The Origin of the Volcano" and "Zeus" are creation myths. Tell them the two myths they are about to read are explanatory myths. As they read them, have the students think about why they are called explanatory myths.

3. Distribute copies of (or project) the "Daughter of the Star" and "Pandora." After reading, discuss the reasons these myths were told. Explain that myths have practical functions within a culture. One of these is to instill in people a respect for how order was established in their culture, as well as to reinforce rules and shared beliefs that maintain order.

4. Working in cooperative groups, have the students compare and contrast these two myths. Following the writing process, the groups should write two paragraphs. In the first paragraph, students write how the myths are similar, and in the second, students write how they are different.


1. Have the students work in groups on a collaborative painting or drawing that depicts one of the myths read in class. Ask the following questions to help with the activity:

  • What elements of the myth are most important to show visually?
  • How will the telling of the myth be enhanced by the picture being drawn?
  • Are there any elements that are better left to the imagination of the reader/listener?
  • Is there a way to symbolically represent the story without actually depicting the actions and events of the story?
  • Pretend you are a storyteller in an ancient village telling this myth to others. What other props or pictures could you use to convey the story so it would stick in the minds of the viewer?

2. Distribute drawing materials to each group. Give students time to illustrate the myth of their choice. After the groups have completed their illustrations, have them present their work to the rest of the class.

3. Tell students they will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and written responses to reading. The Sample Checklists for Writing Assignments handout located within the Resource Carousel in conjunction with the Assessment Rubric will be used to set the standard; both can be projected via the Resource Carousel above, or distributed as handouts.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

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Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Kathy Cook
Original Writer



  • McCarthy, Tara. Multicultural Myths and Legends. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 1999.
  • Millet, Nancy, and Raymond Rodrigues. Explorations in Literature. Glenview, IL: Scott Forseman and Company, 1989

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