Then and Now: Talking to Our Elders About Change

One of our reading texts, Elements of Literature, is titled "Moments of Truth." The main characters in the stories all learn something important about themselves, and as a result may be able to make wiser decisions about their future. Throughout this collection students are encouraged to think about their own experiences and what they have learned from them.The story, "Ta-Na-E-Ka," is part of this chapter. There are many opinions on this story and carries with it much controversy. Ta-Na-E-Ka is written by a White Man, with the Native pen "Mary Whitebird". This has been a cause of much concern within Native communities. Please be sure to read more about this story and the conversations surrounding it, before committing to the lesson.

This story worked as a seg-way into the theme of generational difference and cultural histories. However, it could also be used as a way to problematize the many stories told, that sometimes are not authentic and give an incorrect viewpoint or perspective about a culture or history.Students are asked to look at their own lives and compare and contrast certain elements of their own culture that may have changed or stayed the same. Introduce generational differences.

Materials Needed


Art Materials


Activity Process


Look at the Story, "Ta-Na-E-Ka" pages 16-17. Then look at the painting "Sitting Bull Returns" by Willard Midgette (1937-1978). Students will be asked to describe what is happening in the painting (Native Americans at a drive-in theater are watching a movie about Native Americans of the past). Visual thinking strategies and Critical response are often effective ways to look and talk about art in the classroom. Student will identify elements from both past and present cultures in the painting. (Examples: traditional clothing and headdresses; the drive-in, cars, pick- up trucks, and work clothes). We will also talk about the stereotypes and images we have of traditions, particularly those of American Indian (the use of headdresses on all Indians from history), and we will critique the parts of this picture that support or break those stereotypes. What does an American Indian look like? How are Stereotypes created? Can we think of other ways sometimes history or image in incorrect or stereotypical? What will talking to our elders share with us about our past and traditions past through our cultures?


Students will be introduced to the Then/Now chart and start talking about ideas they have about how life and times have changed. They will hypothesize what they think their elders will say.


To help students understand generational differences, each student will interview a grandparent or elder from his/her family. The class will decide on the questions they should ask (and answer themselves) in the Then/Now organizational chart. The student will fill in the "now" side of the chart with how things are done today. The "then" side of the chart will be used and filled in during the interview with responses from a grandparent or elder.Students will note areas that have changed or stayed the same. Students will circle 2-3 areas on the chart that have changed the most and star one area that has stayed the same.Students will write a paragraph or short essay based on their interview that compares and contrasts three things noted on the Then/Now chart. They should note items that have changed the most and any item that has not changed.Students will revise, proofread, and put their paragraph or essay into "published" form.


Students will share their writing with classmates and also invite elders to come and hear the presentations about the families in the class and in the community. This could be extended into an "Elder Fair" which invites stories, artifacts and pictures also contributed by elders for sharing.


The student will write a paragraph or short essay based on their interview that compares and contrasts three things noted on the Then/Now chart. Students will be given a 5 point Paragraph/Short Essay Checklist to use for their writing. The teacher will use the same checklist for evaluation.

Vocabulary Words

Grade Level


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards


Social Studies