Friday 17 Nov, 2017

Design Thinking in the Classroom: World Literature Activity

How might students of World Literature better understand the relevance of classic international texts to their lives; while still learning about the stories themselves and the important literary elements?

That’s the question English Teacher, Elana, set out to answer. As a big advocate of Design Thinking, her experiences at various Global Leadership Summits inspired her to take what she learned back to her own classroom. She created the following lesson plan in the hopes that it would help her students better relate the texts they were reading to their own lives.

Call-and-Response Storytelling in The Mali Epic of Son-Jara

Through selected reading, discussion, and creation of their own call-and-response biography, students will learn the story of The Mali Epic and the relevance of the call-and-response form in today’s political movements.


  • Websites that exemplify the idea of the griot – there are several out there, but this one is appropriate for school use, as is this one.
  • YouTube videos of real African griots – here is one example.
  • Schoolhouse Rock preamble to the Constitution.
  • YouTube video, “Brief History Preview – Call and Response” – this clip ties in the traditional call-and-response form with modern uses.
  • Various musical instruments and rhythm makers.


  • Step 1: Begin the discussion by talking about The Lion King. Mention characters, plot, themes. Reveal to the students that the story is based on The Mali Epic of Son-Jara.
  • Step 2: As you read aloud selections of the primary text, ask for observations about the form of the epic. Begin discussion of call-and-response, and introduce students to the concept of the djeli, or griot. Show YouTube clips of traditional griots and continue to lead the discussion toward an understanding of the use of call-and-response in maintaining an oral history of a people or family.
  • Step 3: Continue reading selections of primary text to get the understanding of the plot and characters.
  • Step 4: Link the tradition of call-and-response to modern social justice movements and storytelling. Show the YouTube clip “Brief History Preview”. Continue linking the text to modern society.
  • Step 5: Begin the student project of creating their own call-and-response. Break students into groups and have them choose a person whose biography and accomplishments they will immortalize in their poem. You can give them a list of appropriate people or let them choose with your approval. You can make your parameters whatever you want based on the age and abilities of the students. I have made requirements such as the final product must have at least 50 lines with varied responses, must have at least 5 major events of the person’s life, must have at least 3 praise names, must include a conflict, etc.
  • Step 6: Once student groups have completed their written call-and-response “epics”, they must create a rhythm and movement performance. This gets quite loud when the students are practicing, so you may want to ask to use the school auditorium or some other place that won’t disturb the entire hallway! Every member of the group must have a part in the performance, and I don’t make them memorize their lines unless they want to.
  • Step 7: Performance time! I make copies for the class of each group’s call-and-response so that the class can respond appropriately and join in the fun. After we perform for each other, I often invite other classes or administrators to watch, too.

We caught up with Elana to learn more about how she uses this lesson plan in her own classroom, read more.