The Power of Origin Stories in Big History

Kathy Hays, Big History Teacher
Arizona, USA

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Unit 1 is important, not only to establish the foundation for teaching Big History, but to create an environment in which students are comfortable speaking and participating in class. This is why I love the Intro to Origin Stories and Origin Stories Article Collection activities from Lesson 1.2. In addition to introducing the Three Close Reads strategy, students are given the opportunity to sample several perspectives on the creation of the Universe and to see how the Big History narrative is a modern-day origin story. Besides, they’re already familiar with superhero origin stories, so it’s an easy hook.

We begin by introducing Three Close Reads while reading “Origin Stories Introduction” together. It takes a full class period, and students often resist, but I promise them it will get easier with time. As we move to reading origin stories (the Zulu and Judeo-Christian perspectives, for example), students work in randomly assigned groups, which helps establish a climate in which everyone is comfortable speaking.

There’s a center established around the classroom for each origin story. As the groups read, they complete the Origin Stories Comparison Worksheet for each. Once finished, they have the option of using butcher paper or creating a digital presentation to share their origin story with the rest of class. Although nervous, students like presenting. We keep it relaxed and this loosens them up, which leads to more people participating in future discussions. I’ve also done a gallery walk, but my students seem to benefit more from the presentations. The presentations take a little longer, but I find them valuable.

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Origin Stories Comparison Worksheet

We complete the activity by having students lead a discussion comparing the origin stories, focusing on how Big History fits as an origin story. Students emerge from this activity with a few new friends and a desire to learn more about the Big History narrative.

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The Hulk contemplates his origin story. Artwork by Kathy Hays.

About the author: Kathy Hays has been teaching for 30 years and teaching Big History since 2015. She teaches five BHP classes a year, and so reaches about 130 ninth-grade students. Her school is on a semester schedule with daily 52-minute periods. Kathy’s favorite thing about teaching Big History is the opportunity to learn with her students!

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