Stela Stories (lesson plan) Illustration

Maya Empire for Teachers
Stela Stories

Lesson Idea: 1-2 class periods. Stela Stories

Materials needed: Several newspapers or magazines that can be cut up. Several large white sheets of paper. Crayons or colored pencils. News article selected by the teacher to read aloud.

First, read a news article aloud to the class. Brainstorm a list of points pertinent to that article. For example - a fire, where it was located, if anyone was hurt, etc. Point out that its a lot of work to create a stela, so you can't include every item on the list. Work with your class to select 5-7 key points that tell the story in the news article.

Break students into small groups. Direct each group to select a news story from a magazine or newspaper. Tell groups to brainstorm and write down a list of items pertinent to the story they select. Then, choose 5-7 key points from their list that tell the story, just as you did in class.

Have students FOLD a large piece of white paper into three (3) sections.

(Section 1) On the far left section, have each group create a stela using colored pencils or crayons, illustrating the 5-7 key points the group selected. These can be done separately and then glued or stapled onto the white sheet if the group is large. Obviously, these won't be real Maya glyphs, but encourage the kids to have them look sort of like glyphs, and then add extra illustrations if the group feels it would help tell the story, just as the ancient Maya did.

(Section 2) In the middle section, attach the actual newspaper story next to the stela.

(Section 3) Fold the final section over the news story so that it cannot be read. Add a paperclip to keep these two sections together.

Attach finished projects on the wall of your classroom with the news story covered.

Day Two: If time permits, have the kids guess the story for each article based on the stela on day 1 or spill over to day 2 if needed.

For each glyph, after guesses are made, read the actual news story and ask - did the stela tell the story? Why or why not? (It's tough to tell a story on a stela!)

Although stelas do act as a sort of history book, understanding actual history from stelas can be very difficult for modern scientists. To boot, stelas represent what the leaders told the artists to communicate. That was not always the truth.


The Familiar: Pull one group aside and give them a typed familiar fairy tale, in brief. Make sure it has 5-7 major points. A good one to use is Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. But don't tell the rest of the class what you are doing. Place this group in the back of the class.

Unless your class has gone to sleep, they should be able to recognize the Goldilocks story when guessing what story the stela is trying to present. Use this to show students that although modern scientists might have trouble understanding the ancient stelas, the Maya people were often familiar with the stories before they carved in stone.

Twisting the Facts a Bit to give a different outcome. Pull one group aside and give the kids a news story you created that tells how the son of the palace ran away, but direct the kids to show the son as a hero on their stela, leading the attack for example. A simple news paragraph (a news bite) is all that is needed. After students guess what story the stela tells, and then read the actual news bite, use this to show students that not all stelas told the whole truth. But very few Maya people were brave enough to challenge the tale told on a stela.

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