For Educators

Folkstreams films portray diverse cultural groups and communities and they offer unique American voices to the study of film, art, music, history, and media literacy.

Unlike feature films, documentaries are not fictionalized accounts but are filmmakers' attempts to capture the reality of some situation or group of people. Like feature films, documentaries are framed in a point of view. Folkstreams films try to capture what it is like to be an insider in local cultural groups from cowboys to urban Go-Go musicians. Many Folkstreams documentaries are made by folklorists, who study the myriad forms of traditional culture that are often invisible in mass media and history books but are essential to how we live our lives and formulate our worldview. Folklore and folklife are not about the long-ago and faraway but about the power of place and time and the dynamic creativity of traditional culture.



Using the Guide

In crafting lessons for selected Folkstreams films, we learned from our advisory board that educators will want to teach other films as well, so we provide our lesson template and suggestions for adapting it. The Film Analysis Framework will help any viewer decode films more effectively, not only students.

For each film we suggest subject areas such as history and topics such as the American Dream or Clutch Plague. Lessons are geared to national standards in English Language Arts, Social Studies, Media Literacy, and Arts Education and address national and state standards in several disciplines. Discussion points and activities may be adapted for various levels and are organized in three stages: pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing. We provide scaffolding for students to consider themselves as participants in American culture and history and to analyze film as an art form as well as an introduction to unique cultural groups. Prompts and tools for students to document their own traditions and communities are embedded in each lesson, as are worksheets, assessment strategies, and resources. We also ask viewers to inventory their cultural assumptions about the subject before watching the film and then to consider these assumptions afterward.

Education Rationale

Folkstreams films bring students face to face with the people and themes of American literature and history in a medium that engages their attention. These documentaries of various aspects of American traditional culture reveal authentic voices and complex realities that students do not encounter through feature films, mainstream media, or, for that matter, history books. Integrating Folkstreams films into various curricula help students:

  • Critique documentary films as primary historical resources
  • Interpret films as literary texts
  • Apply media literacy strategies, deepening overall literacy, research, and critical-thinking skills
  • Identify filmmaking techniques and develop a vocabulary for analyzing, discussing, and writing about film
  • Analyze social issues raised in the films
  • Consider various points of view
  • Link films to literary works and historical themes
  • Bring their knowledge of various disciplines and their cultural experiences to the study of film
  • Consider films as works of art and develop a critical appreciation of the cultural meanings of film
  • Connect people and topics in the films to their own lives and across generations in their own communities
  • Compare documentary films with feature films and mass media
  • Investigate their own and others' assumptions about cultural groups that differ from their own
  • Relate to themes such as Sense of Place, Rites of Passage, the Cycle of Life, the American Dream, Work, Technology, Immigration, Assimilation, Work, Family
  • Identify metaphors, symbols, and imagery
  • Decode elements of film such as music, sound, camera angles, setting, lighting, composition, editing choices
  • Document people and issues in their own communities


Among lessons that students learn when interviewing and documenting people in their own families and communities are good manners, protocol, and the ethical handling of materials such as photographs, audio and video recording, and field notes. We provide a Release Form for students' fieldwork and suggest other sites offering plenty of how-tos and fine points of fieldwork.


This Teacher's Portal was created by Paddy Bowman, Director of Local Learning, The National Network for Folk Arts in Education and supported by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services


  • Jean Berthiaume, Harwood Union High School, Duxbury, VT
  • Peggy Corbett, Cherokee High School, Cherokee, GA
  • Eileen Engel, Louisiana Voices, Hammond, LA
  • Chris Gutierrez, T.C. Williams High School, Alexandria, VA
  • Sandy LaBry, Curriculum Consultant, Lafayette, LA
  • Virginia Morton, Edison High School, Fairfax County, VA
  • Dr. Daniel Patterson, Professor of Folklore Emeritus, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  • Tom Davenport,
  • Shawn Nicholls,