North Carolina History Digital Textbook Project

Two worlds: Educator's guide

By Pauline S. Johnson


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In this activity, students compare creation stories from three peoples — Cherokee, European, and West African — that met in colonial North Carolina. The first part of the lesson can be done individually or cooperatively in a jigsaw or in small groups. The end of the lesson is a class discussion or a short written assignment (homework or a bellringer the day after the lesson.)

Learning outcomes

  • Students will read and analyze three creation stories
  • Students will evaluate the impact these different views may have had on the various cultures

Teacher preparation

Materials required

  • Copies of the three creation stories:

    Students can access the creation stories in any of three ways, depending on how you set up your class:

    • A computer with internet access for each group, or
    • copies of each creation story for one-third of the class (if doing the jigsaw method), or
    • copies of each creation story for half the class, if doing the small group method
  • A copy of the creation chart for each student.

Classroom time required

30 minutes if doing the jigsaw method, 50 minutes if doing the small group method.


Group work

First, have the students work in groups to read and analyze the creation stories.

Jigsaw method

  1. Determine how many small groups would work in your classroom (4 to 5 students per group). Use that number in step 3. (For example, imagine there will be 6 groups).
  2. Give each student a copy of the Creation Chart.
  3. Have the students count off by the number of groups you will use (“Count off one through six”).
  4. Tell each student to write their number on the back of their chart.
  5. Split the class into three large groups and have them move into large discussion circles.
  6. Give each group copies of one of the three creation stories or several computers with internet access and assign one of the stories.
  7. Allow the students 5 to 10 minutes (this will depend on the reading ability of your students) to read the story. Then have them fill in the appropriate column of their creation chart; discussion in the large group is to be encouraged. The teacher should move between the groups. A sample teacher copy of the chart is included, below.
  8. After the students have completed this, have them look at the number on the back of their charts and to move to the new smaller groups. (It is mathematically possible, though not probable, that a group would be missing one of the stories, so you may need to make some adjustments.)
  9. The students will share their creation stories with the rest of their small group. They will each fill in the chart as the other students describe their story and share their chart.

Small group method

  1. Divide the class into groups of four or five.
  2. Give each student a creation chart and each group several copies of the creation stories that you have copied or two computers with internet access.
  3. Ask each group to read the three creation stories and to fill in the chart. The groups are expected to work together and share their ideas. This will take approximately 25 to 30 minutes.

Full-class discussion

Reconvene and discuss the stories as a class.

  1. Have a short discussion about the similarities and differences between the stories [all stories begin with water as the pre-earth scenario; the West African and European stories have divine intervention; European story has humans designed to dominate nature]
  2. Pose the following questions as a discussion starter or as a short written assignment. The written assignment can be a short homework essay or a bellringer activity for the beginning of the next class period.
    • “How might the differences that you see in these views of the role for humans affect these cultures when they meet in the Americas?”
    • “How might it affect their differing view and treatment of the land?”


The first part of the lesson will be assessed by the participation of the students in their groups and by the completed creation chart (see the teacher version, below, for a sample of a completed chart).

The discussion or written questions should include at least the following information:

  • The Indians would seem to have a more cooperative relationship with the land, plants, and animals. The Europeans, and to a lesser extent the West Africans, would see the land, plants, and animals as theirs to exploit. In the European view, nature is theirs to use. The West Africans saw the world as being created so that Supreme Being and other heavenly creatures to assist those upon it. This would seem to say that plants and animals were for the use of the “clay creatures” that had been brought to life. Such differences would have made understanding the fundamental relationship to earth and other living creatures extremely difficult for the other cultures to grasp as it was so basic to each civilization.
  • As will be discussed later in the digital textbook, the European view of land ownership and the Indian view of everyone owning the land would play an important part in the difficulties between the cultures. The students may not grasp that exact idea, but they should realize that there were fundamental cultural differences that would play a major role in the relationship between the two worlds.
Sample creation chart
Cherokee European West African
Short description of the way this culture describes the Creation of the world. All is water and the earth was created when the animals, who lived above the sky, needed more room, so the water-beetle brought mud up from the water and this became the island – Earth. Animals and plants were already there, man came later. All was waters and God, in six days, created day and night, heaven, earth, plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, and humans. There was the sky and the water far below. One heavenly entity, Obatala, determined to make a world and with the help of the Supreme Being, Olorun, and other heavenly entities, made earth and humans after climbing down on a golden chain.
Who created the earth in this story? the Water-beetle (Beaver’s Grandchild) God Obatala, with help from orishas (heavenly beings) and the Supreme Being, Olorun
Why was the earth created in this story? The animals, who lived above the sky, needed more room. God chose to create the earth. Obatala wanted to help beings that could live on the earth.
Why were humans created in this Creation story? It is not specified in the story, only saying that man and woman came after the animals and plants. God created man and woman, who look like Him, to have control over all plants and animals. Also, to work in the Garden of Eden. Obatala saw his refection in a pool and made many clay figures that looked like him.
What did the creator of the humans in this Creation story see as their proper relationship to the land? While not directly stated, it is implied that humans were to live and work in a cooperative way with the plants and animals — who are anthropomorphic. Humans were to take control of the land, plants, and animals. They were there to provide men and women with food. The humans that Obatala created were to live in the new land and be helped by the powers of the heavenly beings, the orishas.

Creation comparison chart

In the PDF version of this lesson plan (see sidebar), this chart appears on a separate page for ease of printing.

Cherokee European West African
Short description of the way this culture describes the Creation of the world.
Who created the earth in this story?
Why was the earth created in this story?
Why were humans created in this Creation story?
What did the creator of the humans in this Creation story see as their proper relationship to the land?

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will analyze important geographic, political, economic, and social aspects of life in the region prior to the Revolutionary Period.
    • Objective 1.03: Compare and contrast the relative importance of differing economic, geographic, religious, and political motives for European exploration.
    • Objective 1.04: Evaluate the impact of the Columbian Exchange on the cultures of American Indians, Europeans, and Africans.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LH.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.C.1 Understand how different cultures influenced North Carolina and the United States. 8.C.1.1 Explain how exploration and colonization influenced Africa, Europe and the Americas (e.g. Columbian exchange, slavery and the decline of the American Indian populations)....
      • World Humanities

        • 12.C.1 Understand the ways in which societies and cultures have expressed the "human ideal.” 12.C.1.1 Compare the various ways in which pragmatic and idealistic philosophies have addressed humanity's desire to understand life and the process of living. 12.C.1.2...