Grandmother Spider Brings the Light


                                                                                                                                   Study Guide

This Study Guide was developed as part of a workshop I presented at Northlands called "How to Make Useful Study Guides for Elementary Schools." The following storytellers, along with a few of my own ideas, contributed to this study guide  Movement - Lois Sprengnether Keel, Judy Farrow Busack, and Janet Jones; Language Arts - Donna Ingham, Gerald Falkenstein; Social Studies - Susan O'Halloran, Joe Remenar, Judy Sima, Jean-Andrew, Clare Norelle: Visual Arts - Marcia Gutierrez, Sara Slayton; Math and Science - Csenge Zalka, Mark Steidl, Danielle Todd, Charlotte Young Bowens; Music - Karen Czarnik, Jean Bolley, La'Ron Williams

Although there are many versions of this story, my fellow storyteller, Rev/Dr. January Kiefer told the Cherokee version that is close to the one that I tell. To read my version click HERE.

For teachers: Whenever telling a story from another culture, I try to find out about the people and their customs.

                                                                                                           Other References for this story:

bullet How Grandmother Spider Brought Fire to the People 

Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun CHEROKEE


                                                     Study Guide


Comprehension Questions:    Based on QAR (Question Answer Relationship) Designed for fourth or fifth grades

On My Own Questions (Before telling the story)

bullet What three things do you need to start a fire? (fuel, oxygen, heat) Have you ever seen anyone make fire without using matches or lighter? How did they make fire? If you were out in the wilderness with no supplies, how do think you could carry fire?
bullet Do you have a grandmother or grandfather who is very smart? Why do you think they are smart?
bullet Almost all animals have special markings that make them unique. Can you name some animals that have special markings. Can you name some? (Ex. Robins have a red breast)

Storytellers often change a story as it is told. To use the following questions, the teller needs to be careful to include the answers in the body of the story.

Right There Questions

bullet Which nocturnal animal was mentioned in the story? (Possum) 
bullet What did Buzzard lose in the story (his colorful headdress)
bullet What did Grandmother Spider make before she went on her journey? (a clay pot)

Think and Search

bullet Why did the animals think that Grandmother Spider should not go to get fire (too old, too slow, too weak)
bullet What three skills did Grandmother Spider have?  (making a fire, weaving, and pottery)
bullet What did Grandmother Spider do that was different, before she went to get fire? (she prepared for the journey by making a clay pot)

Author and You Questions:

bullet The teller said that 2 other animals went to get fire and that others tried. What other forest animals do you think could have gone on that quest? What marks do they have to show that they went? (suggestions - skunk has a white stripe; cardinal has red feathers and burnt eyes, etc.)
bullet Which character do you most admire in this passage and why? What character traits do you see that make the spider a character to be admired?
bullet Even though Grandmother Spider was slow, old and weak, how did she manage to bring back the fire - (made a pot, took her time getting there and returning,  put the fire in the pot.) What traits does this prove that grandmother had (wisdom, courage, steadfast)
bullet The storyteller said that Grandmother put sparks in rocks and trees - why?
bullet The storyteller said that Grandmother Spider pulls her web to make the sun and moon rise and fall. What do scientists say causes that to happen?


pourquois       how and why story     folk tale      myth      universe

nocturnal     possum     opossum    scar           weaving


Language Arts

bullet Identify and discuss the narrative elements: Introduction (what it was like without fire); Setting (long time ago: forest with no light, mountain top, and lake of fire); Major characters (spider); Minor characters (raven, possum, buzzard); Problem (no fire); Conflict (burned trying to get fire); Sequence (Intro/animals ask for someone to go to fire/ 2 animals go to fire and come back without fire but with a scar/Grandmother spider volunteers/makes a wet pot/Goes to fire and puts some in a pot/ Returns with a fired pot and puts fire into dry logs/Takes some sparks and places sun, moon and stars in heavens/ Regulates days and seasons); Climax (Grandmother Spider brings back the fire);  Resolution (Grandmother teaches others how to make fire);  Ending (Grandmother Spider still regulates day and night and seasons of the year.)
bullet What could happen:  Stop the story after buzzard tried...what happened next? Think of another way that the animals could get the fire.
bullet Find other versions of how animals got the fire. Make a Venn Diagram to highlight similarities and difference


Example: Contrast this story with Coyote Brings Fire. or compare it to the book version - Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun: A Cherokee Story

bullet Story Prompts:                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

          *Write the story as if it happened in another habitat (Polar, Desert, Jungle, etc.)

*Retell the story as if someone else in the story was telling it - point of view of possum, raven, buzzard, another animal not mentioned in the story.    

*Write a story that happened in the dark, before raven came with the news about the lake of fire.  Write a story about what happened after the animals had fire.

*Write out the story as if there were a radio interview - remember to ask the who/what/when/where/how/why questions

Visual Arts  The story begins by it being in darkness. Light eventually is a part of the story. Here are some ideas for using light and dark in art projects:

bullet Crayon Resist: Take a piece of paper and color it in a variety of colors (or use a piece of paper already multi-colored). Color over it with black poster paint or a black crayon. With a toothpick or other sharp object etch designs to see the colors. Click HERE There is also pre-made paper like this from Oriental Trading.
  Cherokee Pottery info
bullet Silhouettes: Find a cut-out of an animal and draw its silhouette.
bullet Shadow Puppets:   See ideas on developing shadow puppet plays by clicking HERE.
bullet Grandmother book: Gather photos of Grandmothers from magazines or take photos of Grandmothers - write captions of the skills and wisdom they possess.
bullet Make a Cherokee designed pot, see: Traditional Cherokee Pottery
bullet Clay activities, see :
bullet Weaving activities, see: Dream Catcher 
bullet Photography idea, see: Kodak Lesson Plans 
bullet Spider Gorget, see: Spider gorget lesson Plan

Math and Science

Time and Calendar

bullet Calculating Calendar Dates (high school) See Calculating Calendar dates
bullet Make a Sundial (elementary to advanced) See Making a Sundial for the Northern Hemisphere 

Fire and Elements


bullet How to Make a Fire  See
bullet Find out about the composition of clay. See What is Clay?
bullet Find out more about the Sacred Fire of the Cherokee


bullet Make a three-way Venn diagram and compare and contrast possums, buzzards, and spiders  See 3-Way Venn
bullet Find out about spider webs.    See Construction of a Wheel Web
bullet Spider Math:  See Spider Math
bullet Preserve a spider web. See Preserving a Spider Web
bullet Spider unit, See Paso Partners - Spiders


bullet This is a Native American story. Many musical instruments were used by the ancient peoples - drums, flutes, rattles, ocarina.  See  Have someone tell the story while different students play an instrument designated for the various animals in the story. For instance, the instrument could be used to introduce the animal and to highlight some action the animal is doing. This teaches rhythm, cultural awareness, and the sound of the various instruments.
bullet Make up a song that Grandmother Spider sang as she went to and from the lake of fire.


bullet Mime the story: Select various scenes in the story. Have students act them out without using words. Ex. - Possum running or Buzzard flying to the Lake of Fire, Grandmother walking to the top of the mountain, etc.
bullet Pull the movement: Get into a circle. At first model a movement such as Spider walking to the top of the mountain. Have the students repeat that movement to the count of 4. Next, ask a student for a movement and have the class repeat it to the count of 4...then repeat the first one. Add new movements...repeating the previous ones. This can be quite a workout and a test of one's memory! Add musical instruments as you count to four.
bullet I Can't See You: Have the students close their eyes (or blindfold or put hands over eyes). Pretend they are in a dark room. See how well they can navigate with no light.
bullet Who Am I ?: Have cards with various animals that were in the story and even some who were not. Student takes a card and pretends to be that animal. Others guess who it is.
bullet ASL: Find some common words in American Sign Language and compare to Native American Sign Language.
bullet Make a Web: Get into a circle. Take a ball of string and throw it back and forth across the circle to form a web.
bullet Introduction to the story: Before telling the story...make a fire. Start with spark (snap finger); Blow on it, fan it, put it on your head, juggle it with your hands, shake it all around, take the fire and stretch and stretch it until you can put it around you...feel the warmth of the story....

Social Studies

bullet Make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting other stories with a similar theme of - "being overlooked and under-appreciated by the more powerful." Ex. - turtle in  Coyote Brings the Light.   How does this theme apply to today.
bullet Tell or read stories about the sun, moon, and stars (creation myths) form other cultures. See Windows to the Universe
bullet Discuss the traits of the animals in the story. How are the animals - raven, possum, buzzard, and Grandmother Spider - portrayed in stories from other cultures?
bullet Research the native culture that originally told the story. There are versions from  other native cultures. How are they alike and how are they different.
bullet Collect pottery or weaving designs from the Cherokee and other cultures. Find out their significance and meanings.

Other Related References:

bullet Cherokee Pottery:
bullet Cherokee Basket Designs:
bullet The Cherokee Nation:
bullet Cherokee Myths and Legends:  A closer look at some of the animals and symbols used in the stories at
bullet Cherokee Legends - with links to many stories:
bullet Circle of Stories - PBS-produced webpage on the history of NA storytelling with lesson plans at:

                                                  Native American Storytellers

There are many fine Native American Storytellers who tell to their people. Many never leave their tribal grounds. Others have taken their talents to the main stages around the United States and internationally.

Joseph Bruchac - Abenaki Storyteller and Author
Kevin Locke - Northern Plains Indian - Native American flute player, hoop dancer and storyteller

Dovie Thomason - Lakota/Kiowa Apache storyteller and cultural educator.


Tim Tingle - A Choctaw Indian - speaker, storyteller and author of Walking the Choctaw Road  

Johnny Moses - Tulalip Native American Storyteller and Author
Gayle Ross - A Cherokee Teller and author
Debra Morningstar - an Oneida storyteller and workshop presenter


Many organizations dedicate themselves to preserving the Native American way of life. Still, much focus is on the past of the Native American people. If we share the rich culture and deep love Native American's have for mother earth, we can ensure a future as well. Please visit