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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

The Death of Old Woman Kelema

Africa, Mali
Grades 9-12
Language Arts & Literature

Students will investigate methods for using imagery in literature to convey the sights and sounds of another culture. Students will compare elements of another culture to their own.


1. Ask students to read the book excerpt "The Death of Old Woman Kelema." 
2. Play students the interview with the author, Kris Holloway (link above). If pressed for time, focus on the portion of the interview in which Holloway describes her creative writing process. In particular, Holloway talks about how she conjures up Mali in her American home.
3. Ask students to look at the first sentence. How does Holloway convey the sound of music without the reader hearing those instruments or perhaps even knowing how those instruments sound?
4. Funerals vary in style from one culture to another. Students may not have been to a funeral in the United States (or a funeral in their home country), but ask them how they think the old woman's funeral in Mali differs from how a funeral might proceed in the United States. Discuss as a class what might account for those differences. Make sure students include the Malian dancing as one feature that differs from what might be encountered in the United States.
5. This lesson opens the door to learning more about culture. In the World Wise Schools book Building Bridges, you might use "Lesson 4: Culture Is an Iceberg" to help the class understand the fundamentals of culture.


 1. Ask a student to research the balafon. Find recordings that employ the instrument, pictures of it, and information on the history of the instrument.
2. Have students draw or paint a picture of a scene from this story. A short essay should accompany the work of art, saying why the student chose to include particular details in the scene. What made the details significant enough to be included? 

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