Ethnography in Action at TMSE

By Kelly Likos


The Anthropology is Elemental class challenges us each week to teach anthropology to elementary school students. This is a unique task because often we were not taught these terms until our own start with anthropology in college.

Mostly recently, I was challenged to try to teach a word to third graders that I had not even heard of before my Introduction to Anthropology class. That word was “ethnography”, something so normal in the Anthro-World, yet not anywhere else. And for third graders, it is all brand new.

As I explained it to the students, ethnography is the way anthropologists study, document, and teach others about cultures.


As ethnographers, we must observe other cultures (or in this case, clans) through unbiased eyes. For the ethnography lesson, I encouraged the students to don their own “Anthropologist Glasses” so they could see the world around them a little bit differently.


Throughout my lesson, I kept a steady discussion going with the students.

We discussed:

  • What is important to document about different cultures
  • What questions to ask when you are document cultures
  • The culture of Thailand
  • School lunches in the United States vs. Thailand
  • Ethnographer tips and tricks


The ethnography activity was quite the adventure for the students as well as for me. The clans each pick an ethnographer to represent their group and were sent out to collect knowledge about their neighboring clans.

I gifted each ethnographer with their own pair of “Anthropologist Glasses” so they could better observe the clans around them.



The ethnographers were in charge of collecting the following information about the other clans:

  • The clan name
  • The clan’s shared ancestor
  • If there is a clan leader, and how they were chosen
  • The type of clothing the clan wears
  • The clan rite of passage, song, or dance
  • Other identifying characteristics of the clan

Some of the clans had created awesome dances! Here are some clan members creating a new clan dance:

And here are clan members learning another clan’s dance…


The most rewarding part of this experience was watching the kids absorb the knowledge about anthropology that I presented to them. Each clan member was enthusiastic and curious to learn about their neighboring clans. My favorite part of the lesson was getting to have a fluid conversation with the students about anthropology and ethnography. We had some priceless discussions about school lunches, the best questions to ask other clans, and the Thailand culture.

I have such a strong love for anthropology so it was fun to get to share my love with the students of the Tuscaloosa Magnet School Elementary. Many members of The University of Alabama’s Department of Anthropology have helped shape my love for anthropology and I can only hope that I was able to do the same for our third graders. I look forward to being able to teach them again a little bit later on in the semester!

Culture and Clans – TMSE

By Holly Judge

Last week marked the beginning of the outreach program at the Tuscaloosa Magnet School Elementary. Five other UA students and I will be working with a group of third graders for the next nine weeks teaching them about different aspects of Anthropology, and specifically about the anthropology of Southeast Asia.

I think the program started off great! I didn’t realize how many groups taught at TMSE, and how varied the programs were. We all gathered in the gym for the students to be separated into the different classes, and then we followed ours to Mr. Little’s classroom. I didn’t realize the students had chosen to join our class, and that makes it so much easier to stand in front of them and teach.

Outreach instructors waiting to meet their classes
Outreach instructors waiting to meet their classes

The topic for this past week’s lesson was an introduction to cultural anthropology. I used examples from the United States, Indonesia, and pop culture to explain a few terms. In my lecture, I defined culture, norms, values, totems, and symbols. Before I would define them, I would ask the students if they had any idea, and then I would show them my examples. I also went over why it is important to study culture and who we can learn culture from.

At the end of my lecture I introduced the activity we all were going to do on cultures and clans. The activity was going to be separating the students into groups and having them create their own clan, including their name, shared ancestor, clothes, leaders, and more. After everyone understood, we separated the students into three “clans”. Each clan included two UA students to help and watch over the students. The students then started to make the important decisions regarding their clan’s culture. Some of these decisions came easy to agree on for groups, and some required using a little bit more compromise guided by the UA students. The students seemed to really enjoy the process. Unfortunately, time ran out before the groups were finished with their clan worksheets. We will get a chance to finish the activity after our next lesson.

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Looking back over my first lesson, I think I did a good job overall. I didn’t expect as many questions and interjections from the kids, so I felt responsible for my lecture going over time and us not being able to finish the activity. But I do feel like I explained the topic thoroughly and that the students had a good understanding of the material. The UA students did a great job of making sure each student’s ideas were heard, and they did a great job of helping the students compromise.