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!