Teaching Hmong History And Culture Through Story Cloths

Lesson Plan

Dr. Ava L. McCall


1. Students will increase their understanding of Hmong culture and history and how the culture changed due to war and forced migration (Thematic Strands I and II).

2. Students will investigate story cloths as expressions of Hmong culture and as resources for understanding Hmong culture and history (Thematic Strand I).

3. Students will understand the economic conditions for Hmong people which contributed to their creation of a new form of textile art, story cloths (Thematic Strand VII).


Color photocopies of story cloth illustrations from the text Dia's Story Cloth by Dia Cha. For an annotated bibliography of children’s books and teacher resources about the Hmong click here.

List of questions to investigate photocopies of story cloth

Drawing paper



1. Explain to students that they are to observe carefully pictures of story cloths and find out all they can about Hmong history and culture through these story cloths. As they observe the photographs, they should discuss the questions from the sheet in small groups. Each person in the group should offer an idea for each question. After all ideas are offered, each person should write a summary of the main ideas after that question on the sheet. For younger students, they might discuss their observations without making a written record.

2. Divide students into small groups of two to no more than six students. Provide each group with a color photocopy of one section of the story cloth illustrated in Dia 's Story Cloth. Distribute a sheet with these questions for each student: What do you think is going on in the story cloth? What is the artist trying to show? Why do you think the artist created this story cloth? What did you learn from the story cloth?

3. After the groups have had time to investigate their photocopy, ask the groups to show their portion of the story cloth to the class and explain their responses to the questions, with each member of the group contributing to the explanation. Move in chronological order according to the events portrayed in the story cloth: the Hmong migration from China to Burma, Thailand, and Laos; traditional Hmong agricultural lifestyle in Laos; the disruption of the war in Vietnam and Laos on Hmong life; the Hmong escape across the Mekong River to Thailand; Hmong life as refugees in refugee camps in Thailand; and Hmong migration to the United States.

4. As each group offers their observations and interpretations of their portion of the story cloth, affirm students' ideas and encourage them to find out more about how accurate their observations and interpretations of the story cloth are when we read about it.


1. Ask students to listen to the story Dia 's Story Cloth to discover how their observations and interpretations of the story cloth fit with the author's description of the story cloth.

2. Read the text aloud showing the illustrations of the story cloth sections as you read. For younger students, summarize the main ideas on each page. As each page is read, encourage students to compare their interpretation of the story cloth with the author's description.

3. When reading about Hmong traditional life in Laos, ask students to elaborate on how the Hmong got the food, clothing, and houses they needed to live. (They grew their own food, built their own houses, and at first grew plants which they used to weave cloth for their clothes.)

4. When reading about the Hmong escape to Thailand and life in refugee camps, ask the students how the Hmong got the food, clothing, and houses they needed to live in their new environment. (A few grew gardens for food, but sometimes people needed to buy food. Relief organizations and the Thai government provided housing, although sometimes families built their own houses. Hmong families needed to purchase clothing or the supplies to make their clothing.) Ask students how Hmong people might get the money they needed to purchase food and clothing and eventually leave Thailand?

5. Explain that making and selling story cloths became an important means of income for Hmong families as refugees. They began creating story cloths because they needed money to buy food and clothes they could no longer grow and make themselves when they lived in Laos. The Hmong discovered non Hmong people were interested in purchasing this new form of textile art because they could understand the pictures portrayed in the story cloths. Hmong artists sold story cloths for money in the refugee camps. They also sent them to family members who had already migrated to the United States to sell for them and return the money to them for living expenses in the refugee camps.

6. At the close of the text, ask students to explain why the Hmong moved to the U.S., according to the text. Clarify that Hmong men were recruited to help the U.S. during the Vietnam War. In exchange, the U.S. promised Hmong allies they could come to the U.S. after the war.

7. Ask students how the Hmong culture changed from the time the people lived in Laos to life in the United States today. Ask students to speculate how the Hmong people might continue their cultural traditions in the United States. (Hmong people must learn English, find housing, and find jobs to earn the money to pay for food, clothing, and housing. Children attend school. However, many Hmong continue to eat traditional foods and still have strong family ties. They also celebrate the Hmong New Year and make or purchase traditional clothes for this celebration.)

8. Ask students why Hmong people might continue to create story cloths in the United States. (Some textile artists create these to sell as additional income for their families, although most textile artists cannot live on money made from the sale of story cloths. Also, creating these story cloths is a way to record Hmong culture and history for people today and for new generations of Hmong people.)


1. Ask students to draw their own story cloth illustrating at least one main idea they learned about Hmong culture and history from the text and the class discussion. Encourage students to refer to the text Dia 's Story Cloth and photocopies of the story cloth from the text as they create their drawings. Brainstorm possible ideas they might include in their drawings and make a class list. Encourage students to include a sentence which describes their illustration.

For younger students, the children may dictate a sentence explaining their illustration which could be written at the bottom of the illustration.

2. Encourage students to show their story cloth illustrations to the class and explain what they drew.

3. A class story cloth could be created by placing the students' drawings on a bulletin board. Create a border similar to the one shown in the illustration of the complete story cloth from the text Dia 's Story Cloth. Explain to the students that the triangular shapes is a typical border design for story cloths.


1. Review students' responses to the questions for evidence of careful observations and the development of plausible ideas regarding Hmong culture and history based on the photo copies of the story cloth (Goal 2, Thematic Strand I).

2. Observe students' participation in the discussion of the text for an understanding of the cultural and economic purposes of story cloths (Goal 3, Thematic Strand VII).

3. Review students' drawings and sentences for an understanding of at least one main idea regarding Hmong history and culture (Goal 1, Thematic Strands I and II).

Teaching Social Studies