In my 7th grade Social Studies class we study Africa. One of the most engaging and charming part of our studies is the African oral tradition. I try to encourage students to imagine life 2000 years ago. No electricity, no Starbucks and *gasp* no cell phones. We talk about what they would do if they found themselves in that situation. Most of them say sleep.
It is into this imaginary void that we introduce the concepts of no written language, African Griots and the purposes of oral history. We see and read many examples and they really find it interesting.
Finally...after all of that...they are ready to do a project. I personally let them write and illustrate their own fables.