Enchanting Ideas for Teaching Fairy Tales

By Kristy Mall on November 9, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Once upon a time, every child in your class would have known the stories of Cinderella and Rapunzel. They would have dreamed about the magical journeys of princes, planted beans in hopes of getting magical beanstalks, and adored the magic of a fairy godmother who could have made their lives better. Unfortunately, in our digital age, many children only know the Disney or cartoon versions of the stories that enthralled their parents and grandparents. However, fairy tales are a quintessential part of our culture and a great way to teach life lessons. Read on for activities to bring them into your classroom this fall.

 

The History of Fairy Tales

The original fairy tales were passed on orally, through storytelling, so versions vary. Charles Perrault started writing down fairy tales and Mother Goose stories in the 1600s. The Grimm brothers wrote down the most famous versions of these traditional stories in the 1800s, as well as newer stories, both of which they collected while travelling throughout Germany's Black Forest. Some of the most famous Grimms' fairy tales are "Cinderella," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Sleeping Beauty." Another famous writer of fairy tales was Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote "The Little Mermaid," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Ugly Duckling," and others in the 1800s. 

Now, I do have to warn you that the original versions are often somewhat gruesome, reflecting the hardships and violence people faced at the time. However, there are a lot of versions that are perfectly appropriate to share in the classroom. These stories suggest so many directions for classroom instruction, in addition to just being engaging stories that have survived for hundreds of years.

 

Culture

Fairy tales offer wonderful insight into the culture of different countries in different time periods. The use of barter in "Jack and the Beanstalk," superstitions (such as fear of witches), occupations such as axe men (in "Little Red Riding Hood"), the life of a princess or prince, fear of wolves (which led to their almost being hunted to extinction), and even the lack of technology are all worth noting. You can use these details to introduce a discussion on the differences in culture over time, and even use more modern versions to show how adaptive the stories are! 

In addition, did you know that the story of Cinderella shows up in cultures throughout the world? Versions of the story can be found in Korean, Chinese, Egyptian, Native American, Middle Eastern, African, and even Jewish cultures, to name a few. A quick Scholastic search turns up almost 100 variations of the story and even some lesson plan ideas. Kids love contrasting the stories, as well as the illustrations. It really helps open the door to wonderful cultural conversations.

 

Morals/Lessons

One of the great traits of fairy tales is that they always have a lesson to share. Back in the days when people didn’t have newspapers or television, what better way to teach children to behave than through stories? And the wonderful thing is, those lessons are still applicable today. For instance, "Cinderella" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" teach us that if you are a good person, good things will happen to you. "Little Red Riding Hood"? Don’t talk to strangers, stay on the path, and listen to your mother! "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"? Never go in to strangers' homes. "The Three Little Pigs?" Cutting corners can end in disaster. And these are just to name a few!

All of these lessons are pertinent in today’s society. You can use the fairy tales to teach your students some great life lessons. I also highly recommend having them write a modern version, incorporating the moral of the story. My students LOVE this exercise.

 

Point of View

I have this fabulous book, Once Upon a Fairy Tale: Four Favorite Stories, that was written to benefit the Starbright Foundation. It tells "The Frog Prince," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," and "Little Red Riding Hood" from different points of view. For instance, "Little Red Riding Hood" is told from her mother’s, Red’s, the tree cutter's, grandma’s, and the wolf’s points of view. Thus, each version is different. However, the greatest thing is that they are illustrated by phenomenal illustrators AND it comes with a CD with readings by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Mike Myers, and Martha Stewart.

I use this book to teach my students about first person point of view. They also love listening to the readers. As you can imagine, the voices that they use are incredibly entertaining and fun to listen to over and over again.

 

More Great Ideas for Fairy Tales in the Classroom

Want more activities for a fairy tale unit? Here are four more:

*Find different versions of the same fairy tale and have students compare and contrast them. Not only is this a great way to teach compare/contrast, but it opens up the possibility of book talks or universal book reports/presentations.

*Put the big bad wolf on trial! For younger students, focus on just one or two versions of the story and teach them the judicial process. I love using "The Three Little Pigs" and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, for instance. I let my older students research the big bad wolf from different stories, and use those stories to put him on trial. They can even cross-reference stories like "Little Red Riding Hood" to prove that he is a scoundrel.

*Have students learn to write stories by having them create their own version of a specific fairy tale. In my class, students have used iMovie or the Puppet Pals app on iPads for a multimedia adaptation. They can also make their own illustrated book. I really like that fairy tales offer a format for them to follow in their storytelling, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

*Compare the Disney or other movie versions with the literature. Host a debate about why the filmmakers made the changes that they did. Which versions do they think are better? 

My fairy tale unit is always one of my favorites, and my students agree. Though many of the stories are set in a different time period, their messages are timeless. Plus, by teaching your students about fairy tales, you are passing on culture that has been shared for generations. Who know? By incorporating fairy tales into your classroom, you may help your children live happily ever after, too.

 

Comments

If you are teaching fairy tales you need to check out Twinkl, Sparklebox and Teacher's Pet. They are all British Websites that have great Fairy Tale resources. The British version of Scholastic has a great SMART Board notebook four part activity on stories that uses fairy tale characters.

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