English Language Arts

Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and Other Legends

Bibbidi, Boppidi, Boo! With damsels in distress, villains, magic, and happy endings, fairy tales tend to capture and hold the attention of younger students. However, did you know folk tales and fairy tales are perfect for the middle school ELA classroom as well?

Before I tell you how, we should first discuss the difference between a fairy tale and a folk tale.

Fairy tales are a subset of the folk tale genre. Folk tales originated as oral stories passed from one generation to the next. They are based in reality or history. Fairy tales are actually folk tales. The only difference is fairy tales consists of lots of gnomes, goblins, wizards, and the like.

Many middle school students are familiar with fairy tales thanks to Disney. Most Disney movies took these fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm.

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An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and many more classic stories

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote Grimm’s Fairy Tales. During the 1800’s, hundreds of their stories were published and read by many. Most of these stories are a bit darker than the Disney versions, which further intrigues middle schoolers.

I first taught Brothers Grimm fairy tales to seventh graders completely virtually in the spring of 2020.

When I first taught this, I started off with Snow White. It’s a personal favorite of mine. (Peep the time I dressed up as her when I taught elementary!) Also, I chose it because I thought many students would be familiar with the basic premise of this fairy tale.

Before students read this story, we learned all the criteria that a fairy tale normally encompasses. Students were on the lookout to determine if Grimm’s Snow White had all of the following elements.

Fairy Tale Criteria:

  • Oftentimes begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “And they lived happily ever after.”
  • Contains magical creatures or imaginative characters.
  • Things occur in threes or sevens (Three wishes or Seven dwarves).
  • Usually takes place in a faraway land.
  • Royalty is present.
  • Contains motifs relating to sleep or something reoccurring.
  • Good is always victorious over evil.

After learning the common fairy tale elements, I held an online discussion question of what they knew already about Snow White. Some of the students really knew the story whereas some only knew the basics. We created a list of most known facts concerning the fairy tale. We reviewed the basic storyline from the Disney movie of Snow White.

Snow White: Comparison and Contrast

Then students read the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White, which is the very first and original version.

The first activity we did was to simply compare and contrast the Disney version to the original. Some vast differences include:

  • Snow White was 7 years old in Grimm’s’ fairy tale and 14 in the Disney version.
  • The Queen asked the huntsman to bring her some more gruesome aspects to prove Snow White’s death in the original.
  • The Queen’s death is much different in the original.
  • Each time the Queen visits Snow White’s home at the dwarves’ house, she tries to kill her and each time it looks like she has succeeded, but actually she hasn’t.
  • The dwarves don’t have individual, comic personalities in the original story.

*There are many more differences. These are just a few.

After comparing and contrasting, we analyzed some of the differences and tried to provide justification for them in questions.

For instance, why would the queen’s death include wearing hot iron shoes and dancing until she died? What did this mean?

Furthermore, the students analyzed why Disney changed the way Snow White came back to life. In the movie, Snow White wakes when the prince kisses her. In Grimm’s Fairy Tales, she wakes when the dwarves drop her body. Then, a piece of apple dislodges from her throat, causing her to wake up. Our class analyzed why Disney changed this.

We also read the Grimm’s’ original stories of Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. Our class followed the same consistent pattern of background information, learning the popular basics of the story, then reading, comparing and contrasting, analyzing the differences and choices made by the Brothers Grimm or by Disney, and then determining if it met the fairy tale criteria.

Twisted Fairy Tales

Next, we continued with our fairy tale unit by exploring twisted fairy tales. These fairy tales are considered twisted because the fairy tales have been rewrote from the villain’s point of view or the setting was changed to modern or futuristic times.

One of the most popular twisted fairy tales is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszk in which the wolf tells the story from his point of view. Watch the video below to see and listen as the author reads this intriguing version.

The Other Side of the Story, by Jessica S. Gunderson and Nancy Loewin, is a collection of twisted fairy tales. I highly recommend these books for any age of elementary to middle school kiddos. Their twisted fairy tales are too cute.

Want more information about these books,
please click the link below.

The Other Side of the Story: Fairy Tales with a Twist

After reading examples of twisted fairy tales, students completed a culminating writing assignment. They wrote their own twisted fairy tales. We went through the writing process and peer editing. Their stories turned out wonderfully.

I would definitely recommend exploring Brothers Grimm fairy tales at the middle school or higher age level. Because they tend to have darker and deeper themes, it is just mature enough to capture the older students’ attention and intrigue them.

Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and Other Legends Lesson Plan

If you teach upper elementary to middle school and are considering teaching folk tales, fairy tales, myths, and legends, we have an awesome informative and interactive PowerPoint or Google Slides Lesson Plan Activity to share with your students. Our lesson plan includes a graphic organizer and writing papers for students to write their own twisted fairy tales. In addition, it contains a quick ten question assessment to see how well students learned the information from the unit.

We also have these adorable posters that show the differences between many genres of tales such as myths, folklore, and legends.

If you would like to grab both products, the bundle is below!

Conclusion

Teaching folktales and fairy tales is a great way to begin the school year as there are many opportunities to teach reading and writing standards, as well as to assess where students are in their abilities and levels.

It is also a fun unit to complete around Halloween, in the fall, or as a way to wrap up the year in a lighthearted way. We hope you are able to incorporate some of these ideas and to consider adding this topic to your lesson plans this year.

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English Language Arts

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom

Pictures books are amazing to read in the middle school classroom. When I was in college, my favorite education professor, who taught literacy, read picture books to us. When she first read us picture books, she said something that made a profound impact on me.

She basically asked if we enjoyed hearing the picture books. We all nodded eagerly. It was a nice break to sit back and listen to a book being read aloud, to look at the pretty pictures, and to relax for a few moments. Then she said, “If you, as a college student enjoyed it, why wouldn’t big kids as well?”

Wow. That hit me. Ever since then, I’ve been a teacher that tries to incorporate picture books at whatever level I’ve taught, which has been from 3rd-12th grade. (I know! That is an odd range of grades, but that is another blog post in itself!)

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When I taught high school English, I incorporated such books as The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss to explore the Holocaust before teaching Night by Elie Wiesel.

I read aloud folktales to teach allegory. I read The Day the Crayons Quit to teach diversity. I was the weird high school teacher who seemed like I had forgotten I had left the elementary classroom.

I knew fine and well what I was doing. Reading aloud picture books is a must for any grade level, even in middle school.

Here are some reasons why I read pictures books to older students:

Picture books are a quick and easy way to teach focused mini-lessons.
They demonstrate strategies you are trying to teach in a concise, concrete way.

You can use picture books to teach writing. Explore the story structure, character descriptions, plot, setting, and any other elements to learn how to write a story.

Picture books are just short stories with pictures added. You can teach a variety of concepts such as figurative language, grammatical structure, and so much more.

Students are still reading when teachers read picture books out loud. Think of it as an audiobook.

It gives students a chance to relax for a couple of minutes and reminds the big kids of the simpler days of childhood.

Middle schoolers can also benefit from the timeless moral and social-emotional lessons in picture books.

After teaching middle school for four years now, I find that this age especially loves a good picture book.

Middle schoolers are that fun, yet awkward age of trying to be very grown-up like, but also being sweet and lovable.

Middle schoolers are that fun, yet awkward age of trying to be very grown-up like, but also being sweet and lovable.

Here are some picture books I have incorporated while teaching 6th-8th English and some concepts you can teach alongside them.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

1. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena is about a young boy and his grandmother enjoying the scenery of their neighborhood and the people in it, while on the bus.

Educators can teach imagery from this book and students can explore ideas for their own descriptive writing pieces.

“He saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves. Saw a family of hawks slicing through the sky. Saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon.”

De La Pena uses wonderful word choices to highlight imagery. Students can learn all about the importance of word choice in their writing with Last Stop on Market Street.

This sweet picture book highlights the theme of looking for beauty in the mundane and that it is important to celebrate all the diverse neighborhood inhabitants.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket

The Dark by Lemony Snicket is a picture book I normally save for around October, but it can be taught at any point in the year.

A young boy, Lazlo, is scared of the dark, but the dark talks back to him. I used this book to teach personification. As the dark starts to communicate with the boy and take on actions, readers get a great idea of how to write and recognize personification.

I also like to explore theme with this book as students inevitably find out not to fear and that the big things we are scared of are not always as they seem. This could be a first day of middle school book as students may have fear of starting middle school.

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi

3. The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi


Speaking of the first day of school, The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi is our third book on the list. I always read this picture book the first week of school to my sixth graders.

It is a longer picture book, so I like to break it up over a couple of days. It is about a young girl, Unhei, who has just moved from Korea to America. She decides to choose an American name for her classmates to call her. Her peers help her out by putting their name ideas in a jar. Unhei also means Grace and Unhei explores her Korean identity with the choice of another name.

I use this book for several lessons. I ask students to explore their name meanings and to ask their parents how they received their names. We explore how names shape identity.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

4. After the Fall by Dan Santat

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat is a sweet continuation of the original nursery rhyme. Readers learn that Humpty Dumpty becomes afraid of heights because of his fall and must overcome this fear. The themes of perseverance, courage, and facing fears is present in this wonderful book. It is a perfect choice for social-emotional health that any middle schooler needs. It has a growth mindset as Humpty Dumpty overcomes his biggest challenge.

Some ideas you can teach with this book include having students write their own epilogue to a popular nursery rhyme.

Students can compare and contrast this version to the original nursery rhyme and explore how Humpty Dumpty becomes a dynamic character who changes and has varied depths to him. Dynamic and static characters can be a mini-lesson taught with this particular picture book. There are so many things you can do with After the Fall. An author study would be particularly interesting as Santat wrote and illustrated the book himself.

You can teach the concept that even if a picture book is on a lower reading level than we are accustomed to, writers, particularly Santat, went to college and needed great knowledge to write a book like this. Writing a picture book is in and of itself a science.

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy

5. Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy is a great first week of school picture book. With its focus on social-emotional health and anti-bullying, we see how the protagonist deals with an unkind peer who makes fun of her hair and what she eats for lunch. We see how she overcomes this conflict in a wise way. The reader learns that it’s wonderful to be yourself and not to change due to peer pressure, which is a central point many middle schoolers struggle with. We have so many activities that can be completed with this picture book, that we made a whole unit on it. Please go check it out!

Conclusion

Middle school students benefit from picture books read to them in a variety of ways. From learning writing skills, comprehension strategies, ELA objectives, and morals and life lessons, picture books can and should be used frequently in the middle school classroom.

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Children's Book Reviews, English Language Arts

Love Bud, Not Buddy, But Looking For More?

Do you love Bud, Not Buddy, but are looking for more? If so, this blog post is definitely for you.

Do you love Bud, Not Buddy, but are looking for more?

Life is too short to read horrible books. That’s a motto I try to stick to with any books I choose for my classroom and for any I read during my free time. It can be hard to choose various read-aloud novels, book club books, and units that a variety of students will enjoy. Every child is different with diverse interests and hobbies. It can be a challenge finding just the right book.

During the summer, I love to take the time to read for myself and for my classroom. My favorite pleasure books are Elin Hilderbrand and any book from Reese Witherspoon’s book club list. If I start a book and immediately don’t connect with it, I put it down…because life is too short to read horrible books, of course.

As far as reading for the classroom during the summer, I pick out books I’m thinking about teaching as units or for read-aloud novels. I am so blessed that my school allows me the autonomy to choose the novel units for my classes. My most recent discovery, Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, was a book I couldn’t put down.

Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, was a book I couldn’t put down.

I was drawn to it because Christopher Paul Curtis, the author of Bud, Not Buddy wrote it. My mother, the elementary librarian, recommended Mighty Miss Malone to me as I was thinking of teaching Bud, Not Buddy to my sixth graders, but needed a book with a female protagonist. We had recently read two books with male main characters, and I wanted to have a female as the protagonist to connect with my girl students.

When I read Mighty Miss Malone and saw how Curtis also connected The Great Depression and WW2, I was sold. As a sixth-grade social studies teacher, as well, I was excited to connect it to my history class, which would be learning about those two topics at the same time.

I highly recommend Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis for any fourth to the seventh-grade classroom. If teaching fourth grade, I recommend it as a read-aloud.

Mighty Miss Malone is about a young girl, Deza, who is the genius of her family. Both of her parents are blue-collar workers, but her father was recently laid off during the Great Depression. Her older brother, Jimmie, is a wonderful singer, but is short in size and not as bright as Deza.

The novel takes the reader on a journey of Deza’s family moving from Gary, Indiana to Flint, Michigan to find work. The novel explores how the Great Depression affected individuals and towns. It explores how racism and segregation made the Great Depression even harder for Black families. It deeply explores the poverty of the Great Depression, with how rotten Deza’s teeth are, how the family must pick bugs out of their oatmeal, and how they have to live in a shantytown as well as ride the rails.

If you are looking for a book that is a true historical fictional novel, Mighty Miss Malone is it. It weaves real-life events into the story, such as the famous boxing match between Black-American boxer Joe Louis Barrow and the German boxer, Max Schmeling. Curtis thoughtfully and carefully explains how Barrow’s boxing match loss deeply affected Americans, especially as they were about to enter WW2.

The reader will also be connected to Deza, the female protagonist, who is a young girl with phenomenal writing talent. Though often oblivious to the depths of her family’s poverty, she slowly becomes enlightened on their journey to Michigan. She also slowly understands and experiences racism more and more as she enters into a de-segregated school.

Deza, the female protagonist, is a young girl with phenomenal writing talent.

Mighty Miss Malone is also a story of how a father’s presence deeply affects a family and of the deep love between Deza’s parents. It tells of how Jimmie, Deza’s brother, although not really given much credit at the beginning of the book, slowly becomes a pivotal character.

Curtis takes such heavy topics, both historically and in relation to the characters, and still makes it appropriate for upper elementary to younger middle schoolers.

He has added elements of light-heartedness, comical moments, and innocence as the story is told from Deza’s point of view. Yet, there is still enough tragedy and depth that it makes this novel so moving.

All of my students loved this book. Mighty Miss Malone spurred on so many discussion points that connected right back to history and related to current events.

Conclusion

It was hard to put this book down. I enjoyed this book even just as an adult and I believe I would have loved it, even if I weren’t a teacher. Mighty Miss Malone, a historical fictional novel, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, is the perfect addition to any 4th-7th grade classroom.

For more information and for a wealth of resources, please visit Christopher Paul Curtis’ Resource Page.

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