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.
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.
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!
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.