Adult Ed
Fairy Tales


Activity 1: Using Anticipation Guides to Learn about Fairy Tale Elements
Activity 2: Analyzing Stereotypes in Fairy Tales
Activity 3: Reading and Writing Fractured Fairy Tales
Activity 4: Comparing Fairy-Tale and Novel Structures

Activity 1: Using Anticipation Guides to Learn about Fairy-Tale Elements

Preparation: Print the Anticipation Guide. If you want to add statements about fairy tales to the guide, do so and then make enough copies for the class. Some of the statements will be true of most fairy tales, some will pertain to particular fairy tales, and some will not be true. Prepare handouts of four or five popular fairy tales such as "Snow White," "Sleeping Beauty," "Beauty and the Beast," Cinderella," and "Rumpelstiltskin."


Step 1 Distribute copies of the Anticipation Guide and ask the class to complete them.

Step 2 Divide the class into 4 or 5 groups, depending on how many fairy tales you will be working on. Distribute a different fairy tale to each of the groups. Have the groups read the fairy tale and then discuss the statements in the Anticipation Guide in light of the fairy tale they read. Which were true? Which were false? Which were unclear from the material in the fairy tale?

Step 3 When students have finished discussing their fairy tale, create new groups so that at least one member from each of the old groups is in every new group. In their new groups, have them:
  • Tell their fairy tale to the group.
  • Discuss which statements in the Anticipation Guides were true of all the fairy tales, which of some of the fairy tales, and which of none.

Step 4 Reconvene and have each group report back to the class. As students report their observations, record them on the board. Put a star or asterisk on the statements that students observed to be true of all the tales. On a sheet of newsprint, create a class chart that has as category headings each of the elements observed to be in all of the fairy tales. Category headings could include: Setting; Good Characters; Bad Characters; Problem or Task; Magic; Resolution; Reward; Punishments. Label the chart "Fairy Tale Elements Chart," post it, and refer to it throughout the study. Be sure students understand that fairy tales are still being written, that they were originally written for adults, and that this unit is going to give them a chance to study how some of their structural elements are evolving. You might want to make copies of the Fairy Tale Elements Chart and hand them out to the class to use in Activities 2, 3, and 4.

Activity 2: Analyzing Stereotypes in Fairy Tales


Twenty of the shorter fairy tales from a traditional collection (THE COMPLETE FAIRY TALES OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM is listed above, but you might want to use those written by Perrault, Hans Christian Anderson, or others which haven't been listed); THE STORY OF THE ELDEST PRINCESS, by A.S. Byatt. Steps:

Step 1 Divide students into five groups. Distribute newsprint to each group. Have each group read four fairy tales and use the categories from the chart to record on the newsprint each tale's setting, good characters, bad characters, problem or task, magic, resolution, rewards, and punishments.

Step 2 When charts have been completed, have students discuss these questions in their groups:
  • Who are the good characters? What do the good characters look like? How old are the good characters? What do they do that makes them good?
  • Who are the bad characters? What do the bad characters look like? How old are the bad characters? What do they do that makes them bad? Are they male or female?
  • What actions do the male characters perform?
  • What actions do the female characters perform?
Have groups compare the answers to these questions in relation to each of the fairy tales. Then have them write a paragraph describing what they learned about how men and women are portrayed in the tales that they have read.

Step 3 Ask groups to report back.

Step 4 Distribute copies of a modern fairy tale with a feminist outlook, such as THE STORY OF THE ELDEST PRINCESS, by A.S. Byatt, and ask students to read silently. When they are done, have them fill out the Fairy Tale Elements Chart and discuss the questions from Step 2 (above). They should then list the contrasts between the Byatt fairy tale and the traditional ones they have read.

Step 5 Reconvene as a whole class and ask students to talk about the differences between the traditional and modern tales.

Step 6 Using the information from their Fairy Tale Elements Chart, have students choose three story elements and write a comparison/ contrast essay on how those elements are treated in one of the traditional fairy tales and in Byatt's modern tale.


Have students view a) a situation comedy; b) a fantasy show such as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER or CHARMED; and c) a science fiction show such as STAR TREK. Have them fill in a Fairy Tale Elements Chart for each of these shows and write paragraphs comparing/ contrasting each with fairy tales. Have them report their findings the following week.

Activity 3: Reading and Writing Fractured Fairy Tales


Step 1 Distribute "The Witch's Broom" from FRACTURED FAIRY TALES.

Step 2 Divide the class into groups and have them read the tale, fill out Fairy Tale Elements Charts, and discuss the same questions asked in Activity Two, Step 2.

Step 3 Reconvene as a class and ask students to report back. Discuss: What makes this fairy tale "fractured"? How does it go against their expectations of what a fairy tale should be? How does it conform to their expectations? Use the Charts to guide the discussion.

Step 4 Divide the class into groups of five and ask them to write a fractured fairy tale. Have each member of the group take primary responsibility for one of the fairy tale elements. (One student in each group should be responsible for determining setting, another for deciding the nature of the problem or task, another the type of magic, etc.) This step may take several sessions so that sufficient time is set aside for drafting, responding to, redrafting, and editing student work.

Step 5 When students have completed their final drafts, have each group read their fairy tales to the class.

Activity 4: Comparing Fairy Tale and Novel Structures


Step 1 Ask students to read one of two novels that contain fairy-tale elements, such as TAM LIN and PUSH. Divide the class into groups based on the books they have chosen to read so that students reading the same book should work together. Teachers should assign the reading in weekly increments that are reasonable for their students based on how quickly they read and the difficulty level of the book.

Step 2 Set aside time in each session for students to discuss the assigned reading. Have students use Fairy Tale Elements Charts to summarize the text and keep track of how each element plays out in the novel they are reading. As in Activity 3, have one student in each group take primary responsibility for charting out one of the elements throughout the course of the novel. Have them record the information pertaining to their story element on sheets of newsprint.

Step 3 When students have finished reading, have them work in their groups to brainstorm and make lists of how their novels were like and unlike fairy tales. Have them refer to the running summaries they have kept on newsprint (in Step 2). Ask groups to discuss in their groups these questions: Were there characters who were only good or only bad in the novel? How were tasks accomplished or problems resolved? What role (if any) did magic play? Were people rewarded and/or punished? For what? What were the resolutions? How did they compare to the resolutions of the fairy tales?

Step 4 Reconvene as a class, and have the groups:
  • Summarize the novels they read for the rest of the class. (If several groups read the same novel, divide up the task of summarizing among all of the groups.)
  • Discuss how the novels compared with "pure" fairy tales across each story element.
  • Compile a class list of areas of comparison and contrast for each of the novels.

Step 5 Ask students to write an essay comparing and contrasting three structural elements in the novel they read with those of a fairy tale of their choosing.


Have students read 4 or 5 different versions of "Cinderella" (several are listed in the "Materials" section above), and have them compare 2 story elements across versions. Have them research the geographical locations where each version originated and write about the ways in which the location is reflected in the tale.

Have groups write a Fractured Fairy Tale Play based on the tale they wrote in Activity 3.

Have students research the life of a fairy-tale writer (for example, the Grimms, Perrault, or Anderson) and report on his/her time period, where he/she lived, etc.