Kate Coombs

Lesson Ideas for Grades 3-6

For Teachers | K-2 Lesson Ideas | 3-6 Lesson Ideas

Note: Academic standards listed below are from the state of California. Other states have similar standards.

  • In The Secret-Keeper, the people of the village are separated in the beginning by their secrets, but they come together in the end. Read Stone Soup and compare the way those villagers do something similar. Discuss: Why is it nice to be alone sometimes? Why is it good to come together sometimes? When does it help to work together? What makes us stay apart? What brings us together? How is our class like a village? What is the meaning of the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child?"

  • Read the Brothers Grimm's "The Goose Girl," a very old case of identity theft. Compare that plot to identity theft in America's Internet world today. Discuss why the princess didn't tell her secret for a long time. Why did she end up telling her secret to an oven?

  • Read the Norwegian folktale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (available in a couple of picture books and in Norwegian folktale collections). Why is it so important that the girl doesn't tell her husband's secret to her mother or look at her husband with a candle? What is the story's message? What Greek myth is said to inspire part of this tory?

  • Read the Greek myth "King Midas' Ears" with your class and discuss: Why did the barber have so much trouble keeping the secret? Have you ever had trouble keeping a secret? Should a secret ever be told?

  • Have students make their own book covers for The Runaway Princess. They can keep the princess idea and do new art, or they can create a fake jacket that's a little less girly, especially if they're boys and are inclined to do so. They should also come up with a new title! Use this project to launch a discussion about ideas such as cultural conditioning or "spin." Both concepts require young writers/illustrators to consider literary themes such as audience, purpose, tone, and voice.

  • The Runaway Princess twists various fairy tale plot points. There are quite a few books out right now which twist the plots of familiar fairy tales. A couple of fun picture book versions of the folktale The Three Little Pigs are The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by A. Wolf (Jon Scieska and Lane Smith) and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury). Two fun versions of Cinderella are Cinder Edna (Ellen Jackson and Kevin O'Malley) and Prince Cinders (Babette Cole). There are also variations of tales created by changing the setting and situation, such as The Three Little Javelinas (Susan Lowell and Jim Harris) or Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella (Tony Johnston and James Warhola). Your students can track down other twisty tales, and they can also write their own versions of some well-known fairy tales. Two ways to start are as follows:

    • Ask "What if?" to change an important plot point. For example, "What if Cinderella didn't lose her glass slipper?"

    • Ask "What if?" to throw something fun into the mix. For example, "What if the seven dwarves in Snow White were a soccer team?"

  • A third kind of fairy tale version doesn't involve any deliberate twisting: some fairy tales are told differently in different cultures. For example, there are many versions of the Cinderella story in print, among them Hmong, Chinese, Korean, and Egyptian variations. Your students could research these tales and compare them. One important question we can't always answer is this: Where did the story first start? How did it travel and change?

  • Both The Secret-Keeper and The Runaway Princess evoke tales from the oral tradition, that is, folk tales. It may amaze your students to know that they are the keepers and perpetuators of a powerful oral tradition—jump rope rhymes! See how many jump rope rhymes your students can record from memory. Find out if some of the rhymes vary—if so, is it because one student learned his/her version from an older sibling or parent, or even at another school? Take a look at Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymes (Joanna Cole and Alan Tiegreen), Jump Rope Rhymes by The Lady with the Alligator Purse, and other books about jump rope rhymes. Your students might even write a class book of jump rope rhymes, inventing some fresh rhymes of their own for the occasion.

  • Have your students find out: What is a folk tale? Where do these stories come from? What is the oral tradition, and why was it so important long ago? Who put the stories on paper? Did people change them when they did that? (You could even end up talking about censorship, not to mention the fact that folk tales were originally told by and for grown-ups.) Also, what's the difference between a fairy tale and a folktale? Is there a difference?

  • Almost every grade level has a Literary Response and Analysis or History-Social Science state standard relating directly or indirectly to folktales and/or fairy tale twists.

    • Third Grade: Comprehend basic plots of classic fairy tales, myths, folktales, legends, and fables from around the world. [3.2] Note also that this grade studies Native Americans, especially the California tribes. [History-Social Science 3.2] A great collection of California indigenous folktales is Jane Louise Curry's Back in the Beforetime.

    • Fourth Grade: Compare and contrast tales from different cultures by tracing the exploits of one character type and developing theories to account for similar tales in diverse cultures (e.g., trickster tales). [3.4]

    • Fifth Grade: Evaluate the meaning of archetypal patterns and symbols that are found in myth and tradition by using literature from different eras and cultures. [3.6]

    • Sixth Grade: These students study ancient Greece, including the Greek myths. [History-Social Science 6.4] The Greek myths have been a powerful influence on Western art and literature.

  • Look at movies and TV shows influenced by fairy tales. Some of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons borrowed their plots from fairy tales. Recent films include Shrek and Hoodwinked, among others.

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