Elementary School Fairy Tale Curriculum

Notes from Olive Hackett-Shaughnessy
Storyteller–in-residence at NDV since 1989

Original preface for "Rabbit and Rooster", 2014

The fairy tale you are about to read ("Rabbit and Rooster") is an original work by the 2014 second-grade students, Mr. Charles Cecilia, and myself. Although every 2nd grade student will receive the same written text, each copy will be individually titled and illustrated.

Most of the well-known fairy tales I tell are from the oral tradition. No one knows the author but as the 2nd grade students all know, fairy tales have a narrative pattern that begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “they lived happily ever after”. Magic must be included.

My residency at NDV has made me a familiar character to all the students. By 2nd grade we have a lively rapport through the shared experience of old fashioned storytelling. The students anticipate the next moment in a story. They gasp in surprise or laugh, or cover their ears for the cackle of a witch. We have fun. The stories inspire and sometimes heal.

All the while they are learning deep listening skills, critical thinking, literary forms, vocabulary, multi-cultural awareness and the universal themes embodied in myths, fables, folk tales, fairy tales, and legends. They absorb the narrative forms while they are entranced by the adventures of the characters.

For this project, I gave them what I call “Olive’s Fairy Tale Recipe”. The ingredients are, character, setting, problem, magic, help and the happy ending. We charted each story I told to see if it did or did not fit the recipe. They illustrated their favorite stories in a journal.

Once this recipe was easily recognizable to all, I lead them in an improvisational exercise while Mr. Charles took copious notes as the students offered a multitude of ideas and impressions. The students learned to share personal ideas and take risks.

This is how it went. I brought in my Storytelling Bag. It is filled with oddities like shells, stones, bells, dolls, bones and small puppets. I began with “Once upon a time” and then allowed a student to reach into the bag to withdraw an object. The first object became the prompt for the character, the second for the setting, the third for the problem, and the forth for the magic and the fifth of the helper.

Each object chosen inspired new ideas for the story. The class was lively with contributions, possibilities, disagreements, and visual images as the tale took unexpected twists and turns. It sounded like chaos as the story shaped and reshaped with hands waving and voices adding ideas. Mr. Charles wrote all of this down. I took the notes home to write the story.

Mr. Charles read it to the whole class. They added their edits, and I rewrote the final version with white space for each student to illustrate herself. Each student also chose his own title.

For this original fairy tale made in co-creation with the 2014 2nd grade class the objects were the following: character-small, stuffed bunny, setting-white seashell, problem—wooden horse, magic—small orange box with star engravings, helper— a rooster figure.

This has been a delightful experience for me.

(For another example, see "Old Mother Earth". The process was the same, the objects were different.)


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