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Fairy Tales – more than just a great story

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Every culture has some sort of fairy tale. They started as oral stories to entertain adults and, over time, became staples of children’s upbringing. Over time, they were written down and passed through generations as colorful stories, sometimes with a moral at the end, sometimes just for pure entertainment. And while reading is an amazing thing to do with children, one of the best things to do with fairy tales is to encourage that oral tradition of telling and retelling!

Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales – A Definition

There are a few defining traits for a story to be considered a fairy tale. These stories have some or all of the following within the story:

  • Begin with a common phrase such as “Once upon a time…”
  • Contains fantastic and magical creatures (animals talking and acting like humans, unicorns, dragons, etc.)
  • Have a pattern of three (three little pigs, three billy goats gruff, three wishes)
  • Have a clear antagonist (trouble-maker)
  • End with “Happily Ever After.”

Why are Fairy Tales important?

Learning fairy tales might seem like child’s play, but it’s very important for children’s growth in literacy. The process of learning these stories helps young children in a number of ways.

Fairy Tales
A fairy tale library is a great way for students to revisit their favorites!

Oral Language

Speaking out loud is essential – and young children learn well by copying others. The repeating text in many fairy tales is excellent for building oral language skills. Phrases such as “Little pig, little pig, let me in,” with the response, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” is one such example.


Listening to a story is fantastic, but how do you know if a young child understood what they heard? You let them play! Here are some ideas to help check and reinforce comprehension:

  • Retelling the story – through felt boards, orally, with figures at the block center, etc.
  • Acting the story out in the dramatic play center
  • Sequencing the events using picture prompt cards
  • Identifying the characters
  • Creating “spin-offs” – students use familiar characters and put them in new settings and new adventures.


Stories are an excellent way to introduce new and exciting vocabulary words to little learners. Using terms such as “protagonist” and “antagonist” is not out of reach, even for students as young as three years old! Using the larger vocabulary words gets those little wheels turning and makes students feel “grown-up.” Introduce the terms at their level first. “Do you want to know a fancy word for the troublemaker of a story? We call that an ‘antagonist.’ Who do you think is the antagonist here?”

Fairy Tales

Favorite Fairy Tales

Some fairy tales are very dark and disturbing or very complicated. Remember, many fairy tales began as oral stories to entertain adults. For the youngest students, it can be tricky to find the ones that are the best suited to their level. Some favorite choices are:

Other fairy tales might also be an excellent fit for individual classrooms, but always give each version a read-through to ensure it is developmentally appropriate for the group.

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Fractured Fairy Tales – Tales with a Twist!

One fantastic part about fairy tales is the number of available variations. Being part of an oral tradition, these variations developed organically at first. Each storyteller would add a little spin on things to make it their own or more enjoyable. This hasn’t changed much! For every fairy tale out there, there are likely dozens of variants. Some are funny, some are twists, and some are simple edits to parts of the story. All of these give a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the versions at a preschool level.

Learning to Compare and Contrast with Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales

Step 1: Get Familiar with the Classic Version

The first step to doing a compare and contrast exercise is to read and re-read the classic story several times. The students should be very familiar with the story and able to recount the main ideas independently. This can be done by re-reading the same book several times or reading similar versions of the classic tale.

Step 2: Introduce Fractured Fairy Tales

Next, introduce a “fractured fairy tale” version. For example, after reading several variations of The Three Little Pigs, introduce the Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark. Before starting the story, ask the students what they can see is the same and what is different. As the story is being read, do not be afraid to pause and point out similarities. After the story is over, discuss what they liked and disliked about the variation, what was the same, and what was different. Brainstorm what variations the students would love to see next if they were the author!

Step 3: Bringing the Fairy Tales to Life

Fractured fairytales are retellings that change the story in significant ways. The antagonist and protagonist might be swapped, the setting might be completely different, or there might be a surprise twist ending. These are often humorous and are fantastic for talking about other points of view.

There are many other ways to help students retell the fairy tales. Bring the stories into music time with songs such as When Goldilocks Went to the House of the Bears or Laurie Berkner’s Lots of Little Pigs. Provide stick puppets, play sets, or felt boards to encourage small groups or individual exploration. And the grand finale? Have a fairy tale theatre where the students perform one or all of their favorite fairy tales for their parents, other classrooms, or each other!



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