Fairy Tales. What a cool form to explore with third graders. Magic. Good vs. Evil. A terrible problem that works out in the end. Right up the alley of 8 and 9 year olds who are more than willing to live in secondary worlds. I recently had the chance to open up the idea of writing fairy tales with a third grade class. The class was in the midst of writing various forms of short stories involving a classroom character that they had developed by the name of Kaitlyn Rose Anderson. The teacher wanted to challenge the students to write their own fairy tales involving Kaitlyn Rose, thus transferring what they know about the character into a completely new context – lots of potential for convergent and divergent thinking and writing to happen.
We started our exploration by doing a quick writing warm up: Make a list of names you’d like to be called. Here’s mine:
Stinky the Nudge
Of course, some students made a list of a names they don’t want to be called. Always good to break the rules in meaningful ways! Here are a few that made me pause:
If that isn’t a window into where the third graders are right now, I don’t know what is!
After we wiggled our elbows for a good three or so minutes, I asked the students to pick their top three names off the list and to share those names with the person next to them. Laughter ensued along with many students saying how much they liked a name that was offered. We were definitely headed in the right direction. Our minds and hands were warmed up, and we had a good laugh. Once students shared their top three names, I mentioned how writers will often make lists of potential names for characters in their stories. I hinted that they may want to use some of these names in the story that we were going to write.
From there, we moved into exploring fairy tales specifically. I asked them what a fairy tale was, and with very little hesitation, hands raised. Through this conversation, we came up with a pretty sophisticated list of fairy tale characteristics.
I then asked them to come on over to the rug so that I could read them a fairy tale. They all scrambled over and we strategized together how to sit so that everyone could see – a classic challenge for young kids. Once folks were settled, I asked them to listen closely to the story to see if our list of characteristics stood up and to see if we needed to add anything to the list. I picked up Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky, showed the front cover, read the acknowledgement, and began the story. The students loved it. I got the sense that several of them had never heard Rumpelstiltskin before. They pleaded with their classmates to not give up what happened next. They identified the king as a bad man but then wondered if the beautiful daughter would be able to change him over time. The room was mixed in terms of whether the daughter should marry the king. The students thought Rumpelstiltskin was pretty scary.
With a turn of the final page and a show of the back of the book, I then asked them if there was anything that we wanted to add to our list of fairy tale characteristics. The students identified two: The challenge or problem grows, and there is repetition. One student pointed out, “And the repetition can be things that characters say or do.” Good point. I added those two important qualities to the list.
I could tell that the students were itching to get started. Before we could jump to writing our own fairy tales, though, we needed to spend just a few minutes talking about this great classroom character that they had created. I wanted to make sure that she was in the front of their minds as they took on the challenge of writing their own fairy tale. We put the classroom character up on the smartboard, and I asked them to tell me a bit about Kaitlyn Rose Anderson. The students shared particular character traits that stuck out. They talked a bit about the stories that they had already written. I asked them to tell me the names of some of the other characters in those stories. The students mentioned Kaitlyn’s sister. I suggested that they may want to include these characters in the fairy tale. I also suggested that they may want to take a fairy tale that they know and write Kaitlyn into it. I posed the question: What would happen if Kaitlyn was in Rumpelstiltskin? There was a buzz. One student asked, “Can I write the next chapter of Rumpelstiltskin?” I nodded. Another student clapped her hands together, “Can I mash a bunch of fairy tales together and see what happens?” The class loved that idea. And with that, I sent them back to their writing tables.
Just before we got started, the teacher piped up, “What other fairy tales do we know?” The group came up with a long list. Fairy tales were definitely in their minds. They were ready to write.
I posed the challenge to them: write a fairy tale that involves Kaitlyn Rose Anderson as a main character in the story. Before I sent them off to their writing spaces, I mentioned that one of the great things about fairy tales is that they kind of supply the opening line for us, so we don’t need to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to start. I encouraged them to literally take the first line out of Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, or Kate and the Beanstalk, and see where the writing takes them.
Once there was a poor X who had a beautiful X.
Long ago, a girl named X lived with her mother in a X.
In a time not too long ago and in a land much like our own, there lived a X and a X.
Students were already scribbling away, so I stepped aside, got out my own pad of paper, and let them write.
At first there was a bit of chatter. Students were looking at each other’s writing, pointing out how to spell a word, asking a question, flipping through the pages of Rumpelstiltskin for inspiration or just to figure out how to spell the name. After a bit, I coached, “Let’s put all of that talking energy down on the paper. Work to answer your questions through the writing. See if you can fill a page.” The room quieted down, and you could practically feel the focus in the room.
About ten minutes in, I broke the silence, and suggested some ways to keep going: “If you are finding yourself thinking a lot instead of writing, take a look over here at our list of fairy tale characteristics.” I pointed to the list. “They might give you some ideas on where to go next. For example, is your problem growing? Where is the repetition? Do you have a bad character? Another thing to do is to read what you have written. Just by doing that, you will probably find what needs to be written next.” I looked out over the group, “I also like how some of you are going back to your first story and reminding yourself of what you wrote. I can see how that might trigger an idea or two as well.” I clapped my hands, “Alright, back to it. Let’s see if we can write for another five minutes or so.” The students put their heads back down and went back to writing.
Before we knew it, the time was up. I needed to leave, and the kids needed to go to lunch. On the way out, I touched base with the teacher, and the plan is to give them a chance to read what they had written so that they can immediately hear the possibility in the writing. Looking beyond that, the students will get a chance to choose one of three drafts of different stories involving Kaitlyn Rose Anderson that they will get the chance to revise, edit, and publish. Not a bad use of an hour of class time if you ask me!