Fractured Fairy Tales: A Reading and Writing Lesson April 16 2010

During a previous part of my life, I was a scoring director for the Oregon Statewide Writing Assessment. Basically, a bunch of teachers sacrificed their Spring Break to sit in a large, air-conditioned room and first be trained and then score hundreds of students' tests in the six traits from across the state.

Occasionally there would be an outburst of laughter - kids write funny stuff, whether they mean to or not - and the reader would transcribe the funny sentence or two onto a sticky note and then post it on what I termed "The Funny Wall" for other teachers to read during the day. By the end of Spring Break, the wall was covered in sticky notes.

One of the elements during this week of scoring that absolutely made me groan over and over again were the students who tried to tackle the Imaginative Mode with their writing tests. These writing samples inevitably ended with someone waking up from a dream and otherwise lost all semblance of decent organization. I puzzled over this, and determined to make a reading and writing lesson plan that would help kids write decent material in this mode.

The culmination of this lesson, after reading and analyzing traditional and Fractured Fairy Tales, is for students to create Original Fractured Fairy Tales in a picture book format. This lesson will take a chunk of time for students to plan and complete after the initial lesson is over.

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What Makes A Fairy Tale?

Fairy Tales have a solid formula that is easy for kids to recognize. They start out with "Once upon a time" and end with "They lived happily ever after." They have a protagonist, an antagonist, a problem, patterns of 3, a resolution, a lesson learned and general triumph of good over evil. There's also one or more magical elements involved.

Reading and Analyzing

Even though kids might be familiar with a variety of fairy tales, I like to read a traditional one to the class for this lesson. Choose a classic, like Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood or another familiar fairy tale.

After reading it out loud to your students, analyze it as a class, writing down the elements of the formula on chart paper. Make sure you include the setting (usually involves a fantasy land), a main character who is good (protagonist), a second main character who is bad (antagonist), a central problem, action and other details that happen in patterns of 3, magic, a solution to the problem, a lesson learned or presented to the reader. Also, point out that the protagonist wins, and make a note of the standard beginning and ending of Fairy Tales. End this part of the lesson for the day.

The next part of the lesson involves Fractured Fairy Tales. Read a couple to the class. I've included a few that I enjoy:

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man both by Jon Scieszka
The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas
Goldilocks Returns by Lisa Campbell Ernst
The Wolf's Story (What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood) by Toby Forward
Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen
Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson

After reading it out loud, analyze this one with your class, looking for the same elements as the traditional fairy tale. Include a discussion about how the fairy tale was "fractured." What details were changed? Were there any funny parts? What made the fractured fairy tale different from the traditional one?

Writing a Fractured Fairy Tale

At this point, students will be excited about writing their own Fractured Fairy Tale. I like to use this opportunity to take them through the Writing Process from Brainstorming to Final Draft.

For the Brainstorming part of the story planning, I prepared this Fractured Fairy Tale Story Plan sheet for my kids to fill out. After it's completed, they use it to complete a rough draft and then revise and edit their stories.

When it's time for the final draft, ideally their fractured fairy tales would be in the form of a picture book, which is fun for this time of year. However, the structure of their picture books must be as carefully planned as the story. In order to do this, put five or six sheets of notebook paper together horizontally, fold and then staple in the middle - this is the rough draft of their picture books. Students need to use this "dummy" to sketch out where the text and pictures will go in their final drafts (emphasize that THEY DO NOT NEED TO WRITE THE ACTUAL STORY ON THE ROUGH DRAFT PICTURE BOOK).

For the final draft of the Fractured Fairy Tale Picture Book, use 11"x17" white paper, folded in half horizontally and stapled in the middle. If you have the technology and time available, have kids type their stories to cut and paste into the picture book. If not, they will need to use their best handwriting.

Set a date for your kids to share their Fractured Fairy Tales with the class with read aloud times or stations, or simply have them trade their picture books with other students who have also finished. Save the final product in student portfolios and send them home at the end of the year - parents will treasure them!