Monday, September 1, 2014

Fables Teach Writing Lessons in Purpose, Clarity

Aesop’s Fables is a classic that should be part of every home and school library, not only for its centuries-long influence upon literature but for its ever-timely, pithy points about life.  When used as writing models, these stories can inspire new versions of old favorites, help writers learn to revise for purpose and clarity, and connect with Common Core standards.

* Have available in classroom or share one or more collections of Aesop’s fables.  What do students notice about the writing and illustrating style of each?  Depending on publication date, some collections will be more overtly didactic than others.  For an especially fine version that eschews the tacked-on “message,” you might share the picture book Aesop’s Fables (minedition, 2013), which includes 13 favorites and quirky, intriguing illustrations by Ayano Imai.

* Share several tales with students and talk about their history, as being credited to an ancient Greek storyteller named Aesop.  Discuss the nature of fables as being stories, often with animal characters, designed to teach a life lesson.  Have students figure out the purpose or point of each tale.  What is the “life lesson” being taught?  How does the author convey that without tacking on the moral or telling the reader what it is? What do the animals do?

* Ask students to find examples of these tales, either as book re-tellings or as used in popular culture (advertisements, decorations on clothing, etc.).  Ask students why they think these tales continue to be re-told or referenced.  Why do they still speak to us?

* Have students write their own short fables, following this process:  (1) write down the life lesson you are trying to teach; (2) choose one or two animals that might help you to show this and jot down their personalities; (3) write a fable in which animals “act out” this life lesson, with action and dialogue; (4) revise, asking yourself if you showed how the animal learned the lesson; (5) share with a peer writer for feedback on word choice, clarity, etc.; (6) revise again; and (7) draw a picture, which can be as funny, surreal, or straightforward as you like.

* Compile the individual fables/pictures into a class booklet or display on bulletin board.

* Teens and adults might enjoy take-offs on the animal-fable form, especially David Sedaris’s hilarious Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (2010).

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