Monday, April 13, 2015

Using Fables and Fairytales to Help Students Generate Ideas

When I visit classrooms to read my new picture book Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, I remind kids that one way authors get ideas is by starting with stories they already know.  I show various examples of picture books that are adapted fables and fairytales, including Goldilocks and Just One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson and The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz.

In your own classroom, you might want to read out loud a few examples of adapted fables and fairy tales.  Then you can transition to helping your students think about different ways of changing a known story. 

1)    Change the characters
Ask students to fill in the blank.  Goldilocks and the Three ______________.
Monsters?  Princesses?  Basketballs?  Other ideas?
How would changing the characters change the plot of the story?
2)    Change the setting
Ask students to fill in the blank.  Hare and Tortoise Race Across ____________.
Washington D.C.?  The United States?  Mars?  Other ideas? Which landmarks would students choose to include in each location?
3)    Change the numbers
Ask students to fill in the blank.  The _____ Little Pigs
5?  10?  100?  Other ideas?
If there were 5 little pigs, what materials might the two additional houses be made out of?  How would one hundred little pigs work together to defeat the wolf?

Ask your students—by themselves, in pairs, or in small groups—to choose one fable or fairytale and change the characters, the setting, or the numbers.  Then students can try writing up (and maybe illustrating!) their own stories.

Another fun activity for classroom writing is to create a mash-up.  What if Goldilocks wants to race against Hare and Tortoise?  Or what if the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood turns out to be the twin brother of the wolf from The Three Little Pigs…and they decide to team up?  Encourage your students to brainstorm different combinations of fables and fairytales, then to write up their favorite.

Starting with a known story takes the pressure off of kids to “think of an idea,” which frees them to be creative and, most importantly, to have fun!

Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, a Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title; Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel; And Then Another Sheep Turned Up; and the Peep and Egg series (hatching spring 2016).  Laura also writes about science for kids and adults.  She lives in Maryland with her husband and four children.  Visit Laura online at and

1 comment:

  1. I love your prompts, Laura! When helping kids write in rhyme, I often suggest they adapt a familiar nursery rhyme or song, so meter won't be an issue - but I never thought of using fairy tales for writing in prose. Thanks!