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Daily Archives: May 14, 2012

Junior High Creative Writing Activity: A Fractured Fairy Tale

Children hear and read fairy tales at a young age. When they reach late elementary and junior high school age, they can explore and discover inconsistencies in fairy tales i.e. Goldilocks breaks into the Bears’ house and vandalizes it. Here is a creative writing activity in the form of a parody.

This is the most popular creative writing activity in our junior high class. This plan has worked well for me as a junior high teacher, but I think could be used with upper elementary students. I think it can be modified and meet the needs of younger and older students.

We use Jon Sczieska’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as a model of a parody.

The unit plan includes:

Process

Reading the story to the class and brainstorm differences between the original and this version? Most students are familiar with the original story of The Three Little Pigs, but have it on hand if someone is unfamiliar with the story.

What fairy tales are students familiar with? Brainstorm and create a list. What parodies of fairy tales are they familiar with? Have they seen Shrek? What makes Shrek different from other fairy tales? Students may recognize Shrek as a parody of the genre and has features and structure of a fairy tale while it spoofs the genre in various ways.

What twists can be used to rewrite a fairy tale i.e roles of antagonist and protagonists or plot events? Some examples students have shared include what if the third little pig refused his siblings refuge to teach them a lesson where would they stay?  Could the pigs organize a pig posse to run the wolf out-of-town?  Would they have become ‘ham jam’?  What about the story from the wolf’s perspective?  What if the wolf were a vegan?

What other fairy tales are students familiar with?  Brainstorm and make a list. This helps students choose a fairy tale to rewrite. Choose a familiar fairy tale and brainstorm ways to ‘fracture.’ We have used Cinderella. The list can offer starters for students and could also be used in the parody of another fairy tales. What if…

  • Cinderella has beautiful step sisters?
  • The prince cannot dance?
  • Cinderella is a homebody who likes to cook, sew, and clean and is not interested in attending the ball?
  • The magic wand is defective and does not get the spell right?
  • Cinderella does not want to get married?
  • Cinderella wants a car and not a carriage?
  • Etc…

Brainstorm elements fairy tales share and create a graphic organizer to hand out. Some features have included:

  • Once upon a time…
  • Good vs. evil
  • Beautiful heroine and handsome prince
  • Magic/supernatural
  • Personification
  • …live happily ever after
  • Etc…

Students can ‘fracture’ a fairy tale and change stories in unexpected, clever, and humourous ways by altering characters, modifying language, using a modern context, etc. The fairy tales still remain true to their original forms despite changes.

Here are sites to find fairy tales or refresh memories about the fairy tales students choose: Story Nory, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Ivy Joy. Some sites include other genres i.e. fables. Stick to fairy tales as they are well-suited for this project.

Students include an outline or web and a rough draft. Peers or teachers can proofread the story so students can edit.

Final Product

A picture book format is popular. The authors of the picture book can read to their stories to younger students.

Words of caution

  • This is not a yearlong project
  • Students  need to choose something of a manageable length.
  •  Usually the audience is younger. Students should use appropriate language and images, keep the book short i.e 20 pages, and use large font.

Assessment

I use this activity to assess creative writing, sharing orally, and finding appropriate images for the story and the audience. As well, there are brainstorming, proofreading, and editing.

Questions

What engaging writing activities do other teachers use in their classrooms? What changes can be used for older and younger students? What other assessment purposes can you think of for this type of activity?

The Mindful Teacher by Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley

Last year, I was in a challenging situation and sought a path to continue my teaching and learning journey. Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley wrote a book called The Mindful Teacher. I read the book during September 2011.

A thesis was teachers feel alienated working in a system where few “possibilities remain for ethical, caring teachers to hone their craft and to inspire their students with the sheer joy and delight that is found in learning” (p. 2). The authors used teacher stories and personal reflections obtained through The Mindful Teacher Project which involved public school teachers in Boston. MacDonald and Shirley cautioned this was not “a recipe that can be followed, or  a ‘silver bullet’ … it is a form of teaching that is informed by contemplative practices and inquiry that enables teachers to interrupt their harried lifestyles, come to themselves through participation in collegial community of inquiry and practice, and attend to aspects of their classroom instruction and pupils’ learning that ordinarily overlooked in the press of events” (p. 4).

As I read the book, I realized how inattentive I had grown in classroom instruction and about personal growth. Collegial mindfulness has not appeared in a conventional sense, but I discovered alternative spaces i.e. daily meditation, spiritual retreats, World Café Events, and blogging which filled some of the void. I try to pay closer attention to “Who is the self that teaches” advocated by Parker Palmer. I completed a guided study into mindfulness in daily life. Each aspect added mindfulness previously absent in my life.

Amazon Books

Gains: I  have slowed down, reflect more often, and try respond and not react. It is a journey and that is why we call it practice. Each school day, I spend 20-30 minutes meditating. When I am flustered in the classroom, and it happens, I try close my eyes, take a deep breath, and clear my mind before I respond. I refer to those successful moments as the new Ivon. An important gain was teaching is a calling, a vocation. As I read, I was reminded of that.

Questions: What do we do when adults do not trust between one another and that appears irreparable? I assume the authors wrote the book due to a perceived need by the authors. I imagine there are environments lacking trust. What do we do then?

Recommendation: This is short, easy read filled with stories and ideas. From a veteran teacher perspective, it helped me tend to long overdue internal work. A new teacher could use ideas to shape their career. I would recommend it for all teachers and, when done, find a group and have open, joyful, non-judgmental conversations. What brought you to teaching and learning?

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