Examples of Unit Instruction: Fairy Tales



    The fourth unit to be reviewed, "Famous Fairy Tales," was developed by a student teacher, Carol Sanchez (pseudonym), for a second-grade class in a small, rural, central coast school district in California.  Ms. Sanchez's class had 28 students, was 93 percent White American; most of the students came from families who were middle- and lower-middle class (N = 25 out of 28 students), and there were few special learners.  One child was designated limited English proficient (LEP), and another student was non-English proficient (NEP); both were Mexican Americans.  Three students in the class participated in the school's free or partially subsidized lunch program.  The LEP and NEP learners were pulled out of class five days a week (30 minutes per session) to participate in a second-grade ESL (English as a Second Language) class, in which they were taught English by a Spanish/English teacher.  The classroom teachers in the second grade had little input into the content of the ESL class, and there was little effort to create continuity between the curricula in the school's three second-grade classrooms and the curriculum of the ESL classroom.  Although there was little dialogue and continuity, relationships among all teachers in the setting were quite good, and the potential for more curriculum dialogue and exchange was favorable. 


    Listed below are several key components of Ms. Sanchez's unit from which you can form your own preliminary opinions about the content: 


1.  Introductory statement

2.  Categorization of activities by content area

3.  Main ideas

4.  General objectives

5.  Key questions

6.  Introductory, closing, and selected developmental activities

7.  Statement of multicultural perspective

8.  Evaluation procedures

9.  Unit evaluation

10.  Bibliography


Introductory Statement


    This is a literature-based unit featuring well-known fairy tales and folktales.  Such stories as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Strega Nona," "The Frog Prince," "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Three Little Pigs," "Goldilocks, and the Three Bears," "Cinderella," and "The Gingerbread Man" will be read, compared, acted out, and written about.  This unit is to be incorporated into a four-week period for a second-grade class.  The students will be engaged in exciting and interesting activities that will make these well-loved stories even more important to them.


Categorization of Activities by Content Area

Language Arts

Beginning, Middle, End

Sequencing Events

Changing Endings

Oral Language




Point of View



Create Own Fairy Tale

Magic Bean Writing




Growth of Plants

Wolf Information

Bear Information

Life Cycle of Frogs



Gingerbread Men/Women

Porridge Making

Cookie Making






Map Reading



Pumpkin Activities (Estimating/Graphing)

Time Lines (Cinderella's Day)

Jellybean Activities

Pasta Activities (Classification)


Social Studies

Italy-Map Reading

Reading Maps

Native Americans

Appalachian Mountains (Location)

Folktale Homes

Creating Fairy-Tale Maps



Fairy-Tale Quilt

Gingerbread Men/Women

Making Pigs (Basket Making)


Main Ideas


1.  Fairy tales and folktales differ from culture to culture.

2.  There are similarities and differences between popular childhood fairy tales folktales.

3.  Fairy tales and folktales may be communicated in many different forms.


General Objectives


1.  Students will gain awareness of fairy tales and folktales from other parts of the world.

2.  Students will become aware of the similarities and differences between some fairy tales and folktales.

3.  Students will gain knowledge in sequencing events of a story by using pictures and words.

4.  Students will be able to compare and contrast two similar fairy tales or folktales.

5.  Students will gain knowledge in estimating and graphing their results.

6.  Students will understand the different components of a fairy tale and a folktale: plot, characters, and setting.

7.  Students will be able to explore their sense of taste, smell, and touch.

8.  Students will be able to determine the difference between fantasy and reality.


Key Questions


1.  What differences lie between familiar fairy tales and those of different cultures?

2.  What is point of view?

3.  What does the term main characters mean?

4.  What is setting?

5.  What is the difference between fantasy and reality?

6.  How does our sense of smell affect our sense of taste?

7.  Where is Italy located?

8.  How do we sequence a story?

9.  Are there differences between the same fairy tale or folktale told by different authors?

10.  Are wolves that we read about in fairy tales and folktales the same wolves that are in the forest?


Introductory, Closing, and Selected  Developmental Activities


Introductory Activity   This unit focuses on many different stories, and the introductory activity I have selected has something to do with all of them.  The students will be involved in a lesson that asks them to differentiate between statements of reality and fantasy.  This activity, in turn, will lead into a discussion about fairy and folktales and whether they are reality or fantasy.  I will then read one of my favorite fairy tales from my childhood, "The Princess and the Pea," and will ask the students to guess why this tale was one of my favorites.


Closing Activity   The students will present to their parents the work they have completed in this four-week unit.  They will also present several of the stories we read in a play version for their parents to enjoy.  Refreshments will be served to the parents and students.


Selected Developmental Activities

1.  Opening lesson.  Students differentiate between fantasy and reality.  I will read "The Princess and the Pea." (The students will learn about the difference between fantasy and reality.)

2.  Introduce vocabulary for "Jack and the Beanstalk."  Show students vocabulary cards, which have words and pictures.  I will read the story and students will use the vocabulary words in sentences.  (The students will be able to use the new vocabulary words in sentences of their own.)

3.  Students will sequence the story "Jack and the Beanstalk" by coloring pictures about the story and placing them in correct order.  they then have their own story.  (After reading "Jack and the Beanstalk," the students will color six pictures based on the story and be able to sequence them in the correct order.)

4.  Students will plant beans in cups and measure their progress over the next few weeks.  We will talk about the different parts of the plant.  (The students will take part in planting their own "beanstalk" an then measure the progress of its growth.  they will also be able to identify the different parts of a plant.)

5.  I will read "Strega Nona."  The students will complete a map activity of Italy.  (After reading "Strega Nona," the students will be able to find Strega Nona's hometown on their map of Italy; then they will color Italy.)

6.  I will read "The Magic Porridge Pot" and the students will compare and contrast the two stories. (After reading "Strega Nona" and "The Magic Porridge Pot," the students will be able to describe the differences and similarities between the two stories.)

7.  I will read "The Frog Prince"-students will learn about the life cycle of the frog and sequence the different phases in illustrations. 

8.  I will read "Little Red Riding Hood" in several versions.  (The students will develop their sense of hearing and comprehension.)

9.  I will read "Lon Po Po," a Chinese version of "Little Red Riding Hood," and we will discuss the differences and similarities between the stories.  (The students will learn how storytellers n China narrate the story we know in a different form.)

10.  Students will create their favorite scene in an illustration and then cut the picture into three panels, similar to the panel art found in "Lon Po Po."  (The students will learn about the Chinese art form of panel pictures.)

11.  "Little Red Riding Hood" tells about eye color, so students will create a graph to discover which eye color is the most prevalent in our classroom. (The students will gain knowledge in predicting eye color, graphing their results, counting their results, interpreting data, and comparing their data.)

12.  I will read "The Three Little Pigs" in several versions.  (Students will listen attentively to the story and will be able to answer questions when it is completed.)

13.  The students will act out the story "The Three Little Pigs" as I read it again.  (The students will be able to show their comprehension of the story by acting it out.  They will also understand what a "part," or character, is.)

14.  I will read "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!" which is told from the wolf's point of view.  We will then discuss point of view. (The students will understand what point of view means after reading "The True Story of the three Little Pigs.")

15.  I will read "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"; the students will learn about their sense of taste and smell, senses that Goldilocks used in finding and tasting the bears' porridge.  (The students will be able to label items given to them to taste as sweet, sour, bitter, or salty.  They will complete the assigned activity in groups of four.)

16.  I will read "Cinderella." (The students will be able to listen attentively.)

17.  The students will become more familiar with telling time and will be able to sequence Cinderella's day based on time; they will also sequence their daily events.  (The students will be able to match times written out with the corresponding times on clocks.)

18.  I will read "The Indian Cinderella" and the students will compare and contrast the events in the story with the more familiar "Cinderella."  (The students will be able to compare and contrast different and similar elements in the two Cinderella stories.)

19.  I will read "Yeh Shen," a Chinese version of "Cinderella," and will compare this story to the version we know best.  (The students will be able to compare and contrast the similar and different elements in the two stories.)

20.  As wrap-up activities the students will survey 10 classmates to learn which of the fairy tales we read during the unit was their favorite.  We will collect the information and compose a class graph showing the results.  (The students will be able to collect data, graph the finding, and make an inference.)

21.  As a class, the students will create a "fairy-tale quilt."  Each student will cut out of construction paper one item that relates to fairy tales (frog, glass, slipper, etc), and we will make a class quilt out of their construction paper items to hang on the wall.  (The students will be able to create one object related to fairy tales or folktales, cut it out, and mount it on paper.  They will be able to use their creativity for this lesson.)

22.  Students will present to their parents what they have done in their fairy-tale unit and will perform several plays based on the fairy tales and folktales we have read n class.  (The student will be able to use the knowledge they have acquired throughout the unit to perform works informed by that knowledge.)


Statement of Multicultural Perspective


Educational Equity   I hope that each student achieves success in my classroom.  To help to ensure this, during the presentation and implementation of my unit I will incorporate appropriate teaching strategies that enable each student to acquire the necessary information.  I have incorporated heterogeneous seating groups, set up to ensure that each student has an equal opportunity to learn in my classroom.  These groups will also enhance peer involvement, support, and teamwork. 

    To present vocabulary for the fairy tales that I will read during this unit, I have made vocabulary cards that have the word and a picture to illustrate the word.  The pictures will give all students, including my non-English proficient student, a visual reference to associate with vocabulary words.


Intergroup Harmony   In forming the groups in which students will work cooperatively, I will group them by gender, ability, and capability to work effectively together.  I will also talk with the students to make sure we know what it means to work as a team.  My bilingual student will be placed next to my non-English proficient student so as to increase both students' self-confidence and opportunity for success.  As students are placed in groups, some may not get along.  Students will understand that in life they do not always have to like someone but may have to work side by side with this person, and teamwork should help them learn cooperation.


Valuing Diversity   I value and encourage all the opinions of the children in my classroom.  Through modeling, the students will learn that even when they disagree with someone, that person's opinion is also important.  Diversity should be encouraged.  I will point out diversity among classmates when we discuss the versions of fairy tales we each know best.  Also, diversity will be addressed when we examine the same fairy tale as told in different cultures.  All people are important, and that is what will be stressed.


Knowledge of Other Cultures    A large portion of this unit focuses on the students' examining the similarities and differences between versions of fairy tales from our country and from other countries and cultures.  We will then talk about those cultures and why their fairy tales are different from the versions we know.  This exercise will help student see that our knowledge of other cultures helps us to understand why their fairy tales are different.


Evaluation Procedures

    During this unit on fairy tales and folktales, I will evaluate students' progress in learning the material on an ongoing basis.  The students will be evaluated on participation, both in the large group and in their teams of four.  Also being evaluated will be their completed assignments.  By the end of the unit, each child should have completed four sequenced picture books based on what we read in class.  The students' final presentation for parents, classmates, and staff members will be evaluated and will also allow the students to share the work they complete during this unit.  I hope that this unit will be a positive experience for the students and that they will be excited about participating and completing assignments.


Unit Evaluation

    For my initiating activity I tried to incorporate something that would be useful for all the fairy tales and folktales we would be reading.  The students participated very well in our discussion of what was reality and what was fantasy.  They showed great imagination!

    Overall, I feel that the entire unit went very well.  With unexpected things that occur in school days, I found that I had planned too many activities for the amount of time allotted.  Writing lessons, for example, tended to take a few days.  We incorporated math concepts such as graphing, estimating, classifying, and counting.  In language arts we spent a great deal of time sequencing and distinguishing characters, setting, and point of view in the story.  The students grasped the concept of point of view much better than I had anticipated.  Hearing "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!" really made the concept clear to them.  The students were also introduced to different versions of fairy tales and folktales, which we compared and contrasted.  They seemed ot enjoy hearing versions from different countries. 

    If I were to do this unit again with second an, perhaps, third graders, I would use some fairy tales and folktales that they did not know, especially those form other counties.  I think I might also read fewer stories and go into greater depth with the stories we studied.  With second graders I felt as if I needed to keep their interest high by using many stories, but I think that older students could do much more with the overall topic without as much stimulation.



Children's Stories Utilized in Unit

1.  "Cinderella," ed. Marcia Brown (New York: Scribner, 1954).

2.  "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," by Jan Brett (New York: Putnam, 1987).

3.  "Jack and the Bean Tree," by Gail Haley (New York: Crown, 1986).

4.  "Johnny Cake" in English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs (New York: Putnam, 1904).

5.  "Little Red Riding Hood," by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (New York: Scholastic, 1986).

6.  "Lon Po Po," ed. Ed Young (New York: Putnam, 1989).

7.  "Red Riding Hood," ed. James Marshall (New York: Dial, 1987).

8.  "Strega Nona," by Tomie de Paola (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice0Hall, 1975).

9.  "The Frog Prince," by the Brothers Grimm (Mahway, N.J.: Troll, 1979).

10.  "The Frog Prince Continued," by Jon Scieszka (New York: Viking Child Books, 1991).

11.  "The Magic Porridge Pot," by Paul Galdone (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1976).

12.  "The Soup Stone," by Iris VanRynbach (New York: Greenwillow, 1988).

13,  "The Teeny Tiny Woman," by Paul Galdone (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1986).

14.  "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," by Janet Stevens (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987).

15.  "The Three Little Pigs," by Gavin Bishop (New York: Scholastic, 1990). 

16.  "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!" by Alexander Wolf and Jon Scieszka (New York: Viking Kestrel, 1989).


Teacher Resources

1.  Fairy Tale Sequencing, by Evan Moor

2.  Project AIMS, Fall into Math and Science, Spring into Math and Science, Glide into Winter


Analysis of Unit

Does the lesson content or strategy promote or impede educational equity?   Overall, Ms. Sanchez, who was in her second student teaching assignment (11 weeks/full time) with approximately five weeks available for unit planning prior to unit implementation, has designed and delivered a strong unit.  Among the positive attributes, several are important for promoting educational equity for the 28 second graders n this class.  First, Ms. Sanchez employed a wide range of lessons, activities, and teaching strategies to achieve her instructional objectives; this diversity no doubt reinforced the learning styles and preferences of specific learners at the same time that the variety increased the overall level of motivation in the class.  In addition to the variety of methods and lessons, the selection of content and activities was diverse.  The specific stories selected and the wide range of intriguing hands-on activities (cooking, map making, basket making, quilt making, and picture making), along with the well-developed integration of the fairy tales with math and science activities (the eye color graph and life cycle of the frog) and the presence of parents at the culminating experience, all promoted a high degree of student interest and achievement in this unit.

    Ms. Sanchez made good use of cooperative learning, created word/picture flash cards for the two Spanish-speaking learners, and arranged her seating so that the limited English proficient student could help the non-English proficient student in her first steps toward the English language.  For a student teacher this was certainly a well-rounded effort to promote equity.  Nevertheless, as in most lessons and units, the advantage of hindsight and reflection leads to new ideas regarding teaching strategies and content.  One idea, although intended to increase motivation for the two Spanish-speaking students, might also serve, in a limited way, to promote bilinguality for the second graders in this rural heavily monolingual (English) community.

    The strategy is to make available some Spanish-language translations of selected fairy tales (such as "Caperucita Roja/Little Red Riding Hood") for optional reading by Juan and Rosita, assuming that one or both can read in Spanish.  Ms. Sanchez might read aloud one of the fairy tales in Spanish.  Within the unit, the second graders will hear several versions of the Cinderella story from several nations.  Why not also hear a version translated into Spanish, so the children can experience a dramatic  reading in a language other than English?  If the teacher cannot read in Spanish, perhaps an older elementary school student, parent, bilingual aide, or another teacher can help out.

    An excellent resource for locating literature available in Spanish is Recommended Readings in Spanish Literature: Kindergarten Through Grade Eight (Sacramento: California Department of Education, 1991).  The book can be ordered from the Bureau of Publications, Sales Unit, California Department of education, P.O. Box 271, Sacramento CA 95802-0271.  In 1996, the book sold for $5.00 plus $3.25 for shipping.  Call 916-445-1260 for current prices.  Also, Group Editorial Grijalbo, Barcelona, Spain, publishes a series of fairy tales that are available in the United States.  Series One and Two in its collection titled Educiones Junior S.A. includes "El Mago de Oz," "Peter Pan," "Los Viajes de Gulliver," "Las Aventuras de Pinocho," and "Hansel y Gretel." 


Does the lesson content or structure promote cultural pluralism in society or intergroup harmony in the classroom?  With regard to intergroup harmony, the use of heterogeneously structured cooperative learning groups, as noted in chapter 2, is a very strong choice.  In a more limited way, the selection of fairy tales from different nations suggests to the learners that their teacher values the countries and cultures form which these fairy and folktales have emerged.  A teacher will rarely say this explicitly; instead, over time, from one grade to another, students form the impression based on their teachers' cumulative choices about which tales and nations to include.  This unit contained two lovely tales from China-="Yeh Shen" (a Cinderella story) and 'Lon Po Po" (a Red Riding Hood story)-as well as "Strega Nona" (Grandma Witch), a delightful story with an Italian cast of characters.  Because this story was in the unit, the second graders learned where Italy is located and colored a map of Italy.  All this represents very good planning.

    To promote appreciation and acceptance of a wider range of cultures, it would have been appropriate for Ms. Sanchez to include one or more tales from Africa and/or Central and South America.  Teachers have a Caldecott Honor Book available to serve this purpose: Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe (New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1987).  This story incorporates several Cinderella-like elements.  Beyond the beauty of its illustrations and its well-crafted prose, this story has other virtues, ones not usually associated with fairy tales.  For example, on the introductory page to Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters we learn that (1) the illustrations in the book were inspired by the ruins of an ancient city in Zimbabwe as well as the flora and fauna in that region, (2) the names of the characters in the story are from the Shona language, and (3) the author dedicated this book to the children of South Africa.  We now have two more nations, Zimbabwe and South Africa, for students to located on the map; with the addition of this tale, the unit transports the second graders to Asia, Europe, and Africa.  In addition, we have an interesting question to share with the students: Why do you think John Steptoe dedicated this book to the children of south Africa?  After discussing the children's opinions, the teacher could use this question to stimulate interest in further research on South Africa.


Does the unit allow students to expand their knowledge of other cultures and ethnic groups?   In this unit students did not really explore different cultures as much as they experienced literature from several different cultures.  From these experiences they learned that cultures that existed long ago and in widely separated locations developed quite similar folktales and fairy tales.  Thus these stories allow the second graders to catch a glimpse f a common humanity unfolding, through literature, in several different cultures.  In addition, the reading of Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, which introduces the second graders to the idea of a beautiful and ancient African kingdom, could be augmented by several nonfiction articles about ancient African kingdoms.  Taken together, the tale and extra readings could serve to diminish contemporary distortions regarding African history.  Including content that pertains to Africa, along with efforts to provide accurate information about Blacks in American history, could promote better relationships between Blacks and Whites and people of color in general.  At the minimum, children of all colors and cultural backgrounds deserve the opportunity to see themselves and their ancestors sensitively portrayed in the school's literary selections; it is the responsibility of teachers to know where to locate such materials.  An excellent resource is the videos produced for the Reading Rainbow series, seen on Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) around the nation.  The series, hosted by Levar Burton, has one video that celebrates the music, dance, and literature of Africa.  On the 28 minute video, also entitled Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, actress Felicia Rashad reads the story, which is accompanied by close-ups of the artwork from the book.  The reading is followed by a brief, informative discussion about drums and other ancient African instruments made from indigenous materials, such as gourds, bamboo, and conch shells.  In the final part of the video, several elementary school students talks about other books with African themes.  This video helps teachers integrate literature with music, art, craft, dance, and history.  Local education agencies around the country are likely to have copies of the Reading Rainbow series.  

    Finally, if we were teaching the unit, we would add at least one more variation on the Cinderella theme; a captivating little tale named "Atalanta," written by Betty Miles.  This tale, which does not exactly fit into the traditional Cinderella mode, adds a modern twist that second graders would notice and enjoy.  This tale introduces primary graders to a bright and clever princess who speaks her own mind and is determined to select her won husband.  It will demonstrate to students that in the creation of their own folktales and fairy tales, it is appropriate to develop and incorporate new themes and relationships.  The story of "Atalanta" appears in Free to Be You and Me (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974), a project conceived by Marlo Thomas and developed and edited by her, Carole Hart, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Mary Rodgers.




        Davidman, L., & Davidman, P.T. (1997). Teaching with a multicultural perspective: A practical guide (2nd ed.). New York:  Longman Publishers.