Activity 1. An Introduction to Helpful Animal Tales
Begin by discussing with students the definition of a folktale and list various tale types they will likely recognize, asking them to fill in examples of each type: wicked stepmother tales (students might respond with "Cinderella" and "Snow White"), brother and sister tales ("Hansel and Gretel"), and helpful animal tales ("The Fisherman and His Wife"). You might ask students if they remember any stories or movies in which animals provided aid to humans. (Animal characters in many Disney movies still fill this role.)
One possible definition of folktale comes from the Encarta Online Encyclopedia, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library:
- "A generic term for the various kinds of narrative prose literature found in the oral traditions of the world. One of the many forms of folklore, folktales are heard and remembered, and they are subject to various alterations in the course of retellings. As they are diffused (transmitted through a culture), some folktales may pass in and out of written literature (for example, the "Rip Van Winkle" story), and some stories of literary origin may cross over into oral tradition (for example, the anecdote about George Washington and the cherry tree). Nevertheless, an essential trait of folktales-and all folk literature-is their diffusion, and their passage from one generation to another, by word of mouth" ("Folktales" at Encarta.com).
- Next, read aloud with the class the Inuit tale "Crow Brings Daylight". Using copies of the Story Elements chart, provided in .pdf format, or one of your own design, have students identify characteristics of this story and use this list of elements to collaboratively devise a working/preliminary definition of a "helpful animal tale" (a short narrative in which clever animal characters with the ability to speak bring aid of some type to humans). Students should also note that this type of animal tale explains the presence of some natural phenomenon, in this case, daylight.
- Ask students why they think Crow brought daylight to the Inuit people. Responses will indicate that Crow has some of the same personality traits as humans, even though he is not human himself. From this discussion, introduce students to the definition of personification.
- If you teach in a laptop program, students can fill out the story elements chart on their laptops alone or in pairs.
- After completing the story chart for "Crow Brings Daylight," break the class into two groups. One group should read "Coyote Brings Fire" (Native American) while the other reads "The Four Dragons" (Chinese). Each group should work together to list the important elements of the story on their story charts, just as they did with "Crow Brings Daylight."
- Ask each group to work together to retell their story to the other group, emphasizing the important elements on the story chart. Once all squares on the story chart have been filled in, use these elements to write a definition of a helpful animal tale.
The following questions can be answered as a class, in small groups, or assigned for homework. Note that students must use the story chart to help them complete the questions.
Once the students have completed the chart for all three stories, have them answer the following questions:
- Although these stories come from three very different cultures, how are the problems that the humans (in the case of "Coyote Brings Fire," other animals) face similar?
- How are the animals' reasons for helping the humans similar? In other words, what motivates the animals to be helpful in these stories?
- Which animal uses the most realistic way to solve the humans' problem? Explain what you find realistic about the solution.
- Which of these stories did you like best and why?
Activity 2. Animal Brides and Bridegrooms: The Role of Transformation in Helpful Animal Tales
- Begin by reviewing terms from the previous lesson: folktale, helpful animal tale, personification. Introduce the term "transformation" as a way of presenting the next set of stories.
- These tales are longer and more complex than the first set of tales. As they read and discuss them, students should notice that the characters are more complex, as are the relationships between the humans and the animals involved in each story. Each of these stories also involves the transformation of a character at the end of the story, which implies a lesson to be learned about the benefits of a cooperative relationship between humans and animals.
- Read aloud with the students the Brothers Grimm folktale "The Frog King", and identify the important story elements of "The Frog King" using the Story Elements Chart #2, provided in pdf format. Ask students to compare this story to the animal tales of the previous lesson. How is this tale more complex?
- Break students into small groups to read "The Girl Who Married a Bear" and to fill out the second story elements chart. They should note several contrasts with "The Frog King." As they begin to puzzle through the similarities and differences between the two tales, it might be useful to have them plot the points of comparison and contrast on a Venn Diagram, provided in .pdf format.
- The following questions can be answered as a class, in small groups, or assigned for homework. Note that students must use the story chart to help them complete the questions.
Once the students have completed the chart for all three stories, present them with the following questions:
- At the beginning of each story, what personality traits do the two girls have in common? Why do you think the storytellers chose to start their stories in this way?
- How are the conditions for the animal's aid similar in both stories? In what ways are these conditions slightly different?
- What must each girl learn about animals and about herself before the transformation can occur at the end of the story? Would you say that both girls are better people by the end of the stories?
- Why do you think the Native American storyteller chose to end the story the way he did-with the bear-husband dying and the girl being the one to transform? Do you like this ending more or less than the ending of "The Frog King"?
Once students have had time to think about these questions, come back together as a whole class to arrive at a theme for this type of helpful animal tale. Ask the students what makes transformation possible for the frog and for the girl. You might arrive at something like: Cooperation and respect between humans and animals leads to the miraculous transformation of one and the happiness of both parties.
Based on the elements of the second story chart, ask students to construct a definition of a helpful animal transformation tale. If more reinforcement is desired, assign the students to read "The Princess and the Mouse".
Activity 3. Helpful Animals and Ungrateful Humans
- Review the theme from lesson two: Cooperation and respect between humans and animals leads to the miraculous transformation of one and the happiness of both parties. Ask the students what might happen if that cooperation and respect never occurs. What might be the consequences for ungrateful humans?
- Read aloud with the class "The Fisherman and His Wife", "The Bachelors and the Python", and
- "The Kaha Bird". This time, give students a blank story chart, provided in .pdf format, and ask them to identify the important elements of "helpful animal/ungrateful human stories." You may want to allow the students to do this work in groups.
- Once the students have finished this story chart, as a class discuss how these stories differ from the previous two sets. Students will need all three of their story charts to do this. To summarize, ask students what types of behaviors lead to what types of endings in these stories?