Students learn about story plots and diagram the plot sequences of Grimms’ fairy tales.
Grimms’ fairy tales, story, creative writing, plot, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution
Fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm are some of the world’s most well-known stories. Because the tales have been re-told countless times, including via the big screen, they can serve as a useful tool to teach about story plots and how authors develop them.
Begin the lesson by re-familiarizing the students with some of the most popular Grimm stories. Ask how many of them have heard of “Cinderella” or “Snow White.” Then ask if they knew that these tales (and many, many more) were first written down by two German brothers several hundred years ago.
National Geographic offers a good biography of the brothers. Discuss the background of the Grimms and talk about how and why the pair began writing down the tales, which previously had only been shared orally.
Next, explain how the parts of a story come together to create a plot. A great teaching tool is the state of Alabama’s PowerPoint presentation on the elements of plot.
The key elements to cover are:
Exposition - The portion of a story that introduces important information to the audience. This information can be about the setting, events occurring before the main plot, characters’ back stories, etc.
Rising Action - The second phase in the five-phase structure. It starts with the death of the characters or a conflict.
Climax - The turning point of the story, where the main character makes the single big decision that defines the outcome of the story and who s/he is as a person.
Falling Action - The loose ends are being tied up. However, it is often the time of greatest overall tension, because it is the phase in which everything goes most wrong.
Resolution - All mystery is solved. In this stage, all patterns of events accomplish artistic or emotional effect (e.g., the ending may be beautiful or satisfying, teach a lesson, or reflect real life in some way).
Following a discussion on plot elements, assign a class activity or homework assignment where students read one or more of the Grimms’ most well-known stories. Ask students to choose (or assign) one or two stories from among “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Rapunzel.” Kids can get the text of these stories from handout 1 (and from handout 2, the text of “The Elves and the Shoemaker” for the Additional Practice activity below). The stories also appear on this site.
NOTE: Many Grimm stories, even in modernized form, contain disturbing or violent elements. For this reason, it’s recommended that teachers let students choose from among the limited pool of stories above, rather than allowing them to access large numbers of stories online.
For each chosen/assigned story, ask kids to use a copy of the Story Summary template to “diagram” the plot. Notice that the template structure differs slightly from that shown in the last slide in the PowerPoint. For this reason, on the template, exposition should be described in the “Beginning” box, rising action should be described in “Middle,” and falling action and resolution should be described together in “End.”
After diagramming, you may wish to read one or more stories aloud to students, or have students do a pair (partner) read or whole-class read-aloud. Then, have students share their story summaries and reflect upon what they learned about the elements of plot.
Suggested discussion questions include:
For Additional Practice:
You will need the text of “The Elves and the Shoemaker” (see handout 2 or this site). This tale may be less familiar to students, and the plot elements are not as clear-cut, adding a bit of a challenge to the activity. Don’t offer the text of the story to students until after they’ve completed one of the two options below.
Option 1: On a whiteboard or projected screen, present students with five statements, each of which represents one of “The Elves and the Shoemaker’s” five plot elements (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). For example, the story’s climax might be written as: “The shoemaker and his wife decide to make clothes and shoes for the elves.” Make sure to present the five statements out of order.
Next, display (in order) the names of the five plot elements. Ask students to put the statements in order, matching each to the name of its corresponding plot element.
Option 2: Display the same statements as above, but display them in order, and instead of showing all five, leave out the resolution. Ask students to predict, based on the climax and falling action, how the story ends.
Conclude both options by having students read the full story and compare it to their ordering of plot elements or predictions regarding the ending.
Lesson Plan Source
Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor