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Debate Lesson Plan

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Using Fairy Tales to Debate Ethics



Arts & Humanities

  • Language Arts
  • Literature

Social Studies

  • Psychology


  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8


Brief Description

Three fairy tales challenge students to think about honesty, right and wrong, and other questions of ethics.


Students will

  • listen to or read three popular fairy tales.
  • respond to questions those tales raise about ethical issues.
  • take a stand on the ethical question raised by the story From the Elephant Pit.


fairy tale, ethics, honesty, self-esteem, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, folk tale, debate

Materials Needed


Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students consider the ethics of characters in three fairy tales.

  • In "Puss in Boots," a clever cat engineers a succession of hoaxes and lies for the benefit of its master. As a result, the master eventually marries the king's daughter and appoints Puss in Boots prime minister, and all parties live happily ever after. Among the debatable questions inspired by this fairy tale are Was Puss in Boots wrong to lie to the king and deceive him?, Was the cat wrong to trick the ogre and then kill him?, and Is trickery ever justified? Challenge students to support their positions with at least three cogent arguments.
  • In "Jack and the Beanstalk," young Jack, whose impoverished mother is left with nothing but the family cow, is sent to market to trade the cow for as much money as he can. Jack trades the cow for a handful of beans and, in despair, his mother throws the beans out the window. Jack narrowly escapes from the giant with two stolen treasures that will secure the future for himself and his mother. Among the debatable questions posed by this story are Since the giant wanted to eat Jack, was it OK that Jack stole the giant's goose and harp? An older version of this familiar tale offers up some unique twists that will add to the debate: Since the giant had stolen everything from Jack's father, do you think it was OK for Jack to take it back?
  • A lesser-known Tibetan folk tale, From the Elephant Pit is about a hunter who happens upon an elephant pit, in which a man, a lion, a mouse, a snake, and a falcon are trapped. Among the debatable questions posed by this story are Was the hunter better off because he rescued the man from the pit? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Create a two-column graphic organizer for the first two fairy tales above. Print one of the ethical questions raised by the tale at the top of the graphic organizer. Print "Yes" at the top of the first column and "No" at the top of the other. As students share their responses to the questions, write the responses in the appropriate columns.

For a printable comparison chart, see Comparison Chart.

Provide students with a copy of a two-column graphic organizer such as the Comparison Chart. After reading the story "From the Elephant Pit," pose the question Was the hunter better off because he rescued the man from the pit? Let students consider both sides of the question by writing statements in support of a "Yes" and "No" answer in the appropriate columns on their charts. Then give students an opportunity to take a stand; they use the information on their graphic organizers to support that stand.

The lesson ideas above and more are posed in an Education World article by Elaine Lindy, an expert on storytelling for character education and CEO of Whootie Owl Productions. Lindy created the popular children's storytelling Web site, Absolutely Whootie: Stories to Grow By. To find more ideas for using fairy tales in classroom debates, as well as tips for managing a classroom debate on ethics, see the complete Education World article Using Fairy Tales to Debate Ethics.


Students write a brief response to any one of the questions posed in the lesson; in addition, they might draw an illustration to accompany their writing.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World (with resources from Absolutely Whootie: Stories to Grow By

Submitted By

Elaine L. Lindy

For more information on debates, read our Lesson Planning article, It's Up for Debate!