Flip Your Instruction for Daily 5: Work on Writing

Thinking Back Thursday

Students become better writers when they have a lot of opportunities to write, but what if they are practicing bad writing habits? In the Daily 5 reader’s workshop structure (or any reader’s workshop model), students “Work on Writing.” One common way students “Work on Writing” in a primary classroom is by adding to class journals about topics such as ‘My Pets,’ or ‘My Family.’ These are great writing opportunities about common themes that students love, but it is impossible for teachers to give feedback on every piece of writing that students do in this format, and it is unrealistic, not to mention un-motivating, to have students polish every piece of writing. So the result becomes an opportunity for students to do a lot of practice writing poorly. And if no one is really reading it anyway, it becomes like the busy work stapled in packets lying in piles around the room.

As a teacher, I philosophically agree with the idea that students need lots of opportunities to write, but giving them opportunities to write poorly feels like a coach that says, “Yes–keep practicing even though you’re doing it wrong. It’s better to practice wrong than not practice at all.” THAT doesn’t sound right either! The philosophy and research behind the structure of Daily 5: Work on Writing is a sound one, so what do we do?

Because many of our littlest (and biggest) writers struggle with the open-ended task of generating a story idea, Daily 5 classroom journals solved the problem by focusing writers on a topic. But what if we take it one step further — students focus on a topic AND a writing strategy. For example, when students write in a class journal about “Things That Scare Us,” their focus can be on descriptive writing and using the 5 senses to describe what it is that scares them.

Then the question becomes, “When will I have time to teach mini-lessons like this for each class journal?” This is where blended learning has earned a growing reputation for being the answer to legitimate concerns like this one. I used Educanon to flip this lesson for the classroom journal ‘Things That Scare Us,” using the book I Need My Monster as a mentor text.

Click here to see it.

You can also give students a more authentic audience by having them publish their class journal entries on a blog instead of in a composition notebook. This gives students the opportunity to have their writing seen by other classmates, parents, and even students around the world! Just like dressing up for the choir concert performance, students will want to “look their best” when writing for a larger audience.

Click here to see my unit plan for Daily 5: Work on Writing Gone Digital

Education in the 21st century is anything but static and constant, but that does not mean that we should throw out everything we know about teaching. I believe that the Sisters’ Daily 5 & CAFE structures and strategies are solid teaching practices, but I saw the need for a 21st century update. Summertime is a great opportunity to slow down and reflect on our teaching philosophy and teaching practices. That is why I decided to start this linky party called:

Thinking Back Thursday

Reflecting & building on past teaching practices

Link up and share how you are updating your teaching practices this year!

TBA's Ultimate Linky Party

Lesson Idea: How are people transformed through their relationship with others?

edmodoTo keep up with teaching and learning in the 21st century, I believe that every teacher needs a PLC (professional learning community) to stay connected and to collaborate on ideas in education because we simply cannot (and should not) do it  all alone. Surprisingly, edmodo is not just a place to connect with students; it is also a great place to connect with other teachers from around the globe. It is a very diverse and  active community, so if you ask for help, suggestions, and ideas, you are likely to get it!

In the ‘Language Arts’ edmodo group, Katie Meece, a teacher from Ohio, posted the following question: “I am looking for short reading selections in any genre to fit with one of my 7th grade units. The essential question is: How are people transformed through their relationships with others? Suggestions?”

I was one of 9 teachers, elementary – high school, from around the world to reply to Katie’s request for suggestions. She got advice from Justin Foreman in China, Tammy Owen in Texas, Melyssa Quintana in New Jersey, Marie Wallas in Washington, Deborah Bobo in South Carolina, Amanda Arlequin in New York, Trimonisha Singer in California, John Vallerga in California, and me, Emily Stout, in Colorado. I was so inspired by Katie’s essential question and the world-wide collaboration that was happening, I wanted to craft a lesson around these suggestions for my students too.

First, I created this thinglink as a reference library of all the suggestions Katie received for her request for short reading selections that fit her essential question. (Click here or click on the picture to view the embedded interactive media in this thinglink).

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.44.41 PM

Later I discovered the Global Read Aloud project, which is a program that uses one book to connect the world by connecting classrooms globally to discuss the same book. There are different books chosen each year, and when I saw The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on the list, I knew it was the perfect story for the essential question: How are people transformed through their relationships with others?

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, discusses the habits of life long readers in her most recent book Reading in the Wild. One of the life-long reading habits is: “Share books and reading with other readers. Readers enjoy talking about books almost as much as they like reading. Reading communities provide a peer group of other readers who challenge and support us.” The introduction to this book states, “. . . the real purposes of reading include personal connections— that books can touch us all deeply and elicit laughter, tears, and other reactions. These connections are part of the very heart of wild reading.” In my elementary classroom, I want to use connections from the Global Read Aloud to create a diverse community of readers, and  then use this essential question to help students focus on the theme, or heart of a story and share the essence of that story with others by creating book trailers and/or book reviews.

In her book Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller teaches her students how to synthesize a book instead of simply retelling it. One of her first grade students explains synthsizing like this: “At first it is a little bit of thinking. Then bigger thinking comes and you add and add on and you take your old thinking and your new thinking and put them together.” Using the strategy of synthesizing a book, students have to dig deeper into the meaning of the story instead of simply retelling surface details. I think creating book trailers is a great way to get at the heart of the story and truly synthesize it. A good trailer should be no more than 2 minutes long, which means you have to focus on the theme of the story to really engage your readers, not just the surface details we typically ask students for on a story map. It’s not that students don’t need to know how to identify the characters, setting, events, and the conclusion—they do, but to get other wild readers to connect to a story and want to read it, it has to go deeper than that. Here is my synthesis of the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Debbie Miller showed us that her first grade students were more than capable of creating a synthesis like this for books they read together in class, and Donalyn Miller emphasizes the importance of connecting with other readers and discussing and sharing books. With the right tech tools, even first graders can create a book trailer based on their synthesis.   I created a backward plan for how I would implement The Global Read Aloud project in my classroom and how I would integrate technology using App Flow. You can check it out by clicking here. For more resource suggestions, you can follow my board on graphite called “App Smashing & Making Multimedia Projects” by clicking here.

How else have you used edmodo or The Global Read Aloud?

Literature + Global Connections + Technology– I Love It When It All Comes Together!

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 8.36.07 PM

I love it when it all comes together!

I have some wonderful connections to share that integrate my 3 biggest passions in education: literacy, diversity, and technology! I’ve recently found 3 great learning opportunities through my PLC (Professional Learning Community), and I saw a way that they all fit together. I hope you’ll join me in participating in them! Click on each of the pictures below to check out these great opportunities to learn and share.

ramona recommendsCourtney, from Ramona Recommends, is doing a traveling picture book linky for the summer. In this linky, you can share a picture book about where you live or a place that you have visited. The book you blog about should teach us about that place. What a great idea! (I’m not the only one who collects picture books from my travels!)

Pigs over denver

My book recommendation for this linky is a book about where I live. Pigs Over Denver was written by Kerry Lee MacLean in conjunction with school children from the greater Denver area. It names the most popular places to frequent in the Denver Metro area, as told by students! There are more books in this series such as Pigs Over Colorado, and Pigs Over Boulder, but Pigs Over Denver is my personal favorite!


Pernille, creator of the Global Read Aloud, has encouraged a global book exchange this year as part of the Global Read Aloud project. If you haven’t heard of the Global Read Aloud, you have to check it out! It’s a wonderful concept–all over the world, teachers read the same book to their students and then connect with another classroom anywhere in the world to discuss the book. Classrooms can write to each other on blogs, through emails, or even do a google hangout with their global epals. Discussing a common book from different global perspectives will give children a whole new outlook on the similarities and differences they share with people from other places. This year, you are encouraged to share a book with your global buddy about where you live to help them learn more about where you are from.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 4.35.04 PMThinglink is hosting a summer PD set of challenges so that you can get some hands on experience with Thinglink and generate ideas about how you can use it in the classroom. The fourth challenge is to create an interactive map.

Click here to see my interactive map for challenge #4

Here is how I put them altogether . . . Choosing picture books that give information about a place you have visited, as done in Ramona’s Recommendations, is the same idea behind the book exchange with the Global Read Aloud, so I decided to make my interactive map for Thinglink’s 4th challenge a collection of these picture books from around the world. This could be a great resource for learning about other cities, states, and countries through picture books from people who have been there!

This interactive map is open for anyone to edit. I have already added the titles and authors of the books from those who have linked up so far, as well as the link to each blog post, but please continue to add to this map! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could collaborate and share a resource that acquainted us with the whole world through picture books?

To further redefine a collaborative resource once unimaginable on a global scale such as this, I would love to have students create a book trailer for the book that introduces their city, state, or country and add it to the same Thinglink interactive map. What a great introduction for their global epals, and what a great, authentic learning experience for students to conduct research and determine the most important things to share about where they live. Better yet, students could create their own ABC book about where they live, just like Pigs Over Denver, using their own pictures or illustrations from the places they’ve been in their community and writing about it from personal experience. iMovie or Videolicious would be great tools to use. If small groups of students each created a video about one important place in their community, all the videos could be combined into one ebook using the app Book Creator and then published on iBooks, or Nook!

A project like this could redefine age-old assignments such as “What I Did Over Summer Break” and “Create a Brochure About Your State.” By giving these time-honored traditional assignments a makeover using technology and an authentic global audience, you now have a 21st century learning experience that can help students internalize the value of where they live and share it with the world.

Book Awards

I am passionate about books, and I want my students to be passionate about them too. I don’t just want my 2nd graders talking about books, I want them to discuss, review, analyze, interpret, and recommend books. That may seem like a high expectation, especially for 2nd graders, but I tried something this year that hit the mark!

I’m a blog surfer, and through scholastic.com, I found the idea for classroom book awards on Beth Newingham’s 3rd grade classroom website. I was so inspired I had to try it! Here’s how I implemented it in my classroom . . .

Part One: A Study of Good Writing

Throughout the year, our class studied different elements of good writing through mentor text. We learned about good beginnings, good endings, and we studied different genres of writing such as fables and fairy tales (see Fairy Tales and Fables post). Using an adaption of  ‘Finding Structures and Patterns in Text’ from Kaite Wood Ray and Lori Oczkus, we discussed, reviewed, analyzed, interpreted, and recommended good books, and we recorded our findings. (Click here for the form we used: Finding Patterns and structures in text.) Using this form as a tool to refer back to, we were able to really look for these patterns and structures in other text, including the students’ writing!

Good Beginnings

We learned that it is important for a writer to have a good beginning in order to grab the reader’s attention so they will want to keep reading. We read mentor text to find out what kind of beginnings good authors use. We named the different kind of structures that we found so we could use them in our writing too. By making up our own name for these structures and patterns, my class felt a sense of ownership and was able to refer to them easily in our discussions. Here are the names and mentor texts I used to introduce good beginnings:

Juicy Details

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

Dialogue or Talking

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)


(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)


(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

Standing on the Shoulders of Another Author

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

Funny Beginning

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

Good Endings

We also used mentor text to see how good authors wrap up their story. Here are the structures we found and the mentor text I used to introduce them:

Juicy Ending

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

Clear Ending

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

Save the Best for Last

(click on the title above for a printable version of the form filled out)

To get your class started with this study of good writing, you can use the examples above. If you have a smartboard, you can use the smartboard lesson I created by clicking here: Book Awards. Next year, I will begin by using the student examples on the form that my students wrote this year, but I will add good beginning and ending examples from my new class once they begin using those structures in their writing. Feel free to do the same!

Part Two: Becoming familiar with Book Awards

Once my 2nd graders became “experts” on these elements of writing, I introduced them to the idea of book awards. They learned about Caldecott and Newberry book awards, and many others (the information I shared with my class is included in the smartboard lesson). We spent time going through my classroom library and the school library finding as many books as we could that had received an award. They were so excited every time they found a book that had been given an award, and they couldn’t read it fast enough!

I announced that our study of good writing made us experts on what good writing looks like, so we were going to have our own book award ceremony called the Stout (my last name) Shout Out Awards. They were going to have a chance to give a “shout out” to the books they thought were the best in each category. I put nomination forms up in the library and the nominations began! (Click here for the Book Nomination Form)

If a student nominated a book, he/she had to give a persuasive speech on flip video (see the movie above), and they filled out a graphic organizer to help them organize what they were going to say (Persuasive graphic organizer). Then we watched their persuasive videos before we voted (click here for the  Stout Shout Out Ballot).

Part Three: The Shout Out Awards Ceremony

We pulled out all the stops for our awards ceremony! With the red carpet rolled out before them and the stanchion holding back the paparazzi, students who nominated a book got to walk that book down the red carpet. We had a podium in the front, and the students announced the nominations in each category (click here for the nomination speeches).

The winner was kept in a sealed envelope that the announcer ripped open to reveal the winner! The winning book received a gold Shout Out Award sticker. Next year, the new 2nd graders will be able to see the books that won at the 2011 Shout Out Awards.

Reflections . . .

I had a few pleasant surprises when I launched the book awards. There were 3 students in my class this year that had significant disabilities. When they learned that there is an award given to books that portray what life is like for someone with a disability, it made a huge impact on those children. They decided to write their own book about what everyday life is like for them, and how it is different from other kids because of the disability they have. It had honestly never occurred to me that this would be such a powerful learning experience on diversity, but I was wonderfully surprised by the tolerance and understanding this created in my classroom. I did not initiate this touching effect, but I hope I will be able to recreate it in the future.

Another surprise I got when implementing this unit was how adamant the students were about having the stories that they wrote themselves be part of the book awards ceremony. I didn’t know if it was a good idea to let them vote on their own writing, but it was very important to them, so I did it and got some wonderful results! First, I decided it wouldn’t be fair to let them vote on their own story, so we asked the 3rd grade class to nominate a few books in each category. Since the 3rd graders had studied the same structures and patterns last year, they knew what to look for in the 2nd graders’ writing.  Once the 3rd graders narrowed it down, the 1st graders got to make the final decision on the gold medal winners. Since they would be studying these structures and patterns next year, the first grade teacher read the stories aloud, and they got to hear mentor text from the 2nd graders!

I was pleasantly surprised by how this little experiment turned out. First, the quality of their writing increased exponentially! The idea of writing for an audience really took shape for them when they knew students in other grade levels would be reading and voting on their stories. Second, the third grade teacher said that her class was so excited to be part of the nominations, and they spent days pouring over each story looking for specific patterns and structures. They wrote lovely comments on the back of each students’ story, so whether or not they were nominated, each student had a lot of positive feedback about what they had written. The first grade teacher also said that this was such an exciting experience for her class that she would definitely do it again. They asked for the stories to be read to them again and again! And last, the students took the news well when the winners were announced.  Although it was a little disappointing for some at first, they supported the students who won and cheered them on. I am a huge believer in building a strong classroom community, but I think a little positive competition can be motivating. With a generation of kids where everyone gets a trophy and everything is given out equally regardless of participation and/or effort, I am finding that my students tend to do a mediocre job and think it’s good enough.  I would never support a cut-throat competition in my classroom, so we kept our focus on writing our personal best story using the structures and patterns we had been learning. It was a great opportunity to discuss sportsmanship, and I was proud of them for the support they gave each other and for the wonderful stories they wrote! I will definitely do it again next year!


This unit of study specifically addresses the following standards according to the state of Colorado:

Exploring the writing process helps to plan and draft a variety of literary genres

Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section. (CCSS: W.2.1)

Creative approaches to writing and story craft distinguish best-selling authors from ordinary writers.

Discussions contribute and expand on the ideas of self and others

Create audio recordings of stories or poems; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings. (CCSS: SL.2.5)

Featured Book Friday: Owl Moon

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


If you’ve ever looked forward to a special day with your father, this story will bring back the thrill that only a young child knows. Written in the voice of a girl who is going “owling” with her father late one night, the beautiful pictures and language in this story put you into the forest as you hear your “feet crunch over the crisp snow” with “heat in your mouth from all the words that are not spoken”. You’ll see the “black shadows stain the white snow”, and “feel someone’s icy palm run down (your) back” as you listen for the whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whoooo under an owl moon.

~Teacher Stuff blog review written by Emily Stout

FREEBIE: You can download some lesson resources for this book by clicking here:

Curriculum Connections

by Emily Stout

  • Comprehension strategy: Visualizing
  • Author as Mentor: write using 5 senses

1. Read the story Owl Moon to your class. I recorded myself reading this book ahead of time, and I used sound effects to help the students visualize the story better. For example, the story says, “A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in.” (Click the sentence and download “Owl Moon snippet” to hear a part of the recording.) I used sound effects to give the story the same eerie feeling of a forest late at night. Soundbible.com has a great collection of free sound effects. (I would share my recording with you, but I believe that would break copyright laws.) If you have older students, you can let them make a recording of the book using sound effects. (I recommend Garage Band–it is the easiest way for you or your students to record books.)

2. This story is full of beautiful language that paints a picture in your mind. Use ‘Round Table Consensus‘ (See Kagan Structures below) to sort the words and phrases from this story into 5 senses. The “Visualizing with 5 Senses” cards (print from link above) has sentences and phrases from the story your students can use.

3. Once your students have spent time sorting the language used in Owl Moon, they can use the author, Jane Yolen, as a mentor to write their own poem focusing on the strategy of visualizing. Have students write about a time that they went camping, swimming, or did something outside. Have each team agree on an outdoor event to write about, then use the structure “Jot Thoughts” (see Kagan Structures below) to help students brainstorm good visualizing words and phrases to put in their poem. First have students use their sticky notes from “Jot Thoughts” to create a team poem, then have students write their own individual poem.

  • Kagan Structures

– Round Table Consensus:

1. Each team needs a “Visulizing with 5 Senses” sorting mat and Owl Moon cards.

2. The first person takes one card, reads it aloud, and decides where it goes on the sorting mat.

3. Teammates show a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to show if they agree or disagree. If there are any thumbs-down, the team needs to discuss the answer. If the team cannot agree, everyone raises a hand so the teacher can help.

4. When the team agrees on the answer, it is the next person’s turn to draw a card.

-Jot Thoughts Poem:

1. Each team needs sticky notes for each person.

2. As a team, decide which topic you are going to focus on i.e. camping, swimming, etc.

3. When the teacher starts the timer, write as many visualizing sentences or phrases as your can about your topic. Write one phrase or sentence for each sticky note. Try to cover the table with your ideas. Use all 5 senses.

4. When your time is up, use the ‘Round Robin’ structure to read all the ideas your team came up with.

5. Arrange your sentences in an order that sounds pleasing.

Example: Camping

Crickets chirping

stars sparkling in the sky.

The hot dry smoke

burns my eyes when I

squeeze them shut.

Marshmallows puff out

their cheeks

as the orange fire dances under them

turning their fat white

cheeks brown.

The spongy center doesn’t

always slide off the stick

when I pull the soft, gooey filling

into my mouth. Yum!

Don’t forget to send me your curriculum connections! Click here to share your favorite book.

Perfect Picture Book Lessons

Have you ever found the perfect book for a lesson . . . and then forgot about it the next year? Me too! I decided to start writing down which mentor text I use with certain lessons  in an easy-to-read format for quick access year after year.

In Debbie Miller’s Book,  Reading With Meaning, she outlines how to teach powerful comprehension strategies and the mentor text to go with them. Many of those lesson ideas are included in the following mentor text notes so I didn’t have to reread her whole book every time I wanted to use one of her ideas. There are also lesson ideas from Lucy Caulkins, Reggie Routeman, and Lori Oczkus, (as well as my own original ideas) all in one easy to access place!

Click on the title.

Mentor Text: The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant


Visualizing language:

Show don’t tell

Good Ending

Life Skills/ Life-Long Guidelines

Mentor Text: Crickwing by Janelle Cannon


Good beginning
Visualizing language: 

Show don’t tell

. . .
Inferring word meanings
Synonyms for said
Inferring questions

Mentor Text: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes


Good beginning
Pattern of 3
Making Connections

Mentor Text: Fireflies by Julie Brinkloe


Visualizing Language: 

5 senses


Expression/Exclamation Mark: 

How to read them in text

Strong Ending
Life Skills/ Life-Long Guidelines

Mentor Text: Ira Says Goodbye by Bernard Waber


Writer’s Workshop 


Mentor Text: Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger


Asking Questions: 

Before, During, and After reading

Why do you think readers ask questions before, during, and after reading?

1.   What do we know about asking questions?

2.   How does asking questions help you become a better reader?

3.   How do reader’s figure out the answer to their questions?

Showing not Telling: 


Mentor Text: When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant


Visualizing Language: 

Show don’t tell

Using the 5 senses


Mentor Text: Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, Poem from Lotus Seed


Asking Questions: 

How do readers figure out the answers to their questions?

Using the Text, Inferring, or an Outside Source?


Mentor Text: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


Good beginning
Visualizing Language: 

Similes & metaphors

Good ending

Mentor Text: Stellaluna by Janelle Cannon


Inferring word meaning
Synonyms for said: 

Make ABC list or book and add words to use in our own writing

Asking Questions 

and/or wondering

Mentor Text: The Stranger by Chris VanAllsburg


Asking Questions: 

How do readers figure out the answers to their questions?

Using the Text, Inferring, or an Outside Source?

Synthesizing & Summarizing

Don’t forget to share your suggestions too!

Fairy Tales and Fables Unit

I love it when it all comes together!

Weaving a strand of learning throughout multiple areas in the curriculum is a smarter way to teach and a more powerful learning experience for students.

Developed through the study of experts like Linda Dorn, Lucy Caulkins,  Lori Octzkus, and Debbie Diller with some of my own twists thrown in, this unit aligns to the Colorado state standards.

(Click here for the standards link: ‘Why teach a fairy tales and fable unit?)


(click on the books for more information about each title)

Fairy tales: start with the original version

You may be surprised how many of your students are not familiar with classic fairy tales. I purposely do not use the Disney version of fairy tales because they typically do not appeal to boys. I look for award winning books (because it fits in nicely with our book awards), and versions that are as close to the original Brother’s Grimm fairy tales as possible. The books above are some of my favorite versions.

Let your students in on the ‘secret’ about fairy tales. There are specific structures and patterns that make fairy tales easy to identify and easy to write. Students love it when you let them in on secrets that adult authors use! Use the fairy tale text map to identify these patterns and structures. (click here for the Fairy tale text map)

  • Setting— Fairy tales purposely do not reveal a specific setting. They take place ‘long ago,’ ‘far away,’ or ‘once upon a time.’ They do not reveal the time and place so that it can apply to anyone, anywhere. Write the first sentence of the story in the ‘setting’ box to show this vague time and place. My class refers to this as the “Once upon a time . . .” box.
  • Main Characters— Fairy tales usually have very clear ‘good guy(s)’ and ‘bad guy(s)’ because the good guys are very good, and the bad guys are very bad. The story reveals this through their appearance, actions, and words. My class refers to this as the “good guys/bad guys” box.
  • Problem–The problem in fairy tales are very big problems that usually involve death. For example, in Rumpelstiltskin, if the miller’s daughter does not spin the straw into gold, the king will kill her. In Jack and the Beanstalk if the giant catches Jack he will eat him. My class calls this “A Deadly Problem.”
  • Repeated events/words— There is a pattern of 3 that occurs in fairy tales– three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears, three times that Jack climbs the beanstalk, and three times that Rumpelstiltskin spins the straw into gold. The discovery of this pattern is always a favorite among students. They always find patterns of 3 that I have never noticed before! We call this “The pattern of 3.”
  • Magical Element— Fairy tales always include some sort of magic. We know that fairy tales are fictitious because they contain something magical that could not happen in real life: the fairy godmother in Cinderella, the magic mirror in Snow White, or the frog that was put under a spell in The Frog Prince.
  • Solution–Even though fairy tales usually include “a deadly problem,” there is always a way for the “good guy” to avoid it. In Sleeping Beauty the evil fairy casts a spell that will kill Aurora, but one of the good fairies changes the spell to put her to sleep instead. She will wake up if she is kissed by a prince. In Rumpelstiltskin, the queen will not have to give up her child if she can guess his name. We call this, “A Way Out.”
  • Ending–Fairy tales always have a happy ending. The ‘good guys’ win and they live the rest of their lives ‘happily ever after.’  For instance, in Rapunzel, she finds her husband, cures his blindness, and they find his kingdom where they will rule as king and queen. In The Three Little Pigs, the third little pig tricks the wolf, has wolf stew for supper, and was never bothered by a wolf again. Write the last sentence (or few sentences) in the “Ending” box to show how the good guy wins and the rest of his life is happy. My class refers to this as “Happily Ever After.”


Fables are similar to fairy tales, but they have some distinctive differences in their patterns and structures. (Click here for the Fable Text Map)

  • Moral/Lesson: Fables teach a lesson that the reader has to infer because the story usually doesn’t come right out and tell you, which means the ending is not always  a happy one. For example, the moral in Henny Penny is ‘don’t believe everything you hear,’ and she and her friends get eaten in the end. In The Magic Fish, the moral is ‘don’t be greedy’ and the fisherman’s wife loses all the wishes she was granted.
  • Character/Trait: The characters in fables are almost always animals. In order to make the lesson more powerful, fables use animals to avoid pointing the blame at a certain kind of person. Instead, the animal has a distinctive trait that the reader can relate to. For instance, Henny Penny is easily fooled, the fox is clever,  the Little Red Hen shows a lot of perseverance, and the dog, cat, and pig are lazy.
  • Problem: There is an obvious obstacle in fables that the main character has to overcome. The three billy goats gruff have to get over the bridge to get to the grass on the other side, the little red hen needs to make the bread, the frogs in It’s Mine! have to find a safe place to sit during the thunderstorm.
  • Solution: This is how the story is wrapped up. Use the ending to help you infer the moral to the story.

Author/Illustrator Study

Award winning author and illustrator Leo Lionni is considered a modern day fable writer. His main characters are critters that he was fascinated with as a child such as frogs, lizards, mice, and fish. The morals are easy for children to relate to.

It’s Mine: share

-Swimmy: teamwork (swimmy video)

-Fish is Fish: the grass is not always greener on the other side

-Fredrick: everyone has something important to contribute to the group (Frederick video)

-Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse: caring, selflessness

Standing on the shoulders of Leo Lionni, students can write fables using the same kind of characters and morals. They can also illustrate their stories using collage in the same style as Leo Lionni.

Paint blank white paper earthy colors using different textures and brush strokes. (I did some of the painting myself.  I also sent an email home asking for students to paint plain white paper at home and bring it in for our collages. It seemed too messy to let the kids do it in class!) Using these painted papers, students can cut and tear the characters for their stories or poems. Click here for a video from Leo Lionni on how to make a mouse.

Fractured Fairy Tales

Fractured fairy tales are different versions or different view points of original fairy tales. Most kids are familiar with the word ‘fracture’– they know it means to break something (because it has usually happened to at least one of them!). That’s how I explain fractured fairy tales to students. Using the same patterns and structures as the original fairy tales, one piece on the fairy tale text map is “broken” and changed. For example, in the story The Tortoise and the Jack Rabbit, the setting was “broken” and changed to take place in the desert. That caused a ripple effect in the rest of the story. The character had to be changed into a jack rabbit to fit the desert setting. The same fracture happens in the setting of different Cinderella stories around the world. The country where it takes place is “broken” and changed which causes a ripple effect culturally throughout the story. In the story The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, the characters were “broken,” and the “good guys” and the “bad guy” were reversed. Fractured fairy tales are fun stories for kids to read and write. It gives them an opportunity to do some creative synthesizing using the structures and patterns they’ve learned about fairy tales.

Guided & Independent Practice

After reading aloud different fairy tales, fables, fractured fairy tales and modeling how to fill out the text map, let your students try it. Using easy to read versions of the same fairy tales and fables you have modeled will help make these stories more accessible to everyone in your class. Students can read these stories and fill out their own fairy tale text map. Eventually they can use fairy tales and fables you haven’t already read to them. Here are some easy to read stories that I like to use:

I included e-books from Evan Moor in my list of easy to read fairy tales and fables. One book includes 8 different fairy tales and fables that are written at a 2nd-3rd grade reading level. The other e-book includes 7 fairy tales and folktales written for a K-1 audience. They are printable stories that include activities with each story. Although I would not use all the activities included in these books, I thought it was worth purchasing for the printable stories and the puppet templates.

Felt Board Center: During our fairy tales and fables unit, I include easy to read and familiar fairy tales and fables with felt characters. At this ILA (independent literacy activity) students reread one of their favorite stories, then retell it using the felt characters.

Buddy Reading Center: I make/collect multiple copies of familiar fairy tales so students can read them together. I also include reader’s theater fairy tale plays so students can practice reading different parts.

Listening center: Students listen to fairy tales and fables from an audio book. You can easily create your own audio books and include a guided lesson! Check out Listening Center Plus for more information. Click here for a sample of The Three Little Pigs.

Library Center: Students reread the fairy tales and fables you read aloud to the class and fill out their own fairy tale or fable text map.

Writing Center: Students write their own fairy tales or fables using the text maps to plan out their story before they begin writing. They can also write a poem about a character in one of the stories you have been studying.

Creation Station: Students create puppets for their favorite fairy tale or fable and use them to retell the story. In the style of Leo Lionni, students can cut and tear characters  using painted paper to construct their characters (see the example on the left).

All of these activities can be recorded on video or a podcast  for students to share. See the Make Them Movie Stars post for more ideas.

Cross-Curricular Collaboration

Don’t forget to collaborate with your specials teachers when you have a big unit of study, so they can link their expertise as well. Talk to your art teacher about illustrating like Leo Lionni. Our art teacher has a Leo Lionni unit that she teaches which covers how to create collages in a much more comprehensive way than I ever could. Our music teacher has a play that the students perform based on the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni. The librarian and computer lab teacher will be able to create a lot of connections for your students as well.

Wrapping Up the Unit

Now that your students have become experts on fairy tale and fable structures, it’s time to celebrate with a fairy tale ball!

Start by having students send a formal invitation to their families. Thanks to the creativity of some parents in my classroom, the students crinkled up invitations printed on brown paper to make it look old and worn, then (the parent helpers) hot glued sticks to the top and bottom of the invitation to make it look like a scroll. The students rolled it up, tied it with a string, and brought home their fancy invitations for their families.

Next have your students prepare the entertainment at the fairy tale ball. The activities that they did during ILAs (independent literacy activities) such as retelling stories with felt board characters and the puppets that they created, reading reader’s theater plays at the buddy reading center, writing their own fairy tales, fables, and poems at the writing center, and the Swimmy play they learned in music make great entertainment for the fairy tale ball! This year we are video taping all these activities (rather than making it a live performance) so we can all watch them together. We are hoping that it will make orchestrating the entertainment a little less stressful on the day of the big ball!

Contact parents for help organizing food and decorations for the big feast. Try having a fairy tale feast theme with (plastic) goblets, chicken wings, and fairy tale napkins! Click here for some ideas on making a fairy tale feast and decorating medieval style.

On the day of the fairy tale ball, be sure to have everyone dress in their fanciest clothes. Take pictures of the families for a wonderful keepsake of this special celebration! (Check back soon for more pictures of the latest fairy tale ball)