Activities to Teach Middle School Students About Grimms' Fairy Tales

Activities will help students connect with the darkness of Grimms' fairy tales.

The collected stories commonly known as Grimms' fairy tales continue to dazzle audiences today. Over time, these stories have been softened and adapted for young audiences, but the original versions still retain their strength. To bring these stories -- and the general mood of the Grimms -- closer to your middle-school students, incorporate the stories into hands-on activities that allow them to experience these tales off the page as well as on.

1 Live Performances

Split the class into small groups and have each group choose one of Grimms' fairy tales that they all like. Then, have them select a particular scene that they'd like to perform in front of the class. Encourage all members of the group to play a role and give them a few minutes to adapt the scene into a skit. After each group performs, have the class discuss the themes of the scene. For example, if the group performed the climactic scene in "Hansel and Gretel," you could have them discuss the morality of Hansel when he decides not to help the baker woman get out of the oven after she apologizes and begs for forgiveness and help.

2 Crafts and Discussions

Another way to get students hands-on with Grimms' fairy tales is to use a craft project as a way to lead into a class discussion of important themes. For example, if the class is studying "The Fisherman and His Wife," you can have students create their own magic wishing flounders. Provide them with all the materials they'll need to make unique and magical-looking flounders, such as colored paper, paint, markers, glitter and glue. After they've each made their own enchanted flounders, have them discuss whether they think this story has a moral, or if it possibly has several morals.

3 Modern Adaptations

Invite your students to try their hands at rewriting one of their favorite fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm as if the story takes place in modern times. For example, one student could rewrite either "Hansel and Gretel" or "Little Red Cap" as if the story takes place in New York City, and incorporate the involvement of the police and Child Protective Services into the story to illustrate themes of stranger danger and poor parenting. Encourage your students to take liberties with the characters: They could change the genders, ages or social status. They could, for example, switch the genders of the main characters in "The Fisherman and His Wife," and see how that changes the dynamic.

4 Direct Comparisons

A final activity that your class can both enjoy and learn from is to experience and then compare original and modern versions of fairy tales. For example, you could have your class watch Disney's "Cinderella" and then read the Grimms' version of the tale. Lead a class discussion about how the tone of the stories differ, and how much more graphically violent the Grimms' tale is than the Disney adaptation. For example, the pigeons peck out the eyes of the wicked stepsisters to punish them with blindness.

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."