Fairy tales are as much a part of our history and culture as baseball and apple pie. How many children grow up with a fear of the woods from stories like "Little Red Riding Hood?" Middle school students in language arts classes study fairy tales as a fantasy genre. While most students at this age have a sense of what a fairy tale is, they should now learn to identify the structure of fairy tales by looking for recognizable beginnings, a storyline of good versus evil, elements of fantasy and a central conflict.
More often than not, fairy tales begin with recognizable phrases such as "Once upon a time," "long, long ago," or "far, far away." These words instantly tell the reader what type of story they can expect to read. Like folktales, fairy tales come from an oral tradition and frequently take place far back in history. Fairy tales usually have recognizable settings, such as castles, forests or a town. By developing their understanding of the fairy tale structure, middle school students build skills such as reading, analyzing text, storytelling and creative writing.
Good vs. Evil
The fairy tale story line usually centers on the classic interplay between good and evil. Often the story revolves around a kind-hearted, innocent character. Snow White and Cinderella are examples of this kind of naive central figure. Fairy tales generally have evil characters as well, like Snow White's wicked stepmother or Cinderella's stepsisters. Often, one or more of a fairy tale's characters is royalty -- a king, queen, princess or prince. Just as often, the central character starts out poor and disadvantaged.
The wonderment of fairy tales is created through elements of fantasy and magic, used for evil or for good. This is a key element to emphasize with middle school students who are tying fairy tales to the fantasy genre. Fairy tales are fictional and feature folkloric characters such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, witches and giants. Characters are often talking animals, like the wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood" or the bears in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Other characters perform magical feats, like the fairy godmother who makes Cinderella's dreams come true by producing a fancy dress and a carriage with a wave of her wand.
Conflict and Resolution
The central characters in a fairy tale have a conflict to deal with or a problem to solve. Generally, the conflict is resolved and a happy ending results. Often, it takes characters three attempts to solve the problem. Usually, good triumphs over evil. In solving the problem, the characters demonstrate a lesson in morality and uphold acceptable values and universal truths. This element of the fairy tale provides middle school students with an understanding of culture, society and beliefs.
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