Short Stories with Morals for Children in Third Grade

Good stories teach important lessons to third-graders learning how to navigate the world.
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Third-grade students love stories, and stories are an excellent medium for teaching morals. They provide interesting settings and characters children can relate to and empathize with. When children can relate to characters, they are more apt to understand the moral lesson. Choose tales told by literary greats. They tend to be less agenda-driven than many stories included in moralizing curriculums and, therefore, don’t come across as preachy and insincere.

1 A Retelling of Chaucer

In her book “Chanticleer and the Fox,” Barbara Cooney introduces children to Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” with an adaptation of “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” The story tells the tale of an attractive but proud barnyard rooster who is warned in a dream of a hound that looks like beast. The dream scares him, and his wife appeals to his pride to reject such nonsense because it makes him look like a coward. The proud rooster is eventually approached by a fox and falls prey to his flattering tongue. The moral of the story -- do not to trust in flattery -- is especially relevant today. Children are constantly targeted by marketers and as a result have great concerns over what they need to do or wear to be attractive and popular. The story can lead to a discussion on the dangers of falling prey to popular approval.

2 Oscar Wilde’s Tales for Children

Oscar Wilde is known for his brilliant and witty writing in plays such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” and his portrayal of complex human experiences in stories such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” However, Wilde also wrote tales for children. In “The Selfish Giant,” Wilde tells the story of a giant who refuses to let children play on his land, and subsequently the land become cold, icy and desolate. The giant soon realizes his mistake and with genuine regret, he invites the children back to his land. The story contains themes of loving sacrifice and suggests that selfishness makes people cold and unfeeling. Children can discuss events in which someone treated them selfishly or unselfishly and talk about how it made them feel. Encourage students to think of ways they can be selfless.

3 Faulkner’s Retelling of a Slave Narrative

William Faulkner is best known for his portrayal of the American South. He often retold tales he heard from a former slave named Simon Brown. One such story is “How the Slaves Helped Each Other.” In this story, Faulkner discusses the support members of the slave community gave each other when someone became sick. He specifically mentions the death and burial of a woman named “Sister Dicey ... a good a soul as ever lived.” In the revelation of the community’s outpouring of love, Faulkner reveals that “no man could ever own their souls or keep them from loving one another.” The story could accompany a history unit and spur discussion on how people are able to survive oppressive situations.

4 Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

No child should ever be without exposure to A.A. Milne’s classic tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends who lived in the Hundred Acre Wood. Milne often included morals such as the dangers of eating too much in the story, “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets into a Tight Place.” However, the beauty of Milne’s storytelling is that his lessons are not a didactic and judgmental account of Pooh’s naiveté or selfishness. Although Pooh’s gluttony is obvious, the real message of the story is the overwhelming sense of love and acceptance the characters have for one another regardless of their imperfections. The Winnie-the-Pooh stories display tolerance at its best. Because Milne’s characters are varied and complex, students can discuss which character they best relate to and why. They can explore what character traits they have, which, like Pooh, sometimes get them into trouble.

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.