ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Moving Tales

Whole-body movement brings Grimm’s Fairy Tales to life. Can you present a pantomime fairy tale in three minutes or less?


Key Staff

Classroom Teacher

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques
Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres


In this lesson, students practice using their bodies to communicate through movement, improvisation, and pantomime games. Groups then read an assigned Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale and interpret it through movement.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Practice simple pantomime skills
  • Practice more sophisticated pantomime and movement by adding a character element such as age
  • Read a Grimm’s Fairy Tale
  • Recreate the Grimm Brothers’ tale using only movement in cooperative groups
  • Present their Grimm Brothers’ tale to the class in cooperative groups

Teaching Approach

Arts Learning

Teaching Methods

  • Hands-On Learning
  • Simulations and Games
  • Cooperative Learning

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • DVD Player
  • Television
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Learner
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should be familiar with:

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with some of the more popular fairy tales from the brothers Grimm, such as “Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel,” or “Snow White.”

Physical Space

  • Computer Lab
  • Classroom


  • Small Group Instruction
  • Large Group Instruction


Move the furniture to the sides of the room so that there is space to move in the classroom.
Cue up the Prologue from Into the Woods.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



Sondheim and Lapine, in their musical Into the Woods, use simple sets and props. Actors employ pantomime for some of the actions, and use movement and gestures to indicate character and elements of their stories.


1. Watch the Prologue of Into the Woods. Identify the movements that show the identity of the characters (for example, Cinderella washing the floor, the baker and his wife making movements to suggest a child, or Little Red Riding Hood skipping in place through the woods)

Build Knowledge

1. Form pairs of students to play improv games.

2. Model the game “Mirror.” Use a student as your partner as you model the following steps:

  • Partners face each other and maintain eye contact.
  • Decide who will be the leader. The other person will mimic the leader’s movement.
  • Move slowly and deliberately.
  • Use high, middle, and low spaces (above the head, at eye or torso level, and near the feet) as you move.

3. After two minutes, call out “Switch Leaders!” The other person will now lead. End the game after about five minutes. Discuss with students whether the activity was challenging, and if so, why.

4. Help students refine their movements by adding size and weight in “Ball Toss.”

  • Have students form a circle and instruct them that they will be tossing around an imaginary ball.
  • Lead the students at first, modeling how you would adapt your movement according to the size and weight of the ball.
  • Pretend to use a tennis ball at first. Bounce it, squeeze it, and toss it in the air. Have students copy these actions.
  • Now switch to a golf ball, a basketball, a bowling ball, a beach ball, etc., adapting your movement accordingly. Have a student toss a ball to another student who must catch the ball tossed, then change its size and weight with movement and toss it to another student.

5. End the game after about five minutes. Discuss with students how they adapted their movement each time the shape and weight of the ball changed. Discuss whether the activity was challenging, and if so, why.

6. Have students continue to practice the skill of pantomime with objects and actions that they use in everyday life. As they pantomime, students should follow the imaginary object/action with their eyes and show what happens when they are finished with the object/action. Some good everyday objects/actions for this activity include:

  • Peeling a banana.
  • Eating a pizza with lots of cheese.
  • Sipping a drink through a straw.
  • Picking up a coin.

7. End the game after about five minutes. Discuss what students observed about their own movements and those of others. What was interesting? What was challenging?

8. Add character to the everyday actions just completed. Call out the action and the character. Have students repeat all the above actions as if they are:

  • A toddler;
  • An old person;
  • An angry person;
  • A person who is out on a sweltering day;
  • A suspicious person
  • A person in a hurry.

Students should identify what changed as they completed each movement.

9. Divide students into groups labeled A, B, C, D, E, and F for the game “Into the Woods.” Imagine that the classroom space is the woods, like the setting for Into the Woods. Have students cross the space without touching or making sounds. Choose to have one or more groups move at a time.

10. Assign a character to each group:

  • All A’s are toddlers.
  • All B’s are old.
  • All C’s are angry.
  • All D’s are very hot.
  • All E’s are suspicious.
  • All F’s are in a hurry.

Have each student decide why they are going into the woods. The reason should be relevant to the character the student is portraying. Are they going to get a treat? Are they on an adventure? Is someone special waiting on the other side? Are they being chased?


1. Tell students that they will be creating a 3-minute pantomime based on a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale. Keep the class divided in groups A through F. Distribute an index card with the name of one of the following tales to each group:

  • Red Riding Hood
  • Snow White
  • Rapunzel
  • Rumpelstilskin
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Sleeping Beauty

2. Share the Moving Tales Rubric that will determine the grade for this lesson. Discuss what is expected in the areas of Performance, Storytelling, Movement, and Cooperation. Assign someone in the group to be the director. This person will be responsible for keeping the group on track and focused on the final presentation.

3. Each group should find a space to read the assigned tale as a group. Stories can be presented either in book form or online at the Grimm Brothers Tales.

4. After reading the tale, students should identify six events that can be told in pantomime and movement. Students cast themselves in these scenes and develop pantomimes for each event, using the skills developed in the improv games. Several people can be the same character at different points in the story. Students can also become inanimate objects, such as doors, houses, trees, etc., to help clarify the action in the scene. Only costume props may be used.

5. Give the class 30-45 minutes to read, discuss, and practice pantomiming their tale.

6. Have each group present their tale, keeping it to 3 minutes or less. Let remaining students identify the tale being presented.


1. Have students record their favorite part of each performance. Discuss challenges and how students overcame them.

2. Assess your students work using the Moving Tales Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Rebecca Haden

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