ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Searching for Cinderella

Use research skills to identify the Cinderella story Sondheim used for Into the Woods, and develop a performance piece based on it. Which Cinderella went Into the Woods?


Key Skills

Making Art: Composing and Planning


There are more than 300 versions and variations of the tale known as "Cinderella." Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine used the one called "Ashenputtel" in their musical, Into the Woods. Students are given a list of clues about this "Cinderella" and search through versions of the “Cinderella” tale until they recognize "Ashenputtel" as the correct choice. The students locate the geographic region from which that version came. Students then identify a story line, event, or characteristic and use it to create a madrigal about the "Cinderella" tale that was studied.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • identify characteristics of a "Cinderella" story.
  • identify elements of the "Cinderella" used in Into the Woods.
  • locate on a map the origin of a "Cinderella" story
  • read and listen to the Prologue of Into the Woods.
  • read and research "Cinderella" tales
  • work in cooperative groups to identify key elements, events, or lines of a "Cinderella" story
  • work in cooperative groups to create a madrigal about "Cinderella"
  • work in cooperative groups to present their madrigal to the class.

Teaching Approach

Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Guided Listening
  • Research
  • Large or Small Group Instruction

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teacher should be familiar with the madrigal form.

Teacher should be familiar with Into the Woods.

Teacher should understand the range of “Cinderella” stories.

Prior Student Knowledge

  • Students should be familiar with “Cinderella.”
  • Students should have some experience with singing.

Physical Space



The lesson will require a stage area, computers for research, and room for multiple small groups to make some noise. 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.

Build Knowledge


1.     Read "Cinderumpelstiltskin" in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Have students take notes about "Cinderella" elements they hear in the story. Which elements do and don't belong? (Belonging to the story: beautiful Cinderella with a wicked stepmother and stepsisters has to do all the housework and can’t go to the prince’s ball. Not belonging to the story: Rumpelstiltskin arrives and offers to spin straw into gold if she’ll guess his name.)

2.     Have students watch or listen to the Prologue of Into the Woods. This piece is written in the style of a madrigal, in which three or more singers interweave lines, phrases, and tunes to create new lines. Have students listen to the song twice — listening to the song once to familiarize themselves with it, then listening a second time to identify how each character weaves his/her lines in and out of the song. Ask students to identify the Cinderella character and listen to her story.

3.     Discuss and identify the two version of “Cinderella” and what elements make each a "Cinderella" story. (For example, the stories include a stepmother, two stepsisters, and a ball thrown by a prince. The Cinderella character cleans the house, is forbidden to go to the ball, and disguises herself in fancy clothes.) Remind students that there are lots of different “Cinderella” stories. If the class knows of others, include them in the discussion of what elements make up a Cinderella story.

Have students listen to the Prologue of Into the Woods a third time and try to find clues as to which version of the "Cinderella" story was used to shape the musical. How is Sondheim’s "Cinderella" like the traditional story the students know? What elements listed by the students are found in this version? How is it different? Record these responses on the board.

lyrics for the prologue of Into the Woods

Build Knowledge

1.     Give each student a Cinderella Clues Checklist. Explain to students that they are going to work in groups to search for the version of "Cinderella" that Sondheim and Lapine used as the basis for the musical Into the Woods.

2.     Divide students into groups based on Internet availability and available print resources and assign each group a "Cinderella" story to read. If Internet access is limited, you may choose to print several different versions of the "Cinderella" stories or to gather books from the library. See the Sources section for suggestions of print and online options. Try to collect stories from each continent, but be certain to include “Ashenputtel.”

3.     As students read their assigned stories, they should check off the clues that will lead them to the version used by Sondheim and Lapine. (It is the German Grimm Brothers' tale, "Ashenputtel.")

4.     Students should also note lines, events, characters, or other story elements that make the story they are reading a "Cinderella" story. Allow time for students to discuss their findings.

5.     Have the students locate the country of origin of the tale they read. Have students write the name of each story on a sticky note and use it to mark the correct location of the story's origin on a class map or globe. (Example: Write "Ashenputtel" on the sticky note and stick it on Germany.)

6.     Have the students who were assigned "Ashenputtel" retell the story.


1.     Regroup the students into groups of three to create madrigals. Each group should contain people who read different versions of "Cinderella.” Distribute the Creating a Madrigal worksheet to each group. Review the directions together before students begin the assignment. Students should also use their completed Cinderella Clues Checklist sheets for this step.

2.     Give students ten to fifteen minutes to create a madrigal incorporating their "Cinderella" stories. Each group member must choose a line or phrase from the story he or she read. For example, in the Prologue, Cinderella says “I want to go to the festival!” for her signature phrase. The whole group must also find a common element to play with in creating the madrigal with the group. For example, in the Prologue, all characters use “Into the woods!” and “I want..” Circulate the room, helping students with this task as needed.

3.    Have each group write out their final product.


1.     Have the groups present the "Cinderella Madrigals" to the class. You may wish to record the performances for purposes of sharing/assessment.

2.     Have the class identify which tales are being told in each madrigal.


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.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Rebecca Haden

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