Writing Folktales

Identifying and Using Elements of Folktales and Tall Tales


Key Staff

This lesson can be taught by a classroom teacher or teachers with a basic understanding of literature in informal settings.

Key Skills

Making Art: Composing and Planning, Producing, Executing and Performing
Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Applying Vocabulary, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique, Comparing Styles
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture, Connecting with Other Arts


Students identify and analyze folktales. They learn the characteristics of folktales and use them to evaluate existing tales and to create original tales of their own. Students apply the writing process to strengthen writing skills and to develop creativity.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify, examine, analyze, and evaluate folktales
  • Incorporate the elements of traditional folktales in original folktales of their own
  • Write for literary purposes and for a variety of audiences: peers, teachers, parents, school-wide community, and beyond
  • Pre-write, draft, revise, and proofread as part of the strategic approach to effective writing

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Hands-On Learning
  • Visual Instruction
  • Group or Individual Instruction
  • Guided Practice
  • Independent Practice

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
Required Plugins
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

It may be helpful to read several folktales and tall tales to familiarize yourself with identifying common elements. Visit American Folklore for examples of folktales.

Teachers may also wish to review the following resources before beginning the lesson.


  • Cole, Joanna. Best Loved Folktales of the World. Wilmington, NC: Anchor Publishing, 1983.
  • Mallet, Jerry and Keith Polette. World Folktales. Fort Atkinson: Alleyside Press, 1994.


Prior Student Knowledge

Understanding of the peer editing and revision process.

Basic concept of story elements (even if they are unable to name them) including:

  • Characters (flat versus round)
  • Characterization
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Dialogue

If students need a refresher, have them visit the Literary Elements web site.

Physical Space



  • Small Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction


Arrange handouts in the order the class will address them. Post content vocabulary words for easy reference. If you choose to reference props during the telling of the folktale, have them placed in the appropriate places.

Accessibility Notes

Arrange seating so that deaf/hard of hearing students are close to where instruction will be delivered.

Blind/Low Vision students will benefit from handouts with large print or braille.

English Language Learners may benefit from supplemental vocabulary sheets that define literary terms and difficult words.

An adjusted workload (brief examples of folktales) will help struggling/striving readers.

Interpersonal and Intrapersonal learners may want to develop the characters in their folktales. Provide a list that outlines all folktale components so that their characters do not overpower the tales.

Folktales may include animals as characters and highlight setting. Naturalist learners may benefit from stories that use animals to relay events and that vividly relay setting.


Resources in Reach

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

Build Knowledge


1. Begin by sharing a traditional folktale with students. You may use a personal selection or the selection found on the Folktale Example worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Read or even act out the folktale.

2. As a class, summarize the story (this will assure you that students have grasped the plot).

3. Without naming the characteristics help students recognize the elements of folktales by posing the following questions (use sentence prompts if necessary):

  • What were the characters like in the folktale I just read? (Correct response: They were normal, everyday people.)
  • Describe the lives lived by the characters. (Correct response: They lived fairly common, normal lives.)
  • Did the characters seem to have depth? Would you say they were well developed? (Correct response: No. They only had one characteristic.)
  • What was the characters' speech like? (Correct response: The language was exaggerated. Words and ideas had a lot of emphasis.)

You may want to list the answers on the board for reinforcement, but each is identified on the 'Qualities of Folktales' worksheet located within the Resource Carousel.

4. Now review the worksheet Qualities of Folktales. Discuss each subsection (Elements of Folktales, Common Motifs, The Formula, and Types). As you do, connect the concepts to the folktale you read.

5. Answer any questions and address any concerns students have. Tell students that after thoroughly exploring the folktale genre, they will write their own folktales.

Build Knowledge

1. Now that students have been introduced or re-introduced to folktales, prepare to help them identify, analyze, and evaluate the genre. Pass out the Folktale Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel. Tell students to keep it handy and to reference it, as necessary, throughout the lesson.

2. Review the vocabulary terms as a group. Provide examples of each. For example, an example of “traditional” might be a family hanging a wreath during the winter holiday season. Ask students to provide additional examples to demonstrate understanding. (Note: motif is closely related to main idea, which is often a troubling concept for students. Remind those who may struggle with main idea that it is the “main reason” a text is written. Asking and answering the questions, “Why has the author written this?” and “What does he or she want me to know?” can be helpful in discovering the main idea or motif of a story).

3. Explain that folktales come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Define the many types found on the Types of Folktales worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Post the definitions. Discuss them.

  • A Fool’s Tale: In a "fool’s tale," a clever character outsmarts a foolish character. One way to get started is to make up or adapt a joke that you have heard, and expand it into a tale.
  • A Tall Tale: A tall tale centers around a hero or heroine of tremendous size and strength. To write the tale, you might tell how your character solves a problem by using his or her special abilities.
  • An Animal Tale: In this tale, the central character is an animal that has special qualities and powers. The animal can be one that is unusual or imaginary. To create a memorable animal character, use personification and try using similes to describe your animal.
  • A Folktale About Yourself: You can create a tall tale about an imaginary experience of your own. Base the story on one major exaggeration and use the words "I" and "me" to tell events as if they happened to you. An effective way to start the story is to begin with an ordinary event and build to something extraordinary. You might use a story starter such as: "One day, like any other day, I was…"
  • A Fairy Tale: A fairy tale focuses on a unique character who is introduced to magical forces. An interesting scenario is to grant the character three wishes and detail the outcome (positive and/or negative) of the character's choices.

4. If time permits, share examples of the different kinds of folktales. The Princess and the Frog is an example of a fairy tale, which is a type of folktale.

5. Now explain to students that they will be writing their own folktales, but that before doing so you’d like to provide some guidelines. Distribute or post the Writing Process worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. (The following information can be found on page 2 of the worksheet).


  • Introduce the main character
  • Describe the setting
  • Begin the plot


  • Introduce the character's problem
  • Introduce minor characters
  • Build toward the point of highest interest, or climax


  • Reach the point of highest interest
  • Wind down the action, and give the final outcome

6. Allow students as much time as needed to develop their own ideas for folktales. If students are having difficulty getting started, provide the Ideas for Writing worksheet located within the Resource Carousel, which gives step-by-step instructions for developing folktales.


1. Pair students. Explain that they will begin by working independently, but that they will later share and revise one another’s work.

2. Give the students ample sustained quiet time to create their folktales. Lightly guide choices, address concerns, and encourage creativity. If you are able, create a folktale corner with copies of several folktales for reference just in case students get stuck. Visit American Folklore for examples of folktales. It will be time effective to have students compose rough drafts in pencil since they will edit them before sharing them with a partner.

3. Once students have completed a rough draft, have partners revise and edit each other’s drafts. Tell them that they will now revise and edit their partner’s folktale. Remind students of the elements characteristic of a folktale. List the characteristics or reference the Folktale Checklist worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Have students refer to the checklist before sharing their work. (If students have composed draft 1 in pencil, revisions and edits can be made right on the page. Provide sticky notes for lengthy additions or revisions).

4. Tell students to present their 2nd drafts to their partners. Students should read and provide suggestions for their partner’s folktale. They should also complete the 'Folktales Checklist' worksheet located within the Resource Carousel to help their partner’s revision process along.

5. Have students make revisions as necessary and write their final drafts. Once students are finished, have them transfer the stories into a handmade storybook. They may use colored construction paper, white copy paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, watercolor, tempera paint, string, and a hole punch. Students should write out their folktales on the white copy paper, create a front and back cover using the colored construction paper, compile the contents and covers, punch holes near the spine, and tie string through each hole to secure the book.


1. Ask students to share their folktales with the class. As a group, provide positive feedback for each folktale.


1. Choose three or four folktales to perform. Divide the class into as many groups and have students work together to interpret their folktale for the stage. Have each group perform their folktale. As a class, provide positive feedback.

2. Lead a class discussion that summarizes the folktale lesson. Point out key points, orally assess understanding, and ask students to express their likes, dislikes, and any lingering concerns. Students will be evaluated on their original tale according to a scoring rubric developed by the teacher. See the accompanying sample Assessment Rubric for scoring a story.


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
Visual Art

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 3: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Language Arts Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Language Arts Standard 3: Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions

Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes



Kathy Cook
Original Writer

Andria Cole

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