Exploring Russian Folktales

Analyzing Style and Content


Key Staff

Primary instructor and teachers aids, if available.

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


Students are introduced to the genre of folktales and engage in a study of several Russian folktales. They are asked to read the tales aloud, and then to fill in a chart about each one. Next, they analyze the charts, answering questions about the folktales’ setting, main characters, and "uniquely Russian" attributes. They also compare and contrast Russian folktales with folktales they may have heard as young children. The lesson culminates with a writing assignment in which students will analyze the folktales or create their own.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Read several Russian folktales
  • Identify the elements of the tale that seem to be typically Russian
  • Organize their answers into a chart
  • Analyze their answers
  • Compare their answers with other students

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type

Alternative Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Internet Access
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with Russian folktales and the website from which students will access the Russian folktales. You may want to print some of these out if students do not have access to the Internet.

Print out the Russian Folktale Chart and make one copy per student.

Teachers may want to brush up their general knowledge of Russia.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students may have read Russian folktales when they were younger, but this is not necessary.

Some students may not know what a folktale is, so it would be necessary to define this.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab


Make copies of rubric for each student.

Accessibility Notes

For students with vision impairments, you can enlarge the text on the folktale and chart or have the folktales read to them.

Struggling readers may benefit from working with a classroom aid or a more advanced student.


Resources in Reach

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



1. Have students brainstorm folktales they know. Have students give examples of folktales and nursery rhymes that they heard when they were younger. What were the settings of these tales? Did each tale have a moral? What were the characters like?

2. Record student responses. You could use a simple graphic organizer (such as a list on the board or overhead) to record student responses. This should be a brainstorming activity with no right or wrong answers.

Build Knowledge

1. Discuss the definition of a folktale. (Folktales are short, fictional stories that may be set in any time and place, and often teach a moral lesson. Originally, they were passed down orally among members of a certain culture.)

2. Ask students to list folktales that they heard as children. Point out the ways in which folktales differ from fairy tales. (A fairy tale is a special type of folktale that usually includes magical or supernatural elements such as fairies, witches, or spells.)

3. Ask students to list the American folktales they have heard. These may include tall tales about characters such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, or Johnny Appleseed.

4. Explain that in Russia, folktales originated among the peasants and in the villages. To enhance your lecture, select photos of Russia to show students. Explain that Russian folktales were part of an oral tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Many of these tales were gathered in serial form, from 1855 to 1864, by an ethnographer named Afanas’ev. The tales were first published in England, using the English translations of the original tales.

5. Explain the history of written Russian folktales. For many centuries, literature was only allowed to be written in the Russian language within the Russian Orthodox Church; this is why the folktales were first published in England. As written, Russian folktales sound more like orations, because they have been retold and retold. In the 18th century, folktales became more and more common in literature, with the aristocracy preferring the writing of Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. The Russian folktales that have been passed down through the years are imbued with elements of Russian culture and history: the forest, snow, wooden huts, village dances, the tsar, boyars, fur hats, etc.


1. Have students read at least three Russian folktales. Students may find folktales online at the Russian Folktales site or in the books listed in the Sources section. When using Internet resources, you may wish to download the tales and distribute copies to the students.

2. Have students fill out the Charting Russian Folktales located within the Resource Carousel as they read. Have students read the folktales in small groups or to themselves. As they read, have them fill out the chart.


1. Have students compare notes and findings. Have each student bring a completed 'Charting Russian Folktales' chart to class. Allow students to compare their findings in small groups. Refer back to the discussion of familiar American folktales. Ask students whether they think that people can learn about the values, culture, and geography of America through its folktales. What sorts of things are typically "American" about the settings, characters, and moral lessons in these tales?

2. Have students compare the Russian folktales. Referencing their completed charts, students should discuss any similarities between the different Russian folktales. Record responses on the board, or create a simple graphic organizer to compare the tales.

3. Ask students to discuss answers to the following questions:

  • What can be learned from/about Russia through its folktales?
  • How did Russians live in the past?
  • What did they eat and drink?
  • What were their fears and joys?
  • Did the tales have exaggerations, or characters with special abilities?
  • Did the stories have morals?
  • Did they refer to any historical occurrences?

4. Ask students to list typical elements of Russian folktales. Did any of the Russian folk tales have items in common? Engage students in a discussion about what folktales teach us about culture. Record student’s responses on the board or overhead.


1. Have students write a short 3-4 paragraph essay detailing aspects of Russian folktales. The essays should discuss the extent to which Russian folktales reveal elements of Russian culture. Students should use specific examples from the folktales they read to support their findings.

2. The student's grade should be assessed based on the quality of the essay and the completeness of the 'Charting Russian Folktales' chart.

Extend the Learning

Ask students to complete one of the following culminating activities:

Option 1:
Have students select one of the Russian folktales they studied. Tell them that they will be adapting that folktale into a new American folktale. They should look at the elements that they have identified as being typically "Russian" and think about how they could adapt the tale with typically "American" elements. (Teacher note: See the ARTSEDGE lesson Writing Folktales.)

Option 2:
Break students into cooperative groups and have them collaborate to write a script based on one of the folktales studied in class. (When the script is complete, have students act out the folktale for the class, complete with props and costumes)


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.

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Julie Steimel
Original Writer

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