European Folktales

Grades: 
9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will analyze literary characters in five European folktales, focusing particularly on strong female characters. They will analyze what small acts of kindness contribute to both the giver and receiver and determine a path of personal giving through random acts of kindness.

Duration 
PrintThree Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods
Objectives 

The learner will:

  • use the geographic themes of location, place and human-environment relations to describe the setting and culture represented in the folktale.
  • identify the type of folktales represented by the stories.
  • analyze the character of persons in the stories based on their actions.
  • analyze why fear will stop persons from helping others.
  • debate what is the best dowry a woman can offer.
  • compare the determination of two characters in different stories.
  • rewrite the conclusion of a folktale to reflect a symbolic treasure.
  • describe how the author’s life is reflected in his story.
  • analyze whether the giver or the receiver benefits most from a kindness.
  • identify a foundation that encourages random acts of kindness and distinguish how these acts are examples of pro-social behavior.
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Learners will discuss the idea of random acts of kindness with members of their family. If appropriate, they will describe their recently completed act of kindness which was a part of this lesson and encourage others in their family to plan a random act of kindness.

Bibliography 

"Fairies." The MYSTICA Home Page, November 27, 2005, https://www.themystica.com/fairies/ (28 November 2005).

"The Fairy Shilling." Ó hEochaidh, Seán. Fairy Legends from Donegal. Dublin: Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann, ©1977. Used with the permission of Professor Ó Catháin and the Folklore of Ireland Council.

"Ireland." The World Factbook Home Page, 1 November 2005, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/wfbExt/region_eur.html​ (27 November 2005) 

"The Lute Player." Chinen M.D., Allan B. Once Upon a Midlife: Classic Stories and Mythic Tales to Illuminate the Middle Years. New York: Jeremy P.I Tarcher/Perigree Books, ©1993. pp. 74-76. Used with the permission of Allan B. Chinen and Heacock Literary Agency. "We gratefully acknowledge the permissions granted by the following authors, publishers, and authors’ representatives to reprint excerpts from their publications: Heacock Literary Agency, Inc., for "Stubborn Husband, Stubborn Wide, and "The Lute Player," from Once Upon a Midlife: Classic Stories and Mythic Tales to Illuminate the Middle Years by Allan B. Chinen, M.D.; New York: Jeremy P.I Tarcher/Perigree Books, 1993, copyright Allan B. Chinen. All rights reserved."

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation Home Page, https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

"The Three Fayes." Batt, Tanya Robyn. The Fabrics of Fairytales: Stories Spun Far and Wide. New York: Barefoot Books, ©2000. pp. 52-61. Used with the permission of Barefoot Books, Inc: "’The Three Fayes,’ from The Fabrics of Fairytales: Stories Spun Far and Wide, first published in 2000 by Barefoot Books, Inc. Text copyright ©2000 by Tanya Robyn Batt." www.barefootbooks.com

"The Treasure." Buber, Martin. Tales of the Hasidism: The Later Masters. New York: Schocken Books, ©1948, 1975. pp. 245-246. Used with the permission of the Balkin Agency, Inc., Agent for the Estate of Martin Buber.

"Where Love Is, God Is." Tolstoy, Leo. 1885.

Instructions

Print
  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to think of stories they have read or remember and name strong female characters who were the "heroes" of the stories. Explain that in some of the European folktales included in this lesson, the heroes will be women.

  2. Explain that it is important to understand people and their environment when studying folktales. The first story comes from Ireland. On a map, locate its absolute location (longitude and latitude) and relative location (general descriptors of where the place is located).

  3. In a brainstorming session, have the learners describe Ireland as a place by listing recognizable physical characteristics (landforms, water bodies, climate, soil, natural vegetation, animal life) and human characteristics (inhabitants, settlement patterns, languages, religions, how they make a living).

  4. Read "The Fairy Shilling" together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  5. From the clues given in the story, what can be surmised about Paddy’s character? About the woman? In folktales fairies are usually considered to be kind to humans but can also play pranks on someone if they are not treated well. Was the shilling given as a reward or a trick? Should Paddy have been fearful of the shilling after keeping it so long? What does his final action of going to the priest reveal about Paddy’s character?

  6. Unlike Paddy in the beginning of the story, are there times when some people will refuse to help others, even in small ways, because they are afraid to become involved with others? What are some of the real fears people have which keep them from being more charitable?

  7. This Irish folktale reflects some of the culture of the country. Is it understandable to others? What aspects of the story would be different if it reflected another culture?

  8. As background information, explain that "the word ‘fairy’ is derived from the Latin fata, or fate, referring to the mythical Fates, three woman who spin and control the threads of life. The archaic English term for fairies is fays, which means ‘enchanted’ or ‘bewitched’." (See "Fairies" in Bibliographical References.) The next story, "The Three Fayes," is a Swedish folktale in which the fairies give gifts. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  9. Unlike "The Fairy Shilling" where Paddy does a kind deed and receives a reward, May does not earn her reward but receives four very great gifts. From the clues given in the story, what can be surmised about May’s character? Why do the fayes come to her rescue?

  10. May’s mother says, "Skeins of flax are the only dowry we can offer," and is intent on acquiring them for her daughter. From the clues given in the story, what can be surmised about May’s mother’s character? Why does she all but disappear from the story after the Queen takes May away?

  11. Differing from the opinion of May’s mother, the Queen says, "Hard work is the best dowry a woman can offer." From the clues given in the story, what can be surmised about the Queen’s character? Do the learners believe that she wanted May to become her future daughter-in-law?

  12. Ask the learners what they feel most people’s reaction will be to hearing this story. What lesson does it teach about generosity?

  13. In the Russian story "The Lute Player," there is another Queen. This one has to be clever and faithful to save her husband. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  14. Put a Venn diagram on the board with "The King" on one side and "The Queen" on the other. List the character traits they have in common in the intersecting middle section. Put those character traits that they do not share in their own distinct outside columns. What does the chart reveal about the similarities and differences of the royal couple? Are they more similar or more different?

  15. Not only is the Queen faithful, honest and clever, she displays a real generosity of the spirit. How is her generosity revealed in various ways in the story? How does her determination to free her husband compare to the determination of the Queen in "The Three Fayes" to find a good wife for her son?

  16. The Hasidic folktale, "The Treasure," takes place in Prague and Krakow. Impoverished Rabbi Eisik goes in search of treasure that has been revealed in his dreams. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson(s) of the story.

  17. In the story, Rabbi Eisik digs up a real treasure and uses it to build a house of prayer. Imagine that the treasure was only symbolic. What other forms of treasure might the rabbi have discovered in his own home upon his return? Could the rabbi’s actual journey have symbolized a "spiritual" journey in which he leaves home only to discover that what he was seeking was within his grasp all along? Split the learners into small teams and ask them to rewrite the ending substituting a "treasure" of a different sort.

  18. The Russian folktale, "Where Love Is, God Is," by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy is a short story about despair and renewal. By the age of nine, Tolstoy had lost his mother, father and brother. This type of great loss is reflected in his main character, Martin Avdeich, who has lost his wife and children in the story and wishes to die. Read the story together and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). Identify the lesson of the story.

  19. Using the Internet or other source, have the learners research the life of Tolstoy. How are Tolstoy’s beliefs reflected in the story? Is the cobbler’s change of attitude believable?

  20. Review the generosity of the cobbler by itemizing what he gave to those in need. What does the giving of these small things say about generosity? Was the giving as much a gift to the cobbler as the items were to those who received the gifts? For two minutes, have the learners brainstorm a list of small "offerings" that could be given to others which would bring happiness to both the giver and the receiver.

  21. Assign the learners to go to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation Home Page at https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/ (see Bibliographical References) and learn about random acts of kindness. Define random and ask the learners for examples. Using the examples provided on the Web site and others provided by the learners, discuss the idea that random acts of kindness can be done by one person or a group. The acts can be small kindnesses or reflect the work of several people working over time. Recommend that learners reflect on their circumstances and plan one small random act of kindness over the next week. Afterward, they should write an "imaginary" letter to the person who was the recipient of the kindness in which they describe the act of kindness, why it was selected, how the decision was made about who the recipient would be, how it made the giver feel and a reflection on its consequences to the giver and recipient.

Assessment 

The "imaginary" letter may serve as an assessment of learning.

Put the following two quotes on the board:

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do." -Helen Keller

"No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted." -Aesop

Using both quotes as a reference, the learners should reflect on the two quotations and, selecting one or more of the stories in this lesson, tie the action(s) of the story’s character(s) to the quotations. The character’s "generosity of spirit" should be emphasized.

Cross Curriculum 

The Random Acts of Kindness™ Foundation inspires people to practice kindness and to "pass it on" to others. Learners will learn about random acts of kindness, make a plan to carry out such an action and reflect on the benefits of the activity.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 05. Role of Foundations
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define the term foundation and describe the types of foundations.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 04. Philanthropy and Geography
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify and describe civil society sector organizations whose purpose is associated with issues relating to "human characteristics of place" nationally and internationally.