Folktales and Philanthropy

9, 10, 11, 12

This lesson introduces the type of folklore known as folktales. Young people identify the traits of folklore found in cultures across the world, including the common theme of "philanthropic giving."

PrintOne 50-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • define and give examples of six types of folktales.
  • identify characteristics and common themes of folktales.
  • define philanthropy and identify motivations for giving of time, talent and treasure.
  • Prince, Alan and Karen File. The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994. ISBN: 9780787960575


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask young people if they have family stories that are told again and again. These stories often reveal the character and traditions of the family. Talk about the stories that come up and what they tell about the family. 

  2. Explain that all cultures have stories that are shared. In many cases a story from one culture will be similar to the story of another culture. This may be because we all have common human experiences or because stories move from place to place. These stories are known as folktales and they are circulated orally among people. Folktales are part of a larger category known as folklore, which includes the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practices of a culture that are shared usually through oral communication and example.

  3. In folklore, the characters are not well developed nor the location clearly described. There is usually conflict between good and evil with good usually being rewarded and evil being punished. Often, the purpose of these stories is to teach a lesson or to describe characteristics of one’s culture. The stories are also entertaining.

  4. Talk about examples of the different types of folklore that may be familiar. Here are descriptions of six different types of folklore stories:

    • Fairy Tales: These entertaining stories, which reveal a lot about human nature, are about characters that have magical adventures. Animals in the stories can speak. They always end happily with the "underdog" usually triumphing or good overcoming evil. Wishes come true as a result of a test or struggle.
    • Myths: These are stories that contain action and suspense and seek to explain the origins of life and elements of nature. They are usually about the gods and supernatural beings which existed before or shortly after humans first appeared on the earth.
    • Legends/Epics: These usually refer to individuals, heroes or kings who lived in the period before written records. While they may be based in some ways on fact, they have been embellished over time.
    • Tall Tales: These exaggerated cultural stories revolve around the pioneer spirit and a person who performs superhuman feats. While these can be based on real characters, they often deal with invented or exaggerated incidents and traits.
    • Fables: These short, simple tales, which teach a lesson, have few characters (often animals). There is a moral which can be pulled from the simple story to represent a larger lesson in life.
    • Religious Stories/Parables: These are religious stories that communicate values.
  5. Often the stories will deal with moral lessons through demonstrating opposites. These may include:

    • good vs. evil
    • rich vs. poor
    • wise vs. foolish
    • age vs. youth
    • beauty vs. ugliness
    • stinginess vs. generosity
    • fairness vs. unfairness
  6. Often, the “happy ending” of the stories is brought about because of the sacrifice of one or more of the characters on behalf of others. Usually this represents a selfless act for the benefit of the common good.

    Explain that the term common good represents “wealth shared by the whole group of people.” Wealth can mean money, property, and other resources, but it can also mean a clean environment, a safe community, or a friendly neighborhood where people care for each other.

    Ask the learners to look at the good things (or wealth) of their own community. Ask them to name some examples of the common good.

  7. It is not easy for people to be naturally selfless. Give some examples of ordinary and extraordinary acts of selflessness (Ordinary: taking turns, giving gifts; Extraordinary: donating funds for a building or program).

    Do ordinary or extraordinary acts of selflessness occur more frequently to benefit the common good?

  8. A person who voluntarily gives for the improvement of the common good is a philanthropist.

    Acts of philanthropy can be large or small. A gift of a building to the community is very generous and may be announced in the newspaper. Bringing a meal to a family with a sick family member is a small act of kindness that involves time, talent, or resources and doesn’t attract much attention.

    Almost everyone, in some way or another, is a philanthropist. In a five-minute brainstorming session, generate a list of examples of large and small philanthropy. Next to each idea, write adjectives that describe people who are philanthropic in that way. 

  9. Explain that philanthropists have different motivations for giving:

    • Being part of a community – the sense of belonging to a social community is important. Often based on a history in, and ties to, their local community. The ability to see needs in the community and respond to those needs is present.
    • Religion - doing good because it is God’s will. The belief that giving is a moral obligation.
    • Good Business - motivated by the personal tax and estate benefits philanthropy represents, and the public relations advantage.
    • Social Function - doing good works or giving money is part of socially acceptable behavior. Philanthropic acts include some form of socializing, entertainment and /or fun.
    • Giving Back - doing good as an act of gratitude in return for what they have received in life.
    • Family Tradition - giving results from childhood socialization by parents or other relatives about the importance of philanthropy. Philanthropy supports family values.
    • Selflessness Concern for the Welfare of Others - giving and social action because it is the right thing to do. Giving is spiritual (in this case, not religious-based), an expression of generosity and empathy. Giving is a moral imperative and everyone’s responsibility even if it means self-sacrifice.
  10. Using any familiar folktale, ask the learner to identify an act of "giving" in the story, describe how the common good is enhanced through that act, and identify the main character’s motivation for giving.

    Pair up the learners. Looking at the generated lists of “characteristics” of philanthropists and “motivations for giving,” the teams list examples of familiar folktales that match one of the “characteristics” and one of the “motivations.” 

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.