Understanding Folktales and Their Philanthropic Connections

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will investigate the type of folklore known as folktales. They will understand their origins and purposes, and describe different types of folktales. Because many folktales reveal a character making some sort of a sacrifice on behalf of others, learners will find that such selflessness is a form of philanthropy. They will look at motivations of givers and make connections between folktales and "giving."

PrintTwo Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • define and give examples of six types of folktales.
  • describe the origin and purposes of folktales.
  • identify characteristics and common themes of folktales.
  • analyze the relationship between selflessness and the common good.
  • define philanthropy and identify motivations for giving of time, talent and treasure.
  • explain the link between philanthropy and folktales.
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Learners should ask a relative if there are any folktales that are family favorites and identify the category of folktale to which it belongs. Identify whether the folktales reflect their culture, their geographic location, or are just liked because of their value as stories.

  • Learning to Give lesson on the motivations for giving: http://www.learningtogive.org/units/motivated-give-12th-grade/motivated-give-12th-grade 
  • Prince, Alan and Karen File. The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994. ISBN: 9780787960575


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to name short stories or tales that they remember hearing family members share with one another or others outside the family. What was the purpose of those stories (to share their culture, to teach a lesson, to provide entertainment, etc.)?

  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 is because people share a lot of the same experiences and move from place to place. These stories are known as folktales which are circulated orally among a people. Folktales are part of the 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 folktales the characters are not well developed nor the location clearly described. What is more important to the story is that 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. These stories can have different forms which are sometimes similar to one another. These can include:

    • 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. Ask the learners to give examples of titles with which they are familiar for each category of folktales.

  6. There are numerous themes or “general topics” that make up the essence of the stories. Often the stories will deal with 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
  7. Ask the learners to give examples of folktales which match each category of themes which deal with opposites.

  8. Often, the “happy ending” of the stories will be 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 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, a friendly neighborhood where people care for each other, honest civil servants, etc. Looking at their own community, what examples of the common good can the learners identify?

  9. It is not easy for people to be naturally selfless. What ordinary and extraordinary examples of selflessness can the learners identify? Of the two (ordinary vs. extraordinary), which of these occur more frequently in the community and benefit more people?

  10. Selflessness is only one of the characteristics that can describe someone who gives of his or her time, talent and resources. Such a person who voluntarily gives for the improvement of the common good is a philanthropist. Acts of philanthropy can be very generous and publicly described in the newspaper. They can also be small acts of kindness that involve contributions of time, talent or resources which don’t attract much attention. Almost everyone, in some way or another, is a philanthropist. In a five minute brainstorming session with recorders writing responses on the board, have the learners generate a list of examples of large and small philanthropy. Looking at the list that was generated, have the learners describe some of the other characteristics of philanthropists besides selflessness. (Not all characteristics will apply to all philanthropists, since people have different motivations for giving.)

  11. Explain that philanthropists have different motivations for giving. Looking at the times the learners themselves have been philanthropic and given of their time, talent or resources, what would they say were their motivations for giving? Put their motivations on the display board. Use the following list to describe any motivations which do not appear on their list:

    • 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.
  12. To make sure that they understand what each of the ‘motivations’ mean, ask them to respond to “If/when asked why I volunteer/give and I respond in the following way, under which heading would my ‘motivation’ for being involved in social action fall?” Read each statement below, one by one, and solicit learner response.

  13. “Hey, one good turn deserves another, I always say.” (Giving Back)

  14. “I rather give locally than to a similar National Organization” (Being Part of a Community)

  15. “I guess I never really thought about it. It’s just something I’ve always done.” (Family Tradition)

  16. “I give when my accountant says it would be in my best interest.” (Good Business)

  17. “If the world is going to improve, we all need to pitch in.” (Selfless Concern)

  18. “Some of my best friends throw great fund-raising parties.” (Social Function)

  19. “Aren’t we told to “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us?” (Religion)

  20. Pair up the learners. Looking at the generated lists of “characteristics” of philanthropists and “motivations for giving,” let each team recall examples of folktales they already know which match one of the “characteristics” and one of the “motivations.” When the teams are ready, report the information.


Using any familiar folktale, ask the learner to write a short essay identifying common characteristics of folktales in the selected story.

  • The learner should recognize 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.
  • The essay should conclude with a decision as to whether the act of giving was an example of philanthropy.
  • In a short essay of four paragraphs, have the learners define folktale, give examples of types of folktales, define and give examples of philanthropy, and describe the connection between some folktales and philanthropy.

POINTS In order to receive the full score, the response must have four complete paragraphs which include the four required components above.

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.