Volume IV - 1997

Tapping Students Interest in with Fairy Tales
    by Gary Ockey and Diane Ogden

         Gary Ockey is an instructor at Kanda University of International Studies, in Chiba, Japan. He has worked as an instructor in Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and the USA.
         Diane Ogden is an Assistant Professor of ESL at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, USA. She has been the newsletter editor of TESOL Video News. Currently she is the Chair of the TESOL Video Interest Section.

         Most teachers agree that using the process approach in teaching English is crucial for successful language learning. However, we have found that the effective use of this approach--while generating student interest--can be challenging. The very nature of this approach can seem slow and tedious to the learner, which in turn decreases students' attention span. With this in mind, we have turned to two powerful tools to guide our intermediate ESL students through an efficient learning experience. The first tool is video, with its visual and aural components as proven motivators. The second tool is that of fairy tales. We have chosen fairy tales because they are found in all cultures and have a high motivational value. Most students are interested in sharing their own culture and learning more about others. We have found great success in using this combination to help us focus on each language skill while preparing the students to produce their own English discourse. The videos we use, which range in length from three to twenty minutes, are animations of western fairy tales. Because these stories are new to the students, we feel that they are more dynamic and interesting. We will focus on one of the fairy tales we use, "Seven with One Blow," from The Brothers Grimm as an illustration of what is done.1 We will begin with a short summary of the story, "Seven with One Blow." Then we will show how we use this video to focus on vocabulary, listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Finally, we will explain how the activities culminate in an independent project designed to get students to exercise all of the language skills.

General Story Line of Seven with One Blow

         The story, "Seven with One Blow," begins with a young tailor going about his business of making a dress when he hears a farm woman calling out for customers as she walks along the street selling jelly. He decides to buy some jelly, which he puts on his bread. As he sits down to eat, a swarm of flies begins pestering him for his meal. He finally loses his temper when they land on the bread and jelly. He picks up a yardstick and strikes them. To his astonishment, he has killed all seven flies with only one blow. He is so proud of his feat that he believes he is too clever and skillful to be a tailor. He decides to go to an armor shop and buy a breastplate. On the breastplate he writes, "Seven with One Blow". Then he chooses to journey out into the world. His first adventure begins when he encounters a giant. He asks if he can travel with the giant, but the giant thinks he is too small to be of any worth to him. The little tailor must thus prove himself to the giant. First the tailor tricks the giant by pretending to squeeze water from a stone. In fact, however, the tailor cleverly switches the stone for a piece of cheese and squeezes whey from it. Then he pretends to throw a stone farther than the giant can throw a stone. In this case, he cunningly switches the stone for a bird. The giant thinks the bird is a stone and as the bird flies away, the giant thinks the little tailor has thrown a stone farther than he can see.

         We don't show the video past this point (about a five minute-segment) because one of our main reasons for showing the video is that we want to pique the students' interest so they will read the story. The students then read about the other adventures of the tailor and how he eventually becomes king of all the land by using his wits to trick people.

Introducing Key Vocabulary

         We begin our lessons by introducing key vocabulary which help the students understand the video and the accompanying written version of the story. We tell the students to try to see how these words are used in the video. The vocabulary words are selected on the basis of importance to general understanding of the story. For example, with the video, "Seven with One Blow," we introduce such words as "breastplate," " giant," "blow," "yardstick," and "tailor." These words are very important in helping the students follow the written version of this story and easily understood when seen in the context of the video.

Focusing on Listening

         We next focus on the skill of listening. We begin by giving the students a list of questions. One type is designed to give the students practice in understanding global ideas. Examples of global questions written for the story, "Seven with One Blow," are: "What is the meaning of the phrase, 'Seven with One Blow?"' and "What are the two ways the little tailor tricks the giant?" These help the students focus on the main idea of the story. Often, questions of this kind require less concentrated listening since the visual component of the video makes answers evident. A second type of question gives the students practice in listening for specific information and reinforces the newly introduced vocabulary. For example, one of the questions we use is, "What does the tailor use to kill the flies?" The students see the tailor use a yardstick in the video and are then able to make the association between the visual image and the usage of the word. Our third type of question is designed to give the students practice in concentrated listening for detail. An example from the story, "Seven with One Blow," is: "How much money does the tailor pay for the jelly?" In this case, the students can see the tailor pay for the jelly, so they know what is being discussed, but in order to know how much is paid, they need to understand what is said. After the students have a chance to read the questions they have been given, we show the video to the point where the little tailor has tricked the giant two times. Then we have them attempt to answer the three types of questions.

Making Reading a Predictive Process

         The video works well as a pre-reading activity to build schema and to help the students become more familiar with relevant vocabulary . More vitally, it piques the interest of the students. Most students are excited to read the story in order to to find out how the story ends. At this point, we hand out a fourth type of question--one designed to get the students to predict what will happen in the story. An example for "Seven with One Blow" is: "How do you think the little tailor might trick the giant a third time." (These questions and the resulting discussions coupled with the video and the pre-taught vocabulary serve as our pre-reading activities.) After the students answer the fourth type of question, they are given a written version of the story to read accompanied by our fifth type of question which is aimed at getting the students to find differences between the written story and the video. An example of this type of question is: "What are three major differences between the written story and the video version of the story?" This type of preparation makes the reading task very much a predictive process since the students are asked to compare the video version to the written version of the story and also to compare the written version of the story to their own predictions of how the story might end.

Generating Stimulating Speaking Tasks

         After the students have seen part of the video and read all of the story, they are asked to retell the story in speaking class. There, they are put into small groups, along with a native-speaker tutor. The tutors have not seen the video or read the story. The students are given the list of vocabulary that has previously been taught (e.g., giant, yardstick, blow, breastplate) and told that they must use the vocabulary when retelling the story. As the students tell the story, the tutors inevitably become curious about parts the students leave out or do not make clear. The students are then motivated to tell the story in detail, describing what they have seen as well as what they have heard. This generally becomes a very positive exchange of information filled with authentic language from both the tutors and the students .

         Once the students have told the story to the tutors, we let the students and the tutors watch the video from beginning to end. The students then get back into groups and talk about the moral of the story. They also share similar stories from their own cultures. Many of the students' eyes light up with excitement as they recall and share similar stories they learned as children.

Activating Students' Interest in Writing

         Many of the conversational activities naturally carry over into the writing class. For example, we have the students write their own endings for the story before they are allowed to read the end of the story. We also point out that in many fairy tales, the hero has two or three challenges in which he usually succeeds. For example, in "Seven With One Blow," we have the students add another challenge to the story and then have them tell how the little tailor succeeds in this new test. In addition, we use these fairy tales to teach students about writing summaries. We have found that students usually have a difficult time summarizing. They are so afraid of making a mistake that they often plagiarize by taking sentences directly from the reading. We have found that one very important element here is general familiarity with the particular narrative. Since the students work with the stories in great detail, they are able to synthesize and summarize with more fluency. Another technique is having them write in class where they have no access to a written version of the story. This helps them to understand what we mean by using one' s own words in a summary.

Students Write Their Own Fairy Tales

         As a final class project, our students write their own fairy tales. This is an interesting way to have them express their ideas and be creative in the target language. This has proved to be extremely interesting as the students show great enthusiasm in telling, listening to, and reading their own and other students' fairy tales. Since by this time the students are well aware of the characteristics of a typical fairy tale, we give them only the following guidelines: fairy tales must have a moral, somehow include good versus evil, have an element of magic, and end happily.

         As a way to get them started on the project, we put them in small groups and give them a time and place for a fairy tale. The setting we use is generally 1300 AD. The place is England. The characters include (but are not limited to) a poor farm boy who is the hero; a wicked king; and a white crow. The students are then asked to brainstorm plots for the story. We then have them individually write the group' s fairy tale. After that, the students are placed in different groups and asked to share their written stories. The students really enjoy these activities, but more importantly they gain confidence in their ability to write.

         When the students have completed the group effort, they are ready to write their own original fairy tales. We have the students decide on a place and a time as well as characters and what will represent good and what will represent evil in their fairy tales. Next, they are put into groups and asked to think of possible ways to develop their stories. The students are then asked to consider possible plot development and take notes on their ideas. After they have done this, we put the students in groups and have them tell their stories. Often a number of students have numerous endings and want to try each of them out on their group members. The students in the groups give advice on how each story might be made better. Students really enjoy sharing their stories and giving and receiving advice. An added benefit is that this activity really seems to motivate students who have not yet put much effort into their fairy tales. The students then prepare a first written draft of their fairy tales. Next they exchange their first drafts with a peer and give advice in answer to specific questions relating to the presence of the characteristics of fairy tales, clear interesting development of the plot, and originality of the story line. Students often enjoy this activity so much that they ask to read more of their peers' fairy tales.

Learner Logs

         After the students rewrite their fairy tales, we collect them along with a log of what steps and thoughts the students had while they were working. A number of things have impressed us as we read the fairy tales and learner logs. First, we have noticed that students become very interested in writing their fairy tales: most students report spending five to ten hours just thinking about how they will develop their stories before beginning to write. A number of students have also mentioned that they have asked for ideas from family and friends. Virtually all students go through a number of drafts and revisions of their stories even though they are asked for only a rough draft and a final copy. Moreover, almost all students write much more than is generally expected on writing assignments. Next, considering the students' language proficiencies, the development of the stories is amazingly original, clear, and interesting. And finally, the fairy tales, without exception, are so interesting and well written that reading them is a joy. The following is an example:

Two Requests
by Tatsuyuki Mimura

         There lived a girl who had a dream of being a novelist in the future. So she had written a lot of stories and had participated in various contests of novelist, but she was very anxious about herself. That is because she could not write as she wanted. Actually, she did not want to write any more. One day, she went to the sea in order to refresh herself. The sea was terribly dirty as if it described her feeling. In the course of her walking by the shore, she found a bottle floating on the water and gradually coming near to her. She thought it contained something, but there was nothing in it. She was disappointed and threw it away. The bottle accidentally hit a rock and broke. As soon as the bottle was broken into pieces, she was very surprised. That is because she found a small object coming from the broken bottle and it gradually formed a figure. Then finally it became a young lady.
"How are you ?" asked the girl. "Are you the fairy of the bottle?" Then the lady answered, "No, I'm the Devil." At first the girl could not understand what was going on, but she tried to calm herself and said, "But why are you here?" The lady replied, "You helped me get out of that bottle, so I'll grant your two requests as a token of my appreciation. But notice once I grant a request, you can never change it."
The girl thought someone played a trick on her, so she tried to ignore the lady. In spite of the ignorance, the lady still continued to ask the girl, "You want to be a novelist, don't you? I can easily enable you to be a good novelist. So, how about it?"
The girl kept quiet because she was afraid to make a request. The lady said, "OK, but I'll never disappear without granting two requests."
When the girl arrived home, she was terribly in a bad mood so she tried to crawl into a bottle of whiskey. While the girl was drinking, the lady asked her to make a request. The girl wondered why the lady asked her so urgently and said, "Why do you want to grant my request so urgently?" The devil answered, "To tell the truth, I am playing a game with an angel. I try to break the earth and an angel prevents it. But I broke a rule of the game, so I was locked into the bottle. But you helped me, so I want to grant your request." The girl could not understand what the devil said and still thought someone was playing tricks on her. She was angry and drank like a fish, and said in desperation, "l will make a request, Devil. I hate the circumstance which makes me nervous. I hope the earth will be crushed by a meteorite . "
The next morning, she woke up gloomily to find there was a large shining object in the sky. Though she was a little bit drowsy, she knew that it was not the sun. She remembered the things happening the night before and realized that a meteorite would break the earth and that she could not live any longer. Having imagined such a thing, she thought she wanted to live and continue to write a novel for the first time. So she said to the Devil, "You know I have one more chance so please make the meteorite disappear. The Devil replied, "This request means you would cancel the last request: that's impossible. I told you in the beginning." The girl was shocked to hear that. "How many days are left before the meteorite will collide with the earth?" asked the girl. "One week," answered the devil.
The girl began to speculate what she could to do live and continue to write a novel. Three days later, she asked the Devil to change the orbit of the meteorite, but the Devil again said she could not change the original request..
Six days later, while the girl was looking at the sky, she came upon one idea. "Make another earth between the earth and the meteorite. You can do that, can't you?" asked the girl. The Devil was at a loss for what to say, but later she said reluctantly, "O.K. I think that I can do that." The next morning, the girl found there was nothing in the sky except for the sun. She had begun to step toward her dream again, and a few years later, she became famous for writing lots of masterpieces.


         By combining the use of video and fairy tales, we have been able to successfully implement a process approach in our ELT classrooms. This has allowed us to focus on each of the four skills while preparing the students to produce their own original discourse. In addition, we have found that by using fairy tales we have been able to motivate our students way beyond our original expectations. We believe that this is because fairy tales have the power to bring back feelings of comfort and memories of childhood thus heightening students' interest in learning English.

Appendix A.

Short videos can be found in the following catalogs:

AIMS Multimedia Pied Piper;
9710 DeSoto Avenue;
Chatsworth, California 91311- 4409;
Telephone: 800-367-2467.

AGC Educational Media:
V ideos and Videodiscs for the K- 12 Curriculum;
1301 Park Ridge Place,
Cincinnati, Ohio 45208;
Telephone: 800-871-6362

The Weston Woods Video & Motion Pictures,
Weston, Connecticut 06883-1199;
Telephone: 800- 243-5020.


Other Fairy tale videos we have successfully used in class:

"Rumpelstiltskin" "Bearskin"
"The Boy who Wanted to Shiver"
"Tom Thumb"
"The Giant with Three Golden Hairs"


1"Seven with One Blow," Grimm's Fairy Tales, Volume 2, Bosustow Entertainment Production, Bosustow Entertainment, Inc., Phillips Entertainment, Inc., 1986.

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