Teaching Folktales with Literature Activities for Kids

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Teaching folktales to fourth graders is educational and fun. Start with an introduction to genres of folklore. Then review elements of literature. Finally, show kids how to compare, contrast, and construct responses.

Ms. Sneed Ponders the Differences in Folklore and Folktales

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat in her weekly grade level meeting. “Next week, we’ll start teaching folktales,” she said.

“What I don’t understand,” said her colleague, Mr. Frank, “is the difference between folktales and folklore.”

“I use them interchangeably,” commented Ms. Sneed.

“Not me,” said Mrs. Price. “I think of folklore as a cultural thing and folktales as a form of literature.”

Mr. Frank was already pecking away at his laptop. After a few seconds, he raised his head. “These articles agree with our disagreement. Folklore includes shared cultural beliefs. However, an alternate definition is shared stories. So you’re both right. Folklore, or folktales, include stories passed down orally in a culture. Examples include myths, legends, fables, fairy tales, and tall tales – just to name a few.”

“Wait a minute,” Mrs. Price said. “I’ve seen activities that ask kids to discriminate between folktales and fables. If fables are folktales, how can that be?”

After clicking away a little more, Mr. Frank replied. “It seems that some people group folklore into two categories: those with human characters, or folktales, and those with animal characters, or fables.”

“Well that’s just crazy,” said Mrs. Price. “Because some fables have human characters.”

Ms. Sneed laughed. “Let’s decide how we will explain this to our kids. I’m thinking that we can call all stories shared by a culture folklore, or folktales. Categories of this form of literature include myths, legends, fables, fairy tales, tall tales, and more.”

The other two teachers nodded in agreement. “That works for me,” said Mrs. Price. “Clear and concise.”

Teaching Folktales Through Literary Analysis

The following Monday Ms. Sneed dug into folklore. “Good morning, everyone. Today we’ll begin our folklore unit.”

She began distributing a reference guide and continued. “This genre, which is also called folktales, include stories shared by a specific culture. Generally, these tales were passed down orally. One generation shared a story by passing it down to the next.

“Here you see five different types of folklore:

  • Myths, which are ancient tales that often include superhuman characters;
  • Legends, which originate from factual accounts but have been changed over time;
  • Fairy tales, which pit good against evil and include some sort of magical element;
  • Fables, which teach lessons and usually have animal characters that behave like humans;
  • Tall tales, which are hugely exaggerated.”

Identify types of folklore, or folktales, with this handy guide. It will help your fourth grade students understand different genres of literature.

Ms. Sneed walked back to the front of the room. “You will work in your groups today,” she said. Of course, this caused a low roar of excitement at each table.

“Each table will receive a passage and a worksheet. You can take turns reading the story. Then you will appoint one group member as the scribe. He or she will fill out the worksheet as you discuss it. In the end, you’ll figure out which genre of folklore you have read and explain how you know.”

The teacher gave each group a piece of literature and a response sheet. Then she stood back, watched, and listened.

Ask kids to read and identify different types of folklore.

“I think this is a legend,” one boy said to his group.

“No way,” said the girl sitting next to him.

“But Paul Bunyan might have been a real person,” the boy responded.

“Even if that’s true,” said another group member, “this story is way too exaggerated to be a legend.”

Ms. Sneed smiled and continued to circulate around the room

Reinforcing Genres of Folklore

The next day, Ms. Sneed was ready with a slideshow. “As we review categories of folklore,” she said, “the presentation will also give an example from yesterday’s activity. You can see if your group was right in its choice.”

Everyone watched attentively as the slideshow divulged the genres of their stories from the day before. When the group with “Feeding Paul Bunyan’s Men” saw that theirs was a tall tale, they all whooped.

Help kids distinguish between types of folktales with characteristics, structures, and purposes.

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Teaching Kids to Compare and Contrast Folktales

The next morning, Ms. Sneed’s class noticed a new bulletin board. “Hey, these posters go with our stories,” someone shouted.

“Yes, I put the posters up to remind us of the genres,” said Ms. Sneed. “Today we’ll learn to compare and contrast traditional literature. It’s Common Core State Standard RL.4.9, so we’ll check another standard off our list. More than that, it’s a high-level activity that you’ll enjoy.”

Their teacher walked to her computer and clicked to present a video on the screen in front of the classroom. “Yay! ‘The Ants and the Grasshopper!’ I love this video.”

When the movie was over, the class was surprised when Ms. Sneed played another, “The Three Little Pigs.”

As it wrapped up, she smiled and said, “Bonus! Two videos today. After all, we have to compare and contrast.”

She pulled up a slideshow and began to teach. “To compare folktales, you must first identify their elements.” Ms. Sneed asked her students to help her with this. Soon, they had an entire table filled in.

Compare and contrast folktales to address CCSS RL.4.9 and RL.5.9.

From there, they analyzed the stories using a Venn diagram. Finally, Ms. Sneed showed them how to use the information to construct a response.

Using Archetypes for Advanced Learners

That day, Ms. Sneed shared a parallel slideshow with her advanced readers. It showed them how to further analyze the elements to determine archetypes. This differentiation would allow them to take the activity to the next level.

Fourth and fifth grade students can use archetypes to compare and contrast folktales.


Ask your students to use archetypes to compare and contrast traditional literature.

Giving Kids Plenty of Practice

Over the next few weeks, Ms. Sneed asked her students to compare and contrast five more sets of paired passages. As they worked, their confidence grew.

One day, as Ms. Sneed graded their responses, she looked up. “You guys have really risen to the occasion,” she said, holding up the stack of papers. “Not only have you identified the elements and compared them, your paragraphs are getting super sophisticated.” And at that moment, she burst into one of her famous teacher smiles.

Fulfill RL.4.9 by asking your fourth grade students to compare and contrast folktales.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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