Compiled from Lists of Ten posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk, and TEACH.
I've always had a weakness for fables, myths, and fairy tales. Maybe it was the magical nature of the stories that captured my attention when I was a child. Or perhaps it was the fact that these were frequently tales that purported to explain the world around me by demonstrating simple truths as obvious conclusions drawn from a series of events. Regardless of the reason, I was hooked.
As I grew older, I remember checking mythology collections out of the library when everyone else was looking for books with lots of pictures and few words for their book reports. In college, I picked up the habit of looking up mythological references whenever I happened across them in the literature I was reading (a habit that paid off in the long run when as a senior, I found some things that no one else had explained in "Locksley Hall"). When I ended up in grad school, I was drawn to the ways that mythologies, fables, and fairy tales morphed and persisted across cultures and societies.
It's little wonder, then, that my Lists of Ten repeatedly include assignments that focus on myth, fable, folklore, and fairy tale. Here are those assignments, with links to the collection where they were originally published.
Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on May 12, 2000.
- From the Reading Comprehension List:
[CREATIVE RESPONSE] What if today's reading were a myth or folk legend? How would it be different? Who would be the "mere mortals," and who would be the gods or the human with super abilities? Is there an important hero? Is there a test or some trickery involved? Does the tale explain the way that something was created or how something got to be the way that it is? Once you've thought through your reading, rewrite it as a myth. Be creative, and explore the ideas. If the text seems too long to write as one myth, choose one particular episode that occurs and rewrite only that episode as a myth.
- From the English Language Activities List:
[Mythical Word Source] Choose a word or phrase that interests you. Write a legend or myth that explains where the word came from and what it means. Usually origin myths explain how a natural phenomenon came to be. Your writing project is a little different -- you'll explain how something came to be named. Your story should be consistent and believable. For example, it wouldn't make sense for a Sioux warrior to make up the words "french fries." Be creative!
- From the Conflict and Violence List:
[Biggest Myth] What the biggest myth that you've heard in the media about violence in schools? Write a letter to the editor, to the television show, or to another pertinent reader that explains why you disagree with the coverage they have given to the myth you've identified. In your letter, be sure that you describe what you've heard and what you've seen written about the issue, explain why you believe the assertion is untrue, and suggest reasons that the myth has developed. Further, you might identify more realistic explanations for the issue that the myth you've identified addresses. Your goal is to persuade your reader to change the way that they cover violence.
- From the Oscar® Activities List:
[Adaptation of Myth or Folk Tale] What was the most outstanding adaptation of a myth or folk tale that you found in a piece of literature that we've read this term? Think about the relationship between the original myth or folk tale and its representation in a more recent work. How has the original been adapted in the new version, and why has it been included? How does the adapted myth or folk tale add to the work in which the appears? Be sure that you have clear criteria for what makes an adaptation "outstanding." Write a paper that explains your selection, supports your choice, and includes comparisons to other candidates that you considered. Your paper should show readers why the adaptation you've chosen really does stand out.
- From the Character Diary List:
[Fable Entry] What lesson(s) have you learned? What have the events that you've been through taught you? Think of them as a sort of fable -- what would the moral be? Describe the events in a way that makes the lesson that you've learned clear. Once you've described the lesson, talk about why it is an important lesson and how you think that it will affect you in the future.
- From the Writer's Background List:
[Fable] Write a fable, tall tale, Uncle Remus tale, or fairy tale that will tell me about you as a writer and about your understanding of the writing process. Think about the genre of the tale you'll use. A fable, for instance, includes animal characters and tells a short didactic tale. Fables end with a moral, a short, pithy saying that summarizes the lesson of the story. It's a lot like putting your thesis statement at the end. To compose a fable about writing, think of a lesson you've learned as a writer and compose a tale that fits the characteristics of the genre. [When I use this assignment, I usually narrow down the option and provide explanations for all the genres that are included. I'd probably offer two options rather than all four. To keep the example short here, I've only included details for the fable assignment.]
- From the Writing About Style List:
[Translate to a New Style] Choose a passage from the novel or short story that we're reading and translate it into another style. You can choose any style you want. You might choose a very formal style, a jargon-filled technical style, or persuasive, business writing style. You could even try the style of a children's picture book or a personal interest story in a newspaper. Whatever style you choose, be consistent through your entire translation. Use one style from beginning to end. Once you finish your translation, skip down a few lines and add a paragraph or so that explains how you made the decisions that you did as you were translating.
ALTERNATE VERSION: Translate a fairy tale, folk tale, or fable that you've read into another style. Or get experimental, and have them write a rap version or an exaggerated and flowery version.
- From the Personal Narrative List:
[Tell a Story] Write an account of the events in your narrative for a fable, a tabloid, or a television or radio interview. These options give you a lot of room for creativity. What happens if the people involved in the events were animals and you had to come up with a moral? If the events were reported in a tabloid paper, what would be emphasized? Where would things be embellished? What would be left out? Finally, if you were interviewed about the event, what would you include in your story -- your answer depends on where you're being interviewed (by Barbara Walters once you're rich and famous? on a talk show by Oprah? on a late night show by David Letterman or Jay Leno?) Be sure to indicate where you're being interviewed. Once you finish your alternate account of the events, move to your working draft. Are there facts that you can add now that you've thought about the events in your narrative from a different point of view? Are there facts that seem less important? Can they be deleted? Did you add details and description to your account that can be revised and added to your draft? What parts of your alternate version wouldn't make any sense at all in your final draft of the narrative?
- From the Writing About Literature List:
[Different Cultural Perspective] Consider a piece of literature from a different cultural perspective. This assignment works best for me after I've done some work with fairy tales from different countries -- I have several versions of Cinderella from different cultures. As a next step, students rewrite something they've read -- usually a short, short story -- from a different perspective. In ESL classes, you can have students rewrite American tall tales and Uncle Remus stories from the perspective of their native culture. Students might write narratives or even script scenes.
- From the Conflict and Violence List:
[A Fable] Brainstorm a list of things that cause tension at an elementary school -- don't worry about analyzing the causes, just get down as many things that can cause conflict or anxiety. After you've gathered your list, share your list with others in your class. Identify the items that appear on the most lists and the items that are the most important to address. Each person in your class should choose an item to focus on. After you've chosen an item, write a fable for students at an elementary school. Your goal is to tell a story about the conflict or tension that demonstrates non-violent ways of dealing with the situation and concludes something about the value of the actions that the main characters take. Remember that your audience is composed of students who are younger than you -- you'll need to adapt your description, word choice, and sentence structure to fit this special group of readers.
[This assignment could be adapted to another setting. For instance, older elementary school students could write for K-3 students, and college students might write for middle school students. Students could also work in small groups rather than each writing a fable.]