This is a guest blog post, which was originally published in Dec. 2013, from first-grade teacher Lyssa Sahadevan. If you like what you read here, you can see more of Lyssa's posts here, or check out her own blog here! This post contains a free worksheet on lessons learned from traditional tales at the bottom of the page!
Comprehension, comprehension, comprehension! We want to make sure our youngest readers really understand what they are reading. We ask questions. We practice retelling the beginning, middle, and end in narrative stories. We make chart after chart of story elements. We confer and reteach in small groups. The primary grades set the stage for understanding (and we pretty much rock)!
The thing is, not all narrative stories are just telling a story. They have greater themes, bigger ideas, and often a lesson or moral. This is one reason I love-love-love traditional tales, also known as fables. Fables are short stories, typically with animals as characters, that convey a moral. My first graders love them and the fable basket is a hot spot in our classroom! Fables ask readers to think a little bit harder, and I love that!
To introduce fables, I read them like crazy! They are a great read-aloud because they are short, and the characters are relatable. Being all about movement in our first-grade classroom, we often act them out, too.
I tell my readers that fables have a lesson hidden inside, and we must discover the lesson each time we read one. We retell the story first, then have a discussion about what the fable is trying to teach us. They do not always agree on the lesson learned, and that is okay—as long as the reader can provide a solid explanation, their answer is accepted. Another fun activity we do is watch fables on Youtube and then discuss them in the same way. We complete the worksheet (downloadable at the bottom of the page) together first, and then students complete it independently with their favorite fable or one we have read together. You can also compare and contrast, but that would be a whole different activity.
I love using the Story World series for fables. Two of my favorites are The Crow and the Rain Barrel and The Lion and the Mouse (retold by Alan Trussell-Cullen). After reading The Crow and the Rain Barrel and discussing the message or lesson, we work on building the connection to our own lives. I record the students' thinking on chart paper. Students say things like, “The crow did it one stone at a time, just like we built our reading stamina a little at a time,” and, “The crow did it slowly, just like we have to take our time when we build a tower.” Powerful stuff! Students can then complete the attached worksheet for either book.
Fables are a fun read and provide an excellent opportunity for strengthening comprehension with our youngest readers. Do you have a favorite fable?
Lyssa Sahadevan is a first-grade teacher in Marietta, GA. She loves reader's and writer's workshop, is a former Teacher of the Year, and shares ideas at www.mymommyreads.com.
To download a free PDF of Lyssa's worksheet on lessons learned from traditional tales, click the template image below! To learn more about the Story World books used as an example in this post, visit our website or click the series highlights images below to download free information sheets explaining key features of the Story World-Real World series.