Fractured Fairy Tales

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Karen Eilertsen, Heather Gately, Morris Kimura, Lisa Varandani, School for International Training at Tokyo Jogakkan Junior College


  • Key Words: Integrated Four Skills
  • Learner English Level: High beginner and above.
  • Learner Maturity Level: High school and above.
  • Preparation Time: One hour to write a model fractured fairy tale.
  • Activity Time: Two to four 90 minute lessons, depending on level and how many details or variations are included.

This is a highly successful lesson we developed to use in our Storytelling class, but it is easily used in more general classes, too. Stories are by nature engaging, and they therefore motivate students to understand and to be understood. We started with a common fairy tale-Cinderella.


1. Students write what they can remember of Cinderella. At this point, focus on certain features of fairy tales, such as plot development, important objects (glass slipper), and typical endings, as well as on important elements of any story, such as characters and setting. In our classes, we put the main points of Cinderella on separate strips of paper. These were given out to the students to arrange in sequence on a plot development line. Important characters and features of the setting (time and place) were elicited from the students.

2. Give students a "fractured" version of Cinderella. We changed the characters, setting, time, important object, and the ending. Cinderella became "Morissella", a man (they knew Morris the teacher), the setting was in Izakaya in Japan, the time was present day, the glass slipper became a wig, and the ending was sad. The students loved reading this. After reading, students work in pairs to identify the changes that had been made to the story.

3. In groups of two to four, students first brainstorm a list of fairy tales they know, choose a story to "fracture," decide their changes to the characters, setting, time, objects, or ending, organize their changes on a plot development story line, and finally write their new story.

During this time we let students use Japanese if they need to in developing their group story. Nevertheless, there is a lot of language learning as they look up vocabulary and negotiate grammar; there is automatic on-going peer editing as they work. Teachers circulate and give help as needed.

4. Students tell their stories to their classmates. Because they are working from familiar stories, and understand the concept of fracturing, the stories have a high interest level for the listeners. The listeners can identify which features of the original were fractured.

Options and Variations

1. Any grammar focus can easily be incorporated into this lesson. After Step 2 we focused on the different usages of past and past progressive verb tenses. First we had students identify the verbs in Morissella , next we gave them the rules, and then they categorized the instances in the text according to the rules. Finally, in their writing, we asked them to use the past progressive at least two times.

2. To provide more language input, in Step 2 students could read short, authentic versions of a selection of stories. Then, after studying these, they can make their own version of the same story. Having a large selection would give the students some choice in which story they prefer to work with.

3. A drama element can be added to Step 4 by teaching presentation skills and use of gestures, or by students role-playing. This could also be videotaped so students can see themselves as actors and critique elements of performance.

4. A modified version of Community Language Learning (CLL) can be done. (This is a language teaching approach where students say what they want to say and the teacher helps them with accuracy.) After Step 4 the teacher can read the students' writing onto a tape, cleaning up the grammar. The students then transcribe this. Listening to a native version of what they want to say provides excellent practice. After their transcript is checked and corrected (it is rarely correct the first time), they listen again to mark the breath groups and then practice intonation and pronunciation. The students' transcripts can later be used for other language analysis or practice activities.

5. Stories can be written individually and students can peer edit using a structured outline.

6. Stories can be published in a booklet, with pictures drawn by the students.

We would like to acknowledge contributions to this lesson from Val Hansford, Sean Conley, and Gina Thurston.