If you’re a teacher in the primary grades, I’m willing to bet that you are always on the lookout for new ways to help your students expand reading comprehension and fluency skills. This is a BIG topic in first grade and if you ask me, you can never get enough practice with reading! One of my favorite ways to mix up our reading lessons is by using fairy tales. If you’re looking for a new way to boost reading skills in your room, you won’t want to miss this!
Why Should We Use Fairy Tales?
Fairy tales are beloved stories for a reason. They’ve captivated generations time and time again and offer a unique opportunity for engaged learning as students focus on various reading comprehension concepts such as story elements, setting, character analysis, and more. Not to mention, they simply feel magical to young learners, making them a great focal point for your lessons. Using fairy tales is not only fun for students, but it’s functional too!
Reading Comprehension Concepts to Teach with Fairy Tales
When it comes to standards-based teaching, there are few options better suited for reading comprehension than fairy tales. You can target so many key skills and concepts with fairy tales to help your young readers really dig into the text. Plus, students naturally find the stories highly engaging, meaning you won’t have to fight for their attention! Some of the things we focus on in our fairy tale lessons include:
- story elements
- character analysis
- setting analysis
- text to text comparisons
Luckily, these concepts are incredibly easy to target with our fairy tale lessons and students are eager to participate. Moving through each of these concepts is effortless as you explore different fairy tales.
I love that this topic feels a little out of the ordinary and fun, but helps students learn important concepts along the way!
Getting Started with Fairy Tales
In my classroom, we always spent a few weeks learning all about Goldilocks and the Three Bears as well as The Three Little Pigs to support reading comprehension.
As I mentioned above, we’re able to weave in and out of different reading comprehension skills throughout our lessons during this time. Personally, I like using a blend of whole-group activities, center games, and independent writing to foster this. But first things first – choose your books and introduce these stories!
There are so many different versions of these fairy tales out there, so you might want to look around a bit at the bookstore or local library before making your choices. You can also get a few versions and plan to compare them with your class if you prefer.
My personal favorites include:
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Candice Ransom
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Mara Alperin
- The Three Little Pigs by Mara Alperin
- The Three Little Pigs by Patricia Seibert
The one thing I keep in mind is that the books should follow the classic “general” storyline to align properly with our activities in our fairytale unit. With that considered, most renditions will do just fine! Once you’ve picked your books, spend some time reading aloud to your students and naturally work through some reading comprehension questions as a group. This is a great way to introduce the books and give everyone a solid understanding of the basic storyline before diving deeper.
Anchor Charts and Story Elements
Once you’ve read through the books, I’m a big fan of making class anchor charts together. In my Fairy Tales Unit, I have miniature anchor charts that are a great example of things to include in your class chart. As a class, we discuss story elements such as:
- good characters
- evil characters
- magical components and more
This activity is best done as a group to allow for open conversation. My students always loved to raise their hands and offer more information to add to the chart as I walked them through each element. We also make anchor charts that discuss the vivid and descriptive language in the books and a chart that compares both stories side by side.
I recommend keeping these anchor charts visible in your classroom for a couple of weeks for reference. Students can also fill in their own recording sheet versions of these charts and keep them in a notebook. This information comes in really handy as students work on the other activities in this unit!
Fairy Tale Centers for Reading Comprehension
As a long-time first-grade teacher, I’m a big believer in the power of center time. Centers offer an opportunity for high engagement, continued practice, social interaction, and independent learning. Plus, center activities are often disguised as games, making them super appealing to students. We use a lot of fun center activities to dive a little deeper into fairy tales and focus on some of the important reading comprehension concepts I mentioned above.
Fairy Tale Elements Sort
One of my favorite activities from this unit is a sorting game that asks students to identify and properly categorize elements in each story.
In this activity, students will work on characters, setting, conflict, solution, and other story elements.
This is a great activity to complete as a group first with a pocket chart. You can introduce each topic and use the picture cards to model for students in an easy-to-grasp way.
After working through this activity as a group, I always made it available in our center rotations for students to continue practicing identifying story elements.
Another important reading comprehension skill that we focus on in this unit is sequencing.
If you’ve ever worked with young students you might have noticed that when they retell a story, they might jump around or focus exclusively on their favorite parts. Practicing sequencing is a great way to help them learn to tell the story in order.
The game we play asks children to practice reading snippets of the stories and putting them in the correct order. I like to set this game up with a pocket chart so that students can move their answers around as they work through the story. After they’ve got it in the correct order, students will cut and paste their answers onto the provided recording sheets.
Using fairy tales to learn about comparing and contrasting is so easy because of the many similarities in the stories. Whether we are comparing two different fairy tales or different versions of the same fairy tale, students get lots of practice with this important skill.
I liked to do comparing activities with a large Venn diagram on chart paper for everyone to see. We’d start by comparing the characters and then create a new chart to compare other elements of the story. This can be a tricky topic for firsties, so make sure to spend a fair amount of time working through this as a class.
After our group session, I would give students their own worksheets to practice this skill on their own. Depending on how well everyone grasped the concept the first time, you might consider having them try the same comparison chart again before trying a new topic.
Revisiting your original topic is a great way to focus on text-to-text comparisons independently and get those kiddos thinking!
Fairy Tale Writing Activities
After students have had a chance to work with the stories as a group and in centers, I love to encourage some creative writing. We use a couple of different prompts for each of these stories.
The first is a classic retelling. I have the students retell each story in their own words and then draw a picture to go with it. This is a great opportunity to see how well they understand the story and if they’re missing pieces of it.
The second prompt is a student favorite – an alternate ending. In this activity, students get to change the ending of the story and make it their own. This is such a fun and creative activity for students and encourages them to think outside of the box.
If time allows, I highly recommend allowing each student to read their alternate ending to the class at the end of the day. You’ll end up with lots of giggles and new perspectives on the story.
I’m sure you already know the merits of using digital resources in your classroom.
We all know that students are fascinated with technology and it’s a great way to snag their attention. I also love using digital activities for whole-group instruction since it’s a simple way to provide a visual that everyone can see. If you’re a fan of digital activities too, you’re in luck!
All of the activities mentioned above are also available in a digital format in my Fairy Tales Unit. The digital version of the activity is great to use during the lesson. But you can also use them as a center activity or independent practice by assigning them to students.
Having this option will allow for even more versatility and differentiation while teaching important reading comprehension skills.
Using Drama for Further Reading Comprehension & Fluency
My last activity from this unit is everyone’s favorite. Once we’ve worked through all of the activities and gone over the stories multiple times, we have a reader’s theater.
The Fairy Tale Unit includes a simple story script for each fairytale in both printable and digital options. Students love this activity because they get to play the part of each character. As a teacher, I loved this activity because it helps strengthen reading fluency and comprehension in a fun way!
There are character masks included for your students to color and cut out if you would like to make this activity even more engaging! I recommend having groups of students practice with each other and then perform for the whole class, another class, or even families! This activity makes the perfect “wrap-up” for your fairy tale unit!
Reading Comprehension Made Easy
So what do you think? Would your students be excited to work on reading comprehension and fluency skills with fairy tales? I know that mine always were! Fairy tales are so much fun to use when teaching these skills, and they make practicing them super simple!
If you want to take a closer look at any of the activities mentioned, be sure to check out the full Fairy Tales Unit! It includes everything outlined here plus more! You’ll find additional writing pages and graphic organizers as well as retelling pictures that are perfect for storytime. Your students will love working on these activities as they expand and grow in reading comprehension skills!
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