Often when they’re asked to write a poem, children can get stuck at the first hurdle: What to write about. By using a familiar starting point, you can kick-start your class’s creativity by giving an easy way in—and a great place to begin is with the fairy tales they’ve grown up with!
Many fairy tales are even older than the printing press. Originally, they were passed on from person to person and generation to generation only orally. (Once books became commonplace, people such as the Brothers Grimm were able to collect the stories from people and commit them to paper.) A great way for people to remember stories in those days was to turn them into rhyming poems or songs—often called ballads—so they could pass them on from one person to the next. This meant that each person could also change the story when they told it, to keep it interesting and relevant (or if they had forgotten a bit!).
Once the stories were written down, they weren’t as easy to change, because the printed word was there for everyone to see. This activity is all about creating a rhyming version of a well-known fairy tale story, and memorizing it at the same time.
Creating a Fairy Tale Poem
Start by discussing which fairy tales the students already know; it might be interesting to find out which ones are favorites, and which ones kids think are boring.
As a class rhyming activity, choose a fairy tale that everyone knows, and take turns to tell a line of the story each. Everyone gets to make a rhyme with the person who went before, and then add something new so the next person can make a rhyme.
Once upon a time lived Little Red Riding Hood…
She went into the wood.
Because her parents told her to…
She had to take her Granny a stew.
But she stopped to pick some flowers…
But it took her hours and hours.
A wolf came to say hello…
Don’t worry too much about rhythm for now, this is an exercise in rhyming.
Because you might have children ending on words that are very difficult to rhyme, here’s a way to turn the activity into a game:
Two teams stand at opposite sides of the room. Somebody from Team One steps forward to starts the story, and then the first person in Team Two to think of a rhyme steps forward to continue, as in the first version. If any player finishes on a word that the next team can’t find a rhyme for, that player has to sit out. If no-one in the other team can think of a rhyme, but someone who is already ‘out’ can, that person gets to join back in the game. The aim of the game is for everyone to join in, and to not be ‘out’ by the time the story ends (this will encourage the children to think about words which can rhyme easily!).
You can now ask the children to write their own fairy tale poems, either individually, or in small groups.
Updated Fairy Tales by Modern Poets
Some poets have used famous fairy tale characters to create new stories.If you’d like to develop your project further, take a look at ‘Here Come The Fairytales’ by Brenda Williams, and ‘The Jolly Postman’ by Janet and Alan Ahlberg.
Children’s author Roald Dahl turned some famous fairy tales back into poetry in his book ‘Revolting Rhymes’. You can watch his version of ‘Snow White’ here.
What happens when a character from one story ends up in another…? The possibilities are endless!