MFL - Turn the key

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
Hang stories from pupils on a fairy-tale tree

Fairy tales can be as much fun to make up as they are to read or listen to. Their magic ingredients are quite simple and they use a lot of pattern and variation.

Start by giving pupils familiar tales like Cinderella in the language they are studying. Cartoon versions in French, German and Spanish are plentiful on YouTube. Show them Jean Cocteau's masterpiece La Belle et La Bete. You could give them key words and phrases in advance to listen out for.

Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard) is one of Charles Perrault's most powerful tales. It tells of a beautiful girl who marries Bluebeard and lives in his castle. There are rooms full of riches, and Bluebeard gives his wife the keys to all of them. However, she is told never to open the room locked by a little gold key. One day, unable to resist temptation, she opens the door - and screams. She drops the key and it becomes stained with blood - blood that will not come off ...

Perrault, a French writer, created the genre of the fairy tale as we know it today. Yet before they were captured in books, fairy tales were passed on by word of mouth. Stories such as Little Red Riding Hood were originally folk tales told by villagers and forest dwellers. Perrault drew on these, and so did the Brothers Grimm after him.

Der Wald (the forest) is very important in German culture. You could show your class some of the haunting landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and give pupils the words they evoke: dunstig, stille, schon, dunkel, geheimnisvoll (misty, silent, beautiful, dark, mysterious).

Now give the class their own "fairy-tale kit", a list of choices pupils can make to build their own fairy tales, step by step:

"Once upon a time, there was a witchprincedragon.

"This witchprincedragon was very beautifulrichwise.

"Heshe lived in a hutcastleboot,

"beside a lakeon a mountainin a forest."

This character could go on a journey to find something and meet other characters along the way. Pupils can use any other vocabulary they have learned, and can ask you for any new words they need to finish their story.

Now create a Forest of Stories in the classroom: a wall display with a simple tree design as a background. Each leaf on the tree is a fairy tale created by a child. No two tales are alike, but they all share the same roots.

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa. Hear her storytelling songs at


CatherinePaver's fairy-tale kit works in any language and comes with a range of French and German cartoons.



Discover a Spanish Sleeping Beauty and other tales.


Visit this great French website with fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.

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