Chapter 2:  Deconstructing Fairy Tales

This teaching activity can be used to help people of any age recognize the implicit messages in cultural texts that are rarely questioned.

Fairy tales are often positioned as cultural icons that teachers and parents accept without question. They are seen as timeless stories that all children should learn as part of their heritage. But are they innocent in terms of trying to get children to believe certain things? Or do they have clear messages about cultural norms and expectations? This activity focuses on making the messages of fairy tales explicit so that they can be identified and interrogated (Lewison et al., 2008).

Materials & Procedures

  • Traditional fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Jack and the
  • Beanstalk,” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
  • A large sheet of plain paper for each group of children.
  • Markers.
  1. Form small groups and give each group markers and paper.
  2. Choose a traditional fairy tale and begin reading it aloud. Invite students to sketch the main character someplace on their poster.
  3. Pause periodically and invite students to add words and images that represent the messages the story is sending. For example, with “Jack and the Beanstalk,” one message might be that it’s okay to steal from someone judged to be bad—like the giant. With “Cinderella,” one message might be that girls need help getting things done. Another might be that girls should wait around to be rescued by boys so that they can “live happily ever after.”
  4. Ask students to think about how each message positions different groups of people. Which characters come across as being smart or having power? Which are portrayed as helpless or clueless? Do they agree with these assumptions or want to argue with them?
  5. Invite each group to share their ideas and keep a list of the major findings for the book that was read.
  6. Students turn their posters over and work in groups to do the same process with a different fairy tale.
  7. Share posters by hanging them up and moving in small groups to view and discuss them.

Other Notes

Bring in cartoons, songs, and poems that feature fairy tale characters and invite students to unpack them as well. One of our favorite cartoons shows the Big Bad Wolf with a disgusted look on his face walking away from the Three Little Pigs as he reads a newspaper headline about swine flu.

Chapter 3: Developing A Miscue Ear

The goal of this invitation is to help participants develop the ability to analyze miscues and make quick decisions about whether to correct or ignore them. This is a useful strategy for both teachers and students to learn. Chris taught it to her fifth and sixth graders and noticed that the number of annoying corrections during oral reading decreased substantially.

Miscues happen when readers change a text while reading aloud. While some see miscues as mistakes that need to be corrected, we see them as providing valuable information on how readers are trying to make sense of a text. Miscues can show readers’ strengths as well as their weaknesses. Developing a “miscue ear” means that teachers (and students!) can quickly analyze miscues and decide if they interrupt the meaning of the text or not. If not, they are considered to be “high quality” miscues and there is no need to correct them. This invitation provides an opportunity to examine a reader’s miscues and think about what might be learned from them.

Materials & Procedures

  • A sample “marked up” text is provided to show one student’s miscues.
  • You can also make your own examples from taped student readings. Include copies of the text for participants to mark up as they listen to the tape.
  1. As a group, review the markings and what they indicate.
  2. Discuss each miscue in terms of what information it provides about the reader.
  3. If you were this student’s teacher, how would you respond to each miscue? Would you correct it? Why or why not?
  4. What other information do you need to evaluate this student’s reading? How might you obtain it?

Other Notes

  1. This invitation can also be used with upper elementary and middle school
  2. students. Once students learn to analyze each other’s miscues, they will stop correcting unimportant errors and will concentrate on meaning instead. This will make the classroom more peaceful and they will also become stronger readers as they work together to decide whether they have heard a high quality miscue or not.

  3. Sample marked up “text”:  

Chapter 4: Book Brochures

Book brochures are a wonderful way for an entire class to learn about many different social issues, multicultural, or international books in a short amount of time. This is accomplished by students making brochures about books they have read that highlight exemplary literature of a particular genre (i.e. international books).

Book brochures are flyers advertising books that are created and read by students. A book brochure usually is focused on one particular type of book. In this case: social issues, multicultural, or international.

Materials & Procedures

  • Art paper in various colors or 8 ½ × 11 sheets of copy paper
  • Art supplies including crayons, colored markers, scissors and glue
  1. Most students find folding an 8 ½ by 11 inch of paper into three sections gives them an easy way to segment what they include in the brochure. Here is an of the types of elements a book brochure on a multicultural book might include.
  2. Front of Brochure:

    • Section 1: Title, author, illustrator, publisher, copyright date. Illustration showing why you like the book.
    • Section 2: Short synopsis.
    • Section 3: Why this book is exemplary: (What makes it a good multicultural book?)

    Back of Brochure:

    • Section 4: Why you think other kids in the class should read this book.
    • Section 5: A drawing, poster, or bumper sticker to help sell your book.
    • Section 6: Questions you have about the book.
  3. After all of the students have completed a book brochure, share. Invite students to take notes of those books they wish to read.


Book Circles is a more formal sharing of book brochures. Students are arranged in groups of four around tables. Students come to Book Circle with their book, their brochure, and a literature log to jot down the names of titles they may want to read.

Round 1: Each child at a book circle table gets to tell about their book and show their brochure

Round 2: One child stays at each table and the rest of the children move so they are with completely different people than in Round 1. As with the previous round, each child at a book circle table gets to tell about their book and show their brochure.

Round 3: Roaming. Everyone gets up and goes to look at book brochures and books that they missed in Rounds 1 and 2. This is a relaxed time, part reading brochures and part skimming books.

Reflection: At the end of Book Circle time, have children discuss what went well and what they’d like to do differently next time.

Chapter 5: Frames & Stereotypes

This invitation focuses on helping readers to recognize frames and stereotypes. A selection of picture books provides different frames for both foxes and old women. Some frames are quite positive and some are equally negative. Students are invited to read the different books and identify the frames they see in them. A graphic organizer is provided to encourage participants to take notes on the language being used and to think about how this language can be seen as evidence for how authors are positioning different characters. Instead of pushing readers to come up with a set of right answers, this engagement attempts to complicate things by pushing for a set of different answers. While the idea of complicating things might seem counterintuitive, it introduces a new social practice and that’s what this book is all about.

Frames are images or storylines that position us to see events in predictable ways with characters playing familiar but often stereotypical roles. The “big bad” wolf that devoured Red Riding Hood and her grandmother is a good example of a frame that positions wolves as dangerous animals. This invitation focuses on identifying competing frames for foxes and old women.

Materials & Procedures

  • A copy of the children’s book, One Fine Day (Hogrogian, 1971)
  • Copies of the Frames & Stereotypes Organizer (see Table 8.2)
  • Copies of children’s books that feature foxes and old women, framed both positively and negatively. Some possibilities include:

Books with foxes
City Foxes (Tweit, 1997). Positive frame
Red Fox Running (Bunting, 1993). Positive frame
The Tale of Tricky Fox (Aylesworth, 2001). Negative frame
Fox (Wild, 2001). Negative frame
Henny Penny (Wattenberg, 2000). Negative frame

Books with old women
Miss Rumphius (Cooney, 1985). Positive frame
Mrs. Katz and Tush (Polacco, 2009). Positive frame
The Old Woman who Named Things (Rylant, 2000). Negative frame
The Tale of Tricky Fox (Aylesworth, 2001). Negative frame

  • After distributing a copy of the Frames & Stereotype Organizer to each student, take turns reading One Fine Day (Hogrogian, 1971) aloud.
  • While reading, ask students to pay special attention to the fox and the old woman. How are the characters framed? Have students record their decisions on the Frames & Stereotype Organizer. Why do you think the author chose to frame the characters in this way?
  • Ask students to look through the other books provided for this invitation and try to identify the ways that foxes and old women are framed in these texts. How are they similar or different from what you found in the first book?
  • How can you explain the different frames employed by the authors? Which ones do you see as the most believable?

Frames and Stereotypes Organizer

Foxes are . . . what kind of animals?

Old women are . . . what kind of people?

What characteristics do they have? Provide evidence for each frame you find.

What characteristics do they have? Provide evidence for each frame you find.

Book: One Fine Day
Frame: Foxes are. . .
Evidence from text:

Book: One Fine Day
Frame: Old women are. . .
Evidence from text:

Frame: Foxes are. . .
Evidence from text:

Frame: Old women are. . .
Evidence from text:

Chapter 6: Six-Box Response Strategy

As literacy educators, we want to support broad reading as well as in-depth reading. Sometimes when students are reading broadly they encounter books that deal with topics that leave them speechless. A series of prompts can get them started as well as support them in thinking deeply about what they have read.

Materials & Procedures

  • Multiple copies of the graphic organizer
  • Writing materials
  • A selected piece of children’s literature
  1. After reading, distribute copies of the graphic organizer to everyone. These prompts invite students to take a variety of perspectives. Encourage students to put something in each of the boxes on their sheet.
  2. Once students have completed the graphic organizer, invite them to become researchers. Ask students to cut their responses apart so that the responses to each prompt can be examined as a set. For example, one set of responses would be “Something important I want to remember about the book . . .” while another group’s set of responses would contain everything students in the class responded to  “A question I have . . .”
  3. Form students into six groups to analyze each response set. Ask students to read through all of the responses in their set and to be alert to patterns or categories they see forming. Encourage groups to identify “anomalies” or responses that do not fit their categories.
  4. Once categories have been formed, invite students to construct some type of graph that summarizes their findings. Have groups present the categories they found, themes they see emerging, anomalies, and conclusions.

The second part of this strategy takes place after students have filled something into each of their six boxes. We encourage students to think about how some of the responses reflect similar themes and suggest that they move the boxes around to form physical groups. We also encourage them to identify “anomalies.” We define anomalies as responses that they didn’t understand or that didn’t seem to go with any others. Once categories have been formed, each group is invited to present their findings. When an anomaly is presented, we invite the author to talk about what he or she was thinking at the time, though we also say it’s okay to remain anonymous. As we have engaged students in this strategy over the years, we have noticed that some wonderfully divergent thinking frequently comes out of the anomalies.

Other Notes: This strategy works well with all ages. Younger children can be encouraged to use their own invented spelling and to do more drawing if that is helpful. Older students can be introduced to more complex methods of analysis and encouraged to present their findings in more sophisticated ways like through bar graphs or pie charts.

Chapter 7: Illustrator Study

Illustrator studies are a great way for small groups of students to study an illustrator they find fascinating. They are great for any kid to engage in, but we have found them especially useful for reluctant and marginalized readers. Students are focusing on books, but pay special attention to the pictures

Illustrator studies focus on the multimodal aspects of books, the shifting importance of illustrations and text, and the techniques used by particular illustrators. These studies work best if students have identified their favorite illustrators. A great resource to use in this invitation is the book Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about their Art (Carle, Mitumasa, & Blake, 2007). It’s an anthology of children’s literature illustrators that documents their individual stories. Each story contains information as to why they became a children’s book illustrator, early sketches of their work, current self-portraits, and photographs of their art studios.

Materials and Procedures

  • Sets of books by illustrators that students have identified as their favorites. These might include books illustrated by David Diaz, Kevin Henkes, Betsy Lewin, David Macaulay, Brian Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Chris Raschka, David Wiesner, Eric Carle, and others.
  • A computer which students can use to find the websites of these illustrators or sites that are created about the artists.
  1. In groups, students study the books of their illustrator and look for commonalities, differences, and surprises in the illustrations. They keep notes and describe what they notice about the style, tone, mood, and messages of the illustrations and how the illustrator uses line, color, shape, etc.
  2. On the Internet, students find biographical information about the illustrator and how they create their illustrations.
  3. We adapted the following questions created by the Saskatoon Public Schools that can aid students in their illustrator study:
    • What things do you find in the visual text that are not present in the written text and visa versa?
    • What aspects are similar or overlap between the written and visual texts? Why do you think the author/illustrator made these choices?
    • What aspects differ greatly between written and visual texts?
    • How do the two meaning systems work together? (Saskatoon Public Schools, 2004–09,
  4. Students may want to try out the style of the illustrator they are studying by creating their own artwork.
  5. The group decides how they will present what they have found out about their illustrator to the rest of the class.

Chapter 8: Through the Cracks

This invitation asks you to read Through the Cracks (Sollman, 1994) to your class. While this book was written to encourage conversations about the potential effects of cuts in music and the arts on student learning, no real student voices are heard. This invitation not only brings students into the conversation, but also invites them to help you in your efforts to support everyone’s learning in your classroom.

How do we create classrooms where everyone succeeds? How might the arts support alternate ways of knowing as well as a more inclusive school environment? While these are the kinds of topics professionals reserve for themselves to think about, Through the Cracks invites students to explore these important issues and contribute to this much needed conversation.

Materials & Procedures

  • A copy of Through the Cracks (Sollman, 1994)
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Colored markers
  1. After reading the book, form small groups and distribute markers and large sheets of paper. Ask students to:
    • Describe some of their best learning moments.
    • Discuss what these moments tell us about how we learn.
    • Identify what sign systems (language, art, music, mathematics, drama, movement) were involved in the best learning moments.
  2. Share student responses and discuss what can be concluded about creating a classroom where no one falls through the cracks.
  3. End by having each student talk about what he or she might do to support everyone’s  learning in your classroom.

Chapter 9: Mini Inquiries into Challenged or Banned Books

This strategy asks students what they think about books that have been challenged or banned. While we may think of our right to read as a fundamental right, there are many in our country who believe they are in a better position than we are to judge what is appropriate or is not appropriate reading material. This invitation asks students to make up their own minds.

Materials & Procedures

  • A range of picture books that have been banned. Examples include:
  • And Tango Makes Three (Richardson & Parnell, 2005)
    In the Night Kitchen (Sendak, 1970)
    Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (Steig, 1969)
    10,000 dresses (Ewert, 2008)
    Rose Blanche (McEwan, 1987)
    Nappy Hair (Herron, 1977)
    The Lorax (Seuss, 1971)
    Smoky Night (Bunting, 1994)
    Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak, 1963)
    The Story of Babar (De Brunhoff, 1937)
    Red Riding Hood (Marshall, 1993)

  • Printouts of why each of these books has been banned (see the American Library Association and the National Council of Teachers of English website for a list of challenges brought by various groups against these books)
  1. All of the books at this center have been banned or challenged by individuals or groups who think they don’t belong in schools or libraries.
  2. With a partner, pick a book and read it.
  3. Read the materials that explain why the book was challenged or banned.
  4. Make a mini-book, poster, or write a poem that:
    1. Explains whether or not you like the book and why.
    2. Tells why this book was challenged or banned.
    3. Reports whether you agree or disagree with the challenge and justifies whether you think this book should be used or not used in our classroom.

Other Notes

Rather than provide materials as to why particular books have been banned, students might be invited to do their own web searches.