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The Stanhope Fairies

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By Taffy Thomas, MBE — Storyteller

The text of this riddle story is accompanied by an audio version by the author, Taffy Thomas. It provides the opportunity to evaluate the ways in which a storyteller presents a story, comparing the spoken and written versions, and to challenge the children to improve their own reading.


Shared teaching and learning

Before reading

  • Explain that you are going to listen to a storyteller performing a folk tale. The children will be able to read the text and there will be differences between the spoken and written versions.
  • Which story types have you already met? Can the children name any folk tales? What characters might they encounter? (Folk tales often explore legends/beliefs linked to a particular locality and feature magical creatures.)
  • Discuss ideas about fairies. What do they look and sound like? Are they dangerous?

Shared reading

  • Read the story together up to where the farmer decides to visit the gypsy woman. Predict what will happen next. How will the gypsy help? Now listen to Taffy Thomas’ version to this point. Discuss the differences between his performance and your reading.
  • Read the rest of the story together, improving expression and using some of Taffy’s techniques. Compare the gypsy’s advice with the children’s predictions. Stop reading after the riddles and ask for solutions.
  • Discuss the fairies’ reasons for capturing people.

Previous learning

The children should have experience of planning their own stories using a variety of planning devices.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To discuss the qualities and effects of a performance and how they are achieved;
  • To explore how texts appeal and how writers use figurative and expressive language;
  • To empathise with characters, deduce reasons for their behaviour and debate moral dilemmas;
  • To interrogate texts to deepen and clarify understanding and response.

Responding to the story

  • Taffy Thomas is specific about the story setting. Can the children suggest local settings for a folk tale?
  • Remind the children that a story with a problem is more interesting. What is the problem in this story? Can they pinpoint the problems in other stories? Map the story together using a story planner, such as a flow diagram.
  • While listening to the story, note words or phrases that are particularly effective. Write definitions together for tweaked, sprig and enchanting. Discuss the phrase ‘cross my palm with silver’.
  • Highlight differences between the spoken/written versions – eg, the occasions where reported speech is used instead of direct speech (‘The farmer told him that he had to find a chicken without a bone.’)
  • In pairs, investigate the use of connectives and time phrases, and how they move the story forward.

Group and independent activities

  • Provide more examples of riddles, such as:
    • What is as big as a horse but weighs nothing? (The horse’s shadow.)
    • What can you catch but not throw? (A cold.)
    • What runs but has no legs? (A nose.)
    • Write simple riddles, perhaps starting with food (eg, What is orange with a green top and very good for you?)
  • Use the riddle competition from The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien as a group reading text.
  • Look on the Literacy Time PLUS website for the Taffy’s Teasers riddles to solve with your class.
  • Challenge the children to find websites that use riddles.

Taffy’s Teasers

For eight weeks, starting from Monday 2 March, Taffy Thomas will be setting a new riddle every week on the Literacy Time PLUS website for you to solve in Taffy’s Teasers. There will be audio/visual clues should you get stuck, and the previous week’s answer will be revealed with each new riddle. So have fun!

To find out more about the history of riddles in storytelling, read Taffy’s Feature Article.

Ideas for writing

  • What happened to the farmer’s daughter in the fairy kingdom? Who did she meet? Was she given a job? What did the fairies and the fairy king look like? Write a diary account of her experiences.
  • Use the activity sheet to plan a folk tale, emphasising the use of interesting words, time phrases and riddles.


Prepare the new folk tales for performance, reading with expression. Ask for suggestions for more effective words and phrases where necessary. Add music or sound effects and share with another class or the school.