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Tommy and the Elves

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By Jess SmithStoryteller

This lovely fairy tale is told by Jess Smith. Growing up as a Traveller and living on a bus, she now lives in Perthshire, Scotland and is a successful storyteller. This is a simply told tale, easily accessible by lower ability groups.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, March 2009.


Before reading

  • Discuss the title with the children. What do they expect the story to be about? What narrative genre does the story fit in to? What other stories do they know within this genre?

During reading

  • Read though the story with the children. Stop at any new vocabulary and discuss meaning. Draw attention to interesting verbs used in this text that are typical to the genre, such as popped, cupped, demanded, refused, thanked, snapped, nodded. Make a list of the verbs as you work through the text.
  • Point out the use of speech marks to punctuate dialogue in the text and encourage the children to use expression and inflection as they read the characters’ speech aloud. Locate question marks in the tale and discuss their use and the effect they have on the reader.

Previous learning

This tale draws on the familiar structure of traditional tales and children will be able to identify these features within the text.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To explore the structure of traditional stories (including characterisation and use of setting);
  • To identify the use of interesting verbs typical of the genre within the text;
  • To write a new tale using the same structure or plan a short play based on the text.


  • Discuss the traditional tale genre with the children, and the ways in which this tale is similar to others in the genre. Discuss good and bad characters in the text, the use of opposites (eg, nasty elf, nice elf), questions to answer, sets of three (three questions to answer, three characters to ask), and the ending where good triumphs over bad.
  • Explore the setting of the story and look for clues in the text about where the story is taking place – is it a typical traditional story setting? Which other stories take place in forests and have wise characters?
  • Discuss the characters in the story. Why is the nasty elf so angry that Tommy has drunk from the river? Why does the nice elf help Tommy? What is the purpose of the other characters in the story?
  • Look again at the tale’s ending. Is it typical of the genre? Is it a good ending? How else might the tale have ended?
  • Ask the children to help you map out the story structure using a story map.

Ideas for writing

  • Return to the list of interesting verbs taken from the text. Ask the children to write definitions for these words and to add other verbs typical of traditional tales to the list. They may need access to some simple versions of other tales to do this.
  • Identify the questions within the text. Ask the children to come up with a new set of three questions that the nasty elf might ask Tommy.
  • Expand the adjectives nasty and nice used to describe the elf characters by creating a list of synonyms for each of these words.
  • Write a new tale using the same structure as this text.
  • Use the activity sheet activity sheet to help the children plan a new story.
  • Rehearse an oral retelling of this story for younger children. Use props, costumes or painted scenes to illustrate the story. Ask the children to carefully re-read the text to find clues about what to include in their artwork, costumes and props.
  • In groups, use the story to plan a playscript to perform the story to the rest of the class.

Further reading

More information about Jess Smith and her stories can be found at Sookin’ Berries: Tales of Scottish Travellers Jess Smith (Birlinn, 978 18415 87783). Jess’ first collection of stories for more able young readers, age 10+.


  • Ask the children to identify the main features of the text. Discuss with the children whether they liked the story or not and encourage them to share the reasons for their feelings.