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Traditional tales

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By Teresa Saunderseducation journalist and children’s writer

This leaflet offers four ancient tales, some of which suggest that Africa was where fables – stories of wisdom and justice based in the animal world – may have originated. Children can explore similarities with Aesop’s fables or with the Brer Rabbit and Anansi stories taken by African slaves to the New World.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 9 to 11, May 2009.


Before reading

  • Ask the children to explain what a paragraph is and how they can spot one. Encourage them to look for indenting, connectives to link sentences and adverbial phrases.
  • Look at the titles. Can they think of other stories that have similar titles? Discuss these and their features. Why were traditional stories originally told and passed down from generation to generation? Is it important to keep passing traditional stories on? Why?

During reading

  • Read the stories in small groups. Look for similarities – eg, in plot, character, theme. Discuss similarities with stories read before.
  • Look at the use of sentence starters. What is their purpose? Make a bank of useful phrases. How has the author retained pace without losing detail?
  • Find examples of complex sentences. Identify main and subordinate clauses. Try altering their position and discuss the effect. Study the punctuation and how it aids reading.
  • Note the use of speech. Annotate a copy of the text with the rules of writing direct speech.
  • Use thought-tracking to discuss what the characters are thinking/feeling and how it can help us to predict what happens next.

Previous learning

Children should have experience of: offering reasons/evidence for views; telling stories effectively; reading favourite genres; interrogating texts to deepen understanding; refining ideas in writing; using settings and language imaginatively in own story writing; clarifying meaning/point of view using varied sentence structures; using commas to mark clauses.


  • Reflect on the stories. How does the use of animals as characters add to their appeal? Introduce and explain the term anthropomorphism. Compare anthropomorphism with personification.
  • Find out more about Africa. How do the stories reflect life there? How have different parts of the continent changed and developed since the stories originated? Does this affect the stories’ relevance? Why? Why not?
  • Collect traditional stories from other countries and compare with the leaflet. Which do the children like best? Why? Create personal or whole-class collections of favourite stories.

Ideas for writing

  • Complete the story started on the activity sheet below using typical fable features and mimicking the author’s style.
  • Write new traditional stories in a class book, or why not publish them on your school’s website?
  • Write a non-chronological report about the traditional stories of Africa.
  • Write reviews of the traditional stories you have read.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To present engaging narratives;
  • To use evidence to explain ideas;
  • To compare traditional tales/how structured;
  • To reflect on preferences;
  • To use prediction;
  • To write stories, editing and improving them;
  • To vary viewpoint;
  • To construct sentences in different ways;
  • To use punctuation in complex sentences.

Speaking and listening

  • Create an oral retelling of one of the tales. Before you begin, revise oral storytelling techniques.
  • Give presentations to the class about favourite stories, explaining their features and messages.
  • There will be opportunities for speaking and listening while working in groups to create anthologies: reading aloud, discussion, comparing and choosing stories for inclusion.


  • Recap the features of traditional tales. What have you discovered about their place in cultures from around the world?
  • Which sentence and paragraph techniques has the writer used well?
  • What are the rules of writing direct speech?
  • Who can explain what anthropomorphism is? How is it similar to/different from personification?
  • Allow the children to peer/self-assess their stories, levelling their own work against class success criteria for the task. Write ‘even better if you…’ statements for a partner to act upon. Children could compare their assessment with your assessment.
  • Evaluate the oral retellings. Which techniques did the children use well?
  • Display the work completed during this unit. Discuss it, then use Post-it® notes to label things learned.