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Fireside stories

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Read aloud a wonderful tale for a winter’s eve

Illustration from Fireside Stories (Barefoot Books)

Don’t forget to download the Interactive resource, ‘The Winter Cabin’ – an interactive ‘book’ featuring the story ‘The Winter Cabin – a Story for the First Snowfall’. This story appears in Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve by Caitlín Matthews and Helen Cann (Barefoot Books, HB £14.99).

Fireside Stories (Barefoot Books)

As winter’s icy blanket begins to wrap itself around us, we seek the warmth of shelter and the comfort of togetherness. And, your classroom can provide both. The winter season is the perfect time of year to come together as a class and experience the comfort of storytelling with the cold, misty mornings or long, dark afternoons creating a perfect back drop for telling winter-themed stories. Different countries and cultures around the world have their own traditional winter stories that evoke the season’s character – often passed on from one generation to the next by the comfort and warmth of the fireside. Surrounded by the cosiness of your own classroom, telling a story such as ‘The Winter Cabin – a Story for the First Snowfall’ (from a collection of stories in Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve by Caitlín Matthews and Helen Cann – Barefoot Books, HB £14.99), will capture the harsh, barren reality of winter in a fictional context. The story relays how, as the first snow falls, a group of brave Russian animals guard their winter cabin against a ravenous wolf. Read it together as a class using the interactive version of the story.

(Note: It is recommended that you read the story to check suitability of language and subject matter before you read it together as a class.)

The story

Today, many people who live in the developed world do not experience the cycle of the seasons in the same way that their grandparents did. However, for people in rural communities, it was and still is common practice to slaughter domestic animals at the end of the autumn, partly because it is expensive to feed and shelter livestock during the cold winter months, and partly because their meat is needed as food.

In this old Russian story, the animals are not going to let their owners’ plans win the day! Instead of letting themselves be put in the pot, they escape to the woods, where they have to use their wits and join forces with each other to survive the harsh northern winter in the wild. Many stories and folk-customs about animals take place during the winter months, reminding us to be grateful for these creatures that we depend upon, while also recalling that many wild animals will only reveal their special powers in the depths of winter.

(Taken from Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve by Caitlín Matthews and Helen Cann – Barefoot Books, HB £14.99)

Activities

  1. Setting the scene
  2. First impressions
  3. Thinking about the story
  4. A winter tale

1. Setting the scene

  • Before reading the story, set the scene by creating a ‘fireplace’. The children can help to make a display using crepe paper or ribbon of red, yellow and orange to represent the flames. ‘Build’ the fireplace surround by painting a piece of cardboard – big enough to sit the ‘fire’ in – black. Create coals from scrunched up newspaper, also painted black. Look at images for reference. (You could link this activity to a study on the Victorians.)

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2. First impressions

  • As you all snuggle down by your ‘fireplace’, share the title of the story – ‘The Winter Cabin – a Story for the First Snowfall’ – with the children and ask them to imagine what they think it is about. What images does it bring to mind? Talk about what the ‘first snowfall’ is. Can the children remember seeing snow for the first time? Invite them to share their recollections. Capture words, thoughts and feelings. (This information will be useful later on.) You could read the outline of the story (see above) to give the children a context.
  • Read the story together as a class. You could ask the children to take it in turns to read out parts, or read it to them at this stage.
  • Next, ask the children what they thought about the story. What did they think of the characters, the setting and the ending? Allow them time to pass comment. Were they confused or disappointed by anything? Does the story remind them of anything else they have read?

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3. Thinking about the story

  • Read the story through again. (You could take the opportunity to involve the children in reading aloud, if you didn’t do so the first time around.) This time, before you start reading, prompt the children to think about a question, and/or language used in the story to focus their attention. For example, write a question such as: How does the story depict winter? on the whiteboard. You could refer to the question throughout the story, to give the children the opportunity to answer as you go.
  • Ask the children to identify the story’s theme(s) – survival and pulling together as a team to defeat the enemy. What do they think of the characters? How would the children describe the ox compared to the pig, for example?
  • Invite the children to ‘interview’ a couple of the characters after they have defeated the wolf. What would the children ask? Encourage them to explore the animals’ motives for not helping the ox build the cabin, their threatening behaviour towards him, and their eventual decision to pull together as a team to outwit the wolf.

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4. A winter tale

  • Encourage the children to write their own fireside story – thinking about setting, plot and characters. Perhaps you could link this with a local history study, with the story inspired by a local legend or piece of local history. Prompt the children to set their story during wintertime. Refer back to the list of words, thoughts and feelings the children gathered before reading the story for inspiration. They can use what they have learned and discussed about the season to help influence how they include it in their story.

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Curriculum links

Literacy Framework:

  • Year 3 Narrative Unit 1 – Stories with familiar settings
  • Year 3 Narrative Unit 2 – Myths, legends, fables, traditional tales
  • Year 4 Narrative Unit 3 – Stories from other cultures
  • Year 5 Narrative Unit 2 – Traditional stories, fables, myths, legends
  • Year 6 Revision Unit 1 – Reading and writing narrative.

Learning objectives:

  • 7 Understanding and interpreting texts
  • 8 Engaging and responding to texts
  • 9 Creating and shaping texts
  • 10 Text structure and organisation.

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