Guest Post: Localising Fairy Tales

duha safan
Duha Safan, IH Amman

I saw Duha Safan present this at the International House Teachers’ Online Conference a couple of weeks ago. I got in touch with her and she kindly agreed to write this guest post for the blog. Thanks Duha!

It’s really important to help students improve their brainstorming and critical thinking skills in addition to stimulating their imagination and help them express their ideas creatively in writing.

It’s really hard to ask students to be creative and write imaginative stories on their own. Here are some ideas that might help you teach creative writing and storytelling.

The main idea is to give students the chance to transfer a well-known fairy tale to a story they can relate to.

After a short warmer and Lead-in stage where you can ask students about their favourite childhood stories or most common fairy tales in their country, you move to the first stage.

Stage 1 : Cultural awareness

  • To help your students notice the possible cultural differences between their culture and the fairy tale.
  • To have a cultural exchange stage when you have a multi-cultural classroom.

Give your students different pictures that represent different cultural aspects, and let them discuss these pictures in groups. While preparing the pictures, you might want to consider the cultural backgrounds of your students in addition to the fairy tale your using in class.


Stage 2 : building the protagonist’s profile.

Give an empty profile worksheet to students so they can start building their profile.

(Name, Picture, characteristics, main elements)


First, show the student a picture of the original character of the story you’re using in class. Here we’re using Snow White. Ask students to discuss the characteristics of the fairy tale’s protagonist for no more than 2 minutes.


Then, give your students a set of cards that include the main characteristics and details of the original protagonist.fairytales7

In groups, students have to modify each card so the characteristics would suit the protagonist of their version of the story.

For example: if the protagonist were an Arab, she would have olive skin with long dark brown hair and big dark eyes, she would wear the traditional wear of the country and she might be the daughter of a Mukhtar (town’s mayor).

Student should write down all the new characteristics in the profile sheet in short phrases (no need for full sentences).

Second, give a second set of cards to students that contain the key elements of the story, you might need to transform the first element with students so they would understand what they have to do and what style they have to follow.



Students complete the profile, choose a picture for their protagonist, chooses her an outfit and change her name. (Students can draw or use a celebrity).


Stage 3 : Language Analysis

Start this stage by giving students cards that include parts of the original story. Students have to place these cards on the triangle diagram (on the board or a big poster).

Once upon a time in midwinter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a queen sat sewing at her window, “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame.”
One day when the queen asked her mirror: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who in this land is fairest of all? It answered: You, my queen, are fair; it is true.  But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you. The queen took fright and turned yellow and green with envy.
Then she summoned a huntsman and said to him, “Take Snow-White out into the woods. I never want to see her again. Kill her, and as proof that she is dead bring her lungs and her liver back to me.”
Snow-White longed for the beautiful apple, and when she saw that the peasant woman was eating part of it she could no longer resist, and she stuck her hand out and took the poisoned half. She barely had a bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.
Back at home she asked her mirror: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all? It finally answered: You, my queen, are fairest of all. Then her envious heart was at rest, as well as an envious heart can be at rest.
The prince said joyfully, “You are with me.” He told her what had happened, and then said, “I love you more than anything else in the world. Come with me to my father’s castle. You shall become my wife.” Snow-White loved him, and she went with him. Their wedding was planned with great majesty.


After a brief feedback stage, the teacher can highlight the TL most suitable to the class and their level and follow that with a controlled practice.

The teacher can focus on:

  • The narrative tenses
  • Linking words
  • Register
  • Puns and sarcasm

Finally, each group rewrites the cards and change them into their own story. Students can have the freedom to change the plot, register, linking words and narrative tenses depending on their level.



The teacher can choose to extend this lesson to a full unit where more things can be taught to students, for example:


The teacher can focus on pronunciation and tackle common pronunciation mistakes in addition to the intonation used when retelling stories. At the end, each group can retell their story in front of the whole class.

Another possible extension is to teach students how to rewrite their stories into a play script and then acted out in a school event or as an end of course project.


Duha Safan

International House, Amman


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