Children can experience and understand the structure of nursery tales, many of which fall into the category of repetitive tales. A repetitive tale is a story in which action and/or dialogue is repeated three or more times. (Three is the smallest number that you can have and still have a pattern with resolution. The first statement establishes the subject, the second statement creates the repetition and the third allows for some change or resolution of the pattern). There may be one set of repeats as in the story of The Little Red Hen and The Fisherman and His Wife or two or more sets as in The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In each case an action is introduced, repeated with slight variation(s), and in the final variation the situation is resolved in some way.
The purpose of this lesson is to have the children perform a simple abstraction by recognizing that a story falls into the classification of Repetitive Tale. Since "repetitive" is difficult for a 5 year old to say, the term "Repeat Story" is a reasonable alternative. The teacher reads a tale to the children The plot can be discussed. When the next story is read the teacher asks "How is this story like the first story?" The usual responses will be things like "They both have animals in them", etc. When asked "Is there anything about the WAY the story is told that is the same? " sometimes a child will catch the pattern. At this point it is often useful to discuss the idea of "pattern" itself. Pointing out those children wearing shirts or pants with patterns and those not is a convenient way of showing that a pattern is a repeating design, whether visual or verbal. The response of those perceiving the pattern is usually in the form "He keeps on saying..." or "She keeps on doing..." One particularly perceptive Kindergartner announced that the story "Says itself again.". With each presentation of additional stories more and more children in the group will be able to see the pattern until the whole class will be able to identify a "Repeat story".
It is best to begin with stories which have only one set of repeats, such as The Little Red Hen, or The Fisherman and His Wife, and them move on to stories with more sets, such as The Three Little Pigs, which has two sets; the building of the houses, and the tricking of the wolf.
This pattern can also be found in modern stories such as the delightful King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, by Audrey and Don Wood.
Some Repetitive Tales:
Galdone, Paul. The Little Red Hen. The Seabury Press, l973. (Note: This story is also a very good lesson about where bread comes from)
Galdone, Paul. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Seabury Press, 1973.
Grimm, Brothers. The Fisherman and His Wife. many versions available
Ishii, Momoko. The Tongue-Cut Sparrow. Lodestar, 1987.
Joseph Jacobs' Story of the Three Little Pigs. Illus. by Lorinda Bryan Cauley. Putnam, 1980.
Marshall, James. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Dial, 1988.
Ask your school librarian for additonal suggestions.
If you have questions or comments about any of the material offered here, please email Carole at carole at slattery dot com.