Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teaching Theme with Fables and Arnold Lobel's "Fables" as a Mentor Text

"CM fables" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

Fables are a foundational genre of literature.  They are prevalent in cultures and folk literature throughout the world and many have survived over 2000 years.  Many think of Aesop when they think of fables, and he certainly was a prolific fabulist, but there have been many great fable writers through the centuries.  Most literary works can have their themes and plots traced back to literary archetypes originating hundreds or thousands of years ago, which is why I think teaching these ancient genres and stories is so important.  You've got to have a meaningful understanding of such foundational literature and genres to truly understand what you read, and the comprehension of theme that can be developed through the reading and study of fables is no exception.  The Common Core standards certainly agree with me, as fables are specifically mentioned in second and third grade standards.

Common Core Anchor Standard #2 reads, "Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas."  RL.2.2 from that strand goes on to specifically include determining "the central message, lesson, or moral" from fables and folktales.  RL.3.2 shares the same wording, but includes myths as well.  Following along to RL.4.2, we see the specific genres are dropped and "message, lesson, or moral" are replaced by "theme".  Common Core supports using fables, and other foundational genres like folktale and myth, in helping students develop an understanding of literary theme.

In my classroom, I use Arnold Lobel's Fables as a mentor text to teach theme every year.  Aesop's fables see plenty of time in my classroom as well, but Fables is an excellent picture book.  The stories have the traditional characteristics of a fable; 20 short, one page stories featuring animals learning teaching the reader some lesson or "moral of the story" (THEME!!!)  Accompanying each story is a full page illustration.  These illustrations are excellent.  They capture the spirit of the stories wonderfully.  I would LOVE to have a few of them as posters in my room; they are THAT good.  

I usually read through the book over the course of two weeks.  I will read a story and ask the class to share what they think the theme is (What lesson did the character learn?  What lesson did you learn about life from this story?).  Often their answers are too specific to the story and we work on making them more general. Students will often bring up these stories the rest of the year ("Mr. Thompson!  That reminds me of..."). It's an excellent book and teaching tool. 

Want to read about more mentor texts?  Check out The Owl Teacher's "Mentor Text Monday" link-up!

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  1. One of my favorites! I love that you can use as many stories as you have time for since they're short.

  2. Absolutely! Before lunch, 5 minutes left of reading, etc.

  3. What a brilliant plan for such a gorgeous book!

  4. I own a copy of this picture book - I am glad it is receiving much-deserved love here. :)

  5. Love, love, LOVE this book! Thank you for sharing your ideas! :D