Fairy tales provide a wealth of possibilities for teaching English topics. Each fairy tale has its own magical setting and is split into several scenes. Within each scene there are sets of vocabulary that you can exploit. Below we will look at a few of the better known fairy tales and highlight some of the possible areas you can concentrate on in class.

Jo Bertrand


  • For the learners to hear in English what are probably familiar stories in their own language.
  • To allow the children to see English in an imaginative context.
  • To introduce various vocabulary sets such as family, food, clothes or parts of the body.
  • To help older primary school children notice language areas such as past simple, comparatives, etc.


  • Fairy tale story books
  • Worksheets for post-reading activities
  • Flashcards (laminated photocopies of selected scenes from the stories)

Five hot tips when using a fairy tale in class

  1. Create a mystical atmosphere with your body language, voice and lighting if possible.
  2. Don’t over do the scary characters with very young learners.
  3. Involve the children as much as possible. Get them guessing the next episode throughout the story.
  4. You don’t need to systematically pre-teach vocabulary. Arouse their interest? Yes - with the picture on the front cover, 'Who’s this?' 'Is this the wicked witch or the friendly fairy?' 'Does the princess look sad or happy?' etc. You can go back over vocabulary after the story e.g. 'Can you remember what this is called?' (pointing to the picture).
  5. Don’t use it just as a time filler. The children will get much more out of it if done over a series of lessons or if it ties in with a larger topic.

Something to remember about fairy tales is that they are fairly long stories and they don’t always have the repetitive language that is almost essential for teaching English to young learners. The key here is to spend a little time simplifying the story text and making it into a series of repeated patterns of language.


Vocabulary groups include:

  • Family (sisters, step-mother, father, god-mother)
  • Clothes (glass slippers, dress)
  • Adjectives (big, small, ugly, beautiful)
  • Telling the time (midnight, early, late) 

Sample repetitive text:

  • 'She tried on the slipper but it was too big.'
  • 'She tried on the slipper but it was too small.'
  • 'She tried on the slipper and it was just right.'
  • 'She waved her magic wand and puff, turned the pumpkin into a carriage.'
  • 'She waved her magic wand and puff, turned the rags into a beautiful dress.'

Possible language area:

  • Past simple: tried on, waved, turned (Remember to let the children notice the difference. You don’t need to give them a lecture on the different uses and forms of the past tense!)

Snow White

Vocabulary groups include:

  • Adjectives (shy, happy, grumpy, mean)
  • Landscapes (forest, lakes)
  • Buildings (houses, castles, towers)
  • Houses/furniture (beds, kitchens, housework) 

Sample repetitive text:

  • 'Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all?'

Possible language area:

  • Comparatives and superlatives: 'You’re pretty, but Snow White is prettier. She’s the prettiest of them all.'

Little Red Riding Hood

Vocabulary groups include:

  • Animals (in the forest, wolf)
  • Food (apples, cakes)
  • Landscape (trees, lakes, forest)
  • Senses (hear, see, touch)
  • Parts of the body (ears, eyes, nose, hands, teeth)

Sample repetitive text:

  • 'What big eyes you have!'
  • 'They help me to see you better.'

Possible language area:

  • Have got: 'What have you got in your basket?' 'I’ve got two apples.'

Hansel and Gretel

Vocabulary groups include:

  • Family (father, step-mother)
  • Food (sugar, cakes, sweets)
  • Home/furniture (door, window, bed, oven)
  • Numbers (crumbs on the ground)

Sample repetitive text:

  • 'He dropped a crumb on the ground, and another and another.'
  • 'He dropped a pebble on the ground, and another and another.'

Possible language area:

  • Made of: 'The roof was made of icing.'

Post-reading activities

  1. Draw a picture of your favourite character.
  2. Act out a scene from the story.
  3. Re-write the end of the story (this can be done on paper or orally).
  4. Make up a group or class fairy tale. Use different characters from several fairy tales.
  5. Point to flashcards of scenes from the story to identify characters or events.
  6. Gradually uncover a flashcard from the story. The children have to say what they see.


There are BritLit Kits with a wide range of materials and ideas for teaching Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.

This site has some condensed fairy tales to be further simplified. Some can be listened to online.

The LearnEnglish Kids website has various animated fairy tales and other traditional stories with activities for children.

The BBC has various animated fairy tales resources.


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