Stories are great teachers. When I lived in the Washington, D.C., area, I had season tickets to the PEN/Faulkner reading series, which hosted the finest American writers of the time, some of whom had been my teachers. I would often take my students to readings, held in the majestic Folger Shakespeare Library.

When Eudora Welty read from her memoir, “One Writer’s Beginning,” the soft light illuminated her just so that she appeared with a halo and her gentle Mississippi voice was angelic. These days, I’ve been listening to a lot of stories on podcast: I appreciate the opportunity to rest my eyes from the voluminous reading and computer work I do while I imagine the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch of each story’s environment while I conjure the personalities and physical natures of the characters.

Whether the stories be personal and true, as on The Moth or TenX9, or fables, as on The Stories We Tell, I am carried away, wondering where the story will go. And when the story arrives, I wonder, “Why did it go there? Where else could it have gone?”

Stories designed to teach particular lessons, such as Aesop’s Fables or Chassidic tales, can be used to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity; critical and creative thinking; making predictions and inferences; the elements of literature; and story-making and storytelling so students can create their own lessons. Though we often associate fables and tales with children, they transcend age; the best have lessons to teach all of us.

Listening to stories is too often sadly left behind in our childhood. I’ve read to my university students, who sat rapt, holding on to each word, wondering, discussing, inferring, predicting. Indigenous communities have long told stories, and there is scientific evidence of the health benefits of storytelling.

There are a number of ways you can design a fable-making project. Here’s one; the key is to rely on the spoken word.


1. Ask students if they know what a fable or tale is.

2. If students say yes, have them share what they know. You and they can create a brainstorm web or mind map.

3. Discuss the purpose of fables and tales.

Reading and meaning-making: Part 1

1. Give students titles of various fables or tales and have them choose one.

2. Read the entire story to them OR have them listen to it.

3. Discuss the story: Who are the characters? Who is the antagonist? Protagonist? What is the plot? What is the setting? Was there foreshadowing? What is the conflict? What is the meaning, the lesson(s)?

4. Have students draw scenes from the story or the lesson. Remember that they should do this from their imagination; that is, they’re relying on what they hear.

5. You can repeat Part 1 once or twice or as many as necessary until your students grasp the concept of fables and tales.

Reading and meaning-making: Part 2

1. Ask students to choose another fable or tale.

2. Divide the fable or tale into sections and read only each section.

3. After each section, ask students about what is happening and who is involved so far. Ask them to predict and infer what will happen next and why.

4. Continue through the sections of the fable or tale and stop before reading or listening to the final section.

5. Gather all the information students have collected and create a brainstorm web or mind map. Students can, in pairs or small groups, discuss what will happen in the end. What will the lesson be? Why do they think so?

6. Read or play the final section; then, have students examine their ending/lesson with the one of the fable or tale. Which one do they prefer? Why?

7. Have students illustrate either the lesson from the fable or tale or their own lesson, or even better, have them illustrate both.

Reading and meaning-making: Part 3

1. Ask students to create their own fable or tale. They can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

2. Have students illustrate their work.

3. Have students read or record and then play their fable or tale to their classmates; students should divide the fable or tale into sections, as you did in Part 2, and facilitate discussion.

4. Their classmates write their own ending lesson.

5. Finally, the student-presenters read or play the recording of their ending, and together, students can discuss the various lessons.

Additional resources for inferences and predictions

Additional resources on listening to stories for all ages

Additional fables and tales