Activities for Teaching Appalachian Folktales and Dramatizations by the Jack Tale Players    

Prepared by Tina L. Hanlon, Ph.D. and R. Rex Stephenson, Ph.D.
Ferrum College

Games and Exercises Activities Involving Art Other Drama, Discussion and Writing Activities A Dramatization in the Classroom References
Back to Jack Tale Players Study Guides AppLit Home
See also Teacher’s Study Guide for the Jack Tale Players and "Two Lost Babes”

Creative Activities for Three Folktales ("Ashpet," "Wicked John and the Devil," "Whitebear Whittington")

Teaching Four "Jack" Books

Students Write Jack Tales

Additional Activities in Unit Lesson Plan on Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media

AppLit's Short Teaching Tips

The Jack Tale Players Web Site

Study Guide for "Ferradiddledumday" and Other "Rumpelstiltskin" Stories

West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature, a teaching unit in AppLit

Games and ExercisesJack Tale Players performing with children

Ashpet Crossword Puzzle

Wicked John and the Devil Crossword Puzzle

Wheel of Fantasy: Game on Language in The Jack Tales

Creative Activities for Three Appalachian Folktales, including Ashpet jump rope chants

Exercise on Appalachian Language in Jack and the Three Sillies

West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature contains introductions for children to folk instruments with pictures and audio files, activities with audio on singing ballads and dance tunes, online quizzes (one labeled a play-party game) on the state of WV and Appalachian folklore, and discussion questions following reading and writing activities. The Teacher's Guide has a list of Additional Activities.

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Activities Involving Art

  1. Have children draw pictures of characters or scenes from one folktale after seeing a performance.  Then discuss any of the following issues:
  • Chlld drawing of Jack Tale PlayersHave the children explain why they chose the details in their picture.  

  • Compare the different choices of scenes or characters by different children.

  • Compare the different ways that children depicted the same scene or character.

  • Which scene(s) were the most popular when the children decided what to draw? Why?

  1. Have children draw pictures of characters or scenes based on their memories of different versions of one folktale they have seen or heard. How are the visual images in their drawings from the stories different? See also ART in Teaching Four "Jack" Books.

  2. Compare the illustrations in different picture books or folktale collections, or compare the visual effects in a dramatization or film with a picture book version of the same tale. Have students pick a picture book they like and illustrate another scene or folktale in the same style. AppLit's Annotated Index of Tales by Title can help you find different versions of the same tale from Appalachia and other regions. 

  1. Mutsmag is AppLit's online picture book adaptation by R. Rex Stephenson, with illustrations drawn in 2000 by children in grades K-3, Franklin County, VA, after they saw the Jack Tales Players' dramatization of the tale. The children's drawings are cropped and some animation is used; compare this format to reading other folktale picture books, or to your students' drawings. Some of the original drawings by the children are being placed on various AppLit folktale pages and there are some observations about the children's drawings on the Introduction to Mutsmag page and in AppLit's Picture Gallery.
  1. If you are studying artistic styles or techniques in enough depth, extend activity 3 by comparing the styles of particular folktale illustrations with other artistic trends. Which artists use cartoonlike styles? Which ones use realistic styles? How do they emphasize the realistic or comical or magical elements of the tales? For example, Owen Smith's illustrations in The Jack Tales by Ray Hicks and Brad Sneed's illustrations in Smoky Mountain Rose by Alan Schroeder are reminiscent of the style of American painter Thomas Hart Benton. Kenn Compton says he was influenced by cartoon characters, including Dudley Do-Right, in his illustrations. (Watch for Judy Teaford's analysis of picture book illustrations and fine art styles in future AppLit pages.)
  1. Have children illustrate the picturesque speech in a tale they have seen or heard. See details at Teaching Four "Jack" Books.
  1. If your students hear Jack tales before seeing illustrated or dramatized versions, have them draw their own pictures of Jack and discuss the differences in their images. Do they picture Jack differently depending on which tales they hear?

  2. If you have a collection of Jack tale books, or you can copy images from a variety of books, have students discuss or write a comparison of the different images of Jack by various artists. Which one(s) fit their own idea of Jack best? Why? Activities 7 and 8 could also be done with John Henry (although he isn't the hero of so many different tales), or Ashpet and Cinderella characters from different places, or Mutsmag/Muncimeg and Molly characters, or antagonists such as the giant or witch in many tales.

  1. For another activity that combines drawing and writing, with tall tales or other tales with giants, see Tall Tales and Jack Tales: Literature and Writing Activities.

See also Appalachian Storytelling Event. Appalachian Studies Program. Virginia Tech, 2013. Organized by Robin Kaufman and Anita Puckett. Children made quilt squares and recorded their own audio stories or responses to Jack Tales after seeing Rex Stephenson and Emily Blankenship-Tucker tell stories (photos of storytelling at this link). Some of the children added another animal into "Jack and the Robbers," such as an owl that is stuck in its nest and then after Jack helps it out, the owl helps Jack scare the robbers. One child imagined Jack living in the robber's house and another mansion until he was 111 years old! Some drew the devils in "Soldier Jack," and some made up their own stories. This site includes review of the day's activities with tales and quilts, reading list, and links. Pdf flyer for this Appalachian Studies event for children.

For more background and ideas on illustration, see Appalachian Picture Book in AppLit's Short Teaching Tips; What's in a Picture Book? in Unit Lesson Plan on Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media; and Assignments and Study Guide on Contemporary American Picture Books.

AppLit's Picture Gallery

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Other Dramatic, Discussion, and Writing Activities
After Watching a Dramatization or Reading or Listening to Folktales

See also discussion questions at Jack Tale Players Study Guides.

  1. Create a modern version of the folktale that could happen in your county.

  1. Try acting out a version of the folktale.  (See below for more detailed suggestions for classroom dramatizations.)
  1. Have students write their own folktale. For more detail and examples, see AppLit's Students Write Jack Tales by Merri Hess and fourth graders. See also Tall Tales in AppLit and the exercises Write a Ballad, Write a Tall Tale, and Collect/Write a Ghost Story.
  1. Place the names of characters, or simple drawings or photographs of characters on the board. For example: Ashpet, Stepsisters, Stepmother, Mrs. Sigmon/magic godmother character, Prince. Give individual students or groups colored chalk or marking pens and ask students to write descriptive adjectives about each character on or under the picture or name. After everyone has had a chance to write at least one adjective, stop and discuss the characters. Have students add more descriptive adjectives or characteristics after asking questions such as the following:
  • Why do you like or dislike this character?
  • How do his or her actions affect other characters?
  • Is he or she a good person? Would you like him or her to spend the night with you and your family? What would you talk about?
  1. Either after activity 4, or as a separate activity, have each group of students construct a new scene in which characters in the story interact. For example, what would Mutsmag's sisters do after they leave Mutsmag to fend for herself? What if they encountered a giant or a witch without Mutsmag there to help them? See also Creative Activities for Three Appalachian Folktales.

  2. Add new characters to the tale and construct a new scene. For example, add some other people that Jack might trade with in "Jack and his Lump of Silver," or other animal characters in "Jack and the Robbers," or new characters with extraordinary powers in "Hardy Hard Head." Divide the students into groups of three and have them take turns pretending to be Mutsmag or Ashpet and her sisters. Or create groups of six with children taking the roles of Mutsmag, her two sisters, and the giant's three daughters. Improvise a conversation they might have while eating dinner together, or doing chores, or talking to the prince.

  3. Retell "Jack and the Robbers" or another tale and add different animal characters.

  4. Have the children explain how they would cast the folktale using characters from their favorite cartoons.

  5. Improvise a "sequel" or "prequel," a scene that takes place before the folktale begins or after the ending of the folktale. For example, create a scene between Wicked John and the neighborhood kids who bother him before he meets St. Peter. Or improvise one of Mutsmag's adventures after she goes off with her reward of gold. See also Creative Activities for Three Appalachian Folktales.

  6. Have a debate about how and why people like to be scared by stories. How do some tales, such as "Jack and the Hainted House," scare us? How much disagreement is there among students about what frightens them? How does humor relieve or undercut the horror in some tales, such as "Jack and the Robbers"? How does the performance create differences between scaring the characters and scaring the audience? For more examples and teaching ideas, see Ghosts in West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature. This topic can lead to further comparison of how book illustrations, performance methods, animation, or live-action films create frightening effects.

  7. Vary activity 11 by debating how and why people have different responses to humor in folktales (and other stories in different media). How is humor different in tales with foolish or "noodlehead" main characters, such as "Foolish Jack," and in tales with more clever or heroic main characters, such as Mutsmag or Jack in other tales? Does humor prevent some tales, such as "Wicked John and the Devil," from becoming too scary or sacrilegious? For more examples and ideas, see Humor in the West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature.

  8. For more ideas on comparing different types of heroes and tales, see Tall Tales and Jack Tales: Literature and Writing Activities.

  9. See also text of Jack and the King's Girl with dramatic activity.

  10. West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature contains discussion questions for third through fifth graders on Appalachian tall tale folk heroes John Henry and Tony Beaver, Ghosts, and Humor. It also has games and quizzes for children on the state of West Virginia and Appalachian folklore, and exercises called Write a Ballad, Write a Tall Tale, and Collect a Ghost Story.

More Advanced Discussion and Writing Topics

  1. Read or retell a version of "Mutsmag" or "Ashpet," or watch Tom Davenport's film Mutzmag or Ashpet.  How does watching a film or reading a story, or hearing the tale being read, compare with watching the story theatre dramatization by the Jack Tale Players?  (See pages on "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet"; Davenport Bibliography; The Script as Story Theatre.)

  2. Have each student, or group of students, select one folktale and read, view or listen to several variants of the same tale. Each student or group can then report to the class orally, or construct an outline, poster, or report on what they learned from their research. This activity could be helpful for introducing, or reinforcing, different types of folktales; examining universal features of folktales and culturally specific details; comparing Appalachian tales with parallel tales from other cultures; and practicing close analysis of themes and motifs. AppLit's Annotated Index of Folktales lists many variants of individual Appalachian tales. Links to Online Texts leads to many tales on the Internet from other traditions. David Russell's Literature for Children: A Short Introduction has a good overview of types and features of folk literature.

  3. Have more advanced students read the essay "Strong Women in Appalachian Folktale Dramatizations by R. Rex Stephenson," or paraphrase some of the essay to start a discussion in your class or develop a writing topic. Ask students to respond to or expand on ideas in the essay. For example:

  • Do they agree that Mutsmag and Ashpet are more clever and independent than their predecessors in older tales such as "Molly Whuppie" and "Cinderella"?

  • Do the students know other stories (including modern films or cartoons) with heroic female characters comparable to these, or with tricks like those depicted in "Mutsmag" and "The Three Old Women's Bet"?

  • How would you compare the encounters with giants in "Mutsmag" and "Jack and the Bean Tree," or other tales with giants?

  • How do the women in "The Three Old Women's Bet" use their husbands' quirks and weaknesses to play tricks on them? How does this tale compare with other stories of "war between the sexes"?

  1. For more ideas on paper topics involving folktales and adaptations, see Comparing Folktales (a comparison/contrast paper) and Fairy Tale Resources and Assignments (a short research paper assignment for Tina Hanlon's English 102 classes).

  2. For additional ideas on studying folktales and their influence in other literature, see World Folktales and Literature (Tina Hanlon's sophomore-level college literature course).
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A Dramatization in the Classroom

There are a variety of ways that a performance of the Jack Tales can serve as a springboard for dramatic activities in the classroom. You may start with a warm up. This time is used to allow the children to make the transition from classroom activity to dramatic play.

Warm Up:  First, have students move their desks so that there will be a large free space. This can be done quickly. Tell the children: "You are Jack and your desk is a valuable chest of gold. With a partner, hide the treasures on the outskirts of the room—quietly, so that no one will know you've hidden it."

Have the children return to the center of the room and ask them to choose roles as animals. Suggest some, such as:

Dog - cat - cow - duck
Frog - chicken - fox

It is important at the beginning of the session that all participate as a group. If students are enjoying this, you may want to have them join in pairs to create other animals, such as:

Elephant - donkey - camel
Pig - horse - sheep

Allow the children to show their animals to each other. You may also want to create an animal parade or a zoo.  If the children are enjoying being animals, you may want them to react to details about the environment, such as:

"It is winter."
"It is dark."
"It is raining."
Dramatization: When the warm-up session is over, return the children to the center of the room and have them sit on the floor. Pick one of the stories to dramatize. Since the warm-up session was about animals, you may want to work on "Jack and the Robbers." Ask the children to retell the story to you. Be sure that each incident is retold. You may want to question the group to get the correct sequence or to insure that they understand the motivation of the characters.
"Why do you think Jack left home?"
"What is the first animal he met?"
"If you were the rooster, would you go with Jack?  Why?"
"Why did Jack go back home?"

Use questions like these until the story is in the detail you think suitable for your grade level. You may want to have them act out various scenes as they retell them.

"Show me how you think the dog would walk."
"Show me what would happen when a robber entered the house."

You can also ask them to make the sounds of the various animals in the story, or to dramatize a short scene like the one between Jack and his father.

When you are satisfied that the children know the story and are anxious to dramatize it, divide them into groups of five or six and ask each group to play through the story. You may want to act as the storyteller or let children volunteer for this important role.

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Some of these activities are based on ideas in Creative Drama in the Classroom and Beyond by Nellie McCaslin. (7th ed. New York: Longman, 2000). See this book for many other ideas for using dramatization in the classroom.

Some of these activities were previously printed in "Teachers' Guide for Use in Conjunction with the Performance of Jack Tales," by R. Rex Stephenson (Hurt, VA: Artistic Printing, 1994; revised as A Study Guide For The Jack Tales: Dramatizing Traditional Folklore Of The Blue Ridge Mountains. Orem, UT: Encore Performance Publishing, 2003).

Others are reprinted and adapted with permission from Journey Through Fantasy Literature: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Vol. I.  Ed. Roberta T. Herrin. Developed during a Teachers Institute sponsored by East Tennessee State University and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1988-89.

Lowell Swortzell, Cinderella: The World’s Favorite Fairy Tale (Charlottesville, VA: New Plays Inc., 1992) contains an excellent introduction to fairy tales and theatre, and a Multicultural Study Guide by Nancy Swortzell with exercises involving drama and cultural traditions. The script combines Cinderella tales from France, China, Russia, and the Micmac tribe of North America. 

Types of folk literature are explained in "Chapter 8, Folk Literature," Literature for Children: A Short Introduction by David Russell (4th ed. New York: Longman, 2001), pp. 148-73 (includes a bibliography). See also Judith V. Lechner's textbook on different types of folk literature,  Allyn & Bacon Anthology of Traditional Literature. New York: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2004.

Strong Women in Appalachian Folktale Dramatizations by R. Rex Stephenson is an essay by Tina L. Hanlon.

Study Guide for "Ferradiddledumday" by Becky Mushko gives responses of third and fifth graders to an Appalachian adaptation of "Rumpelstiltskin," and teaching ideas related to Virginia SOLs.

West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature is a teaching unit for third through fifth grade, formerly in the West Virginia World School web site and now reprinted in AppLit. It contains three lists of resources on Appalachia, folklore, music and literature.

Bibliography of Appalachian Folktales in Children's Literature includes pages on Background Resources.

Index of Student Writing and Illustration in AppLit links to samples of student work at all levels through M. A.

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

Timeline of Appalachian Folktales

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