Once Upon a Time

story by Sara Matson , illustrated by Amy Golbach

Focus question:

How can intertextuality contribute to our understanding of genre?


Learning Intention:

I am learning to compare narratives with similar purposes so that I can use that knowledge to compose my own narrative.


Success Criteria:

  • I can describe the purpose and audience of a fable
  • I can describe the purpose and audience of a narrative text
  • I can draw from my knowledge of fables and fairy tales to create my own text.


Essential knowledge:

For more information about types of texts, view The School Magazine’s video on Genre.

For more information about connecting narratives to other texts, view The School Magazine’s video on Intertextuality.


Oral language and communication:

Ensure students understand that a fable is a short story that usually has animal characters and contains a moral or a lesson. As an example, read a story from the Library of Congress’s Aesop catalogue, such as The Fox and the Grapes or The Crow and the Pitcher. Spend time discussing the lessons at the bottom of the story. Ask students who these stories might be for. Students may note that, because fables teach lessons on how to behave, they are for young children.


Read the first three lines of Once Upon a Time out loud to the class (up to ‘I have news’) then ask the following questions:

- Who is the audience for this story? (School children)

- How do you know? (Students may note the text is in Countdown, which is targeted towards school children)

- Who are the characters in the story so far? (Bluebird and Bear)

- What type of story does this remind you of? (Students may either answer with fables or fairy tales)

- Knowing the type of text and audience, what might we expect from this story? (Answers will vary, though students might suggest that there will be a moral or a lesson at the end)


Understanding text:

Read the remaining text for Once Upon a Time, or, if you have the digital subscription, you can listen to the audio recording. Ask students what story Bear has written for the contest (Goldilocks and the Three Bears). If any students are unfamiliar with the classic fairy tale, find a copy of the book in your school library, have other students retell the story or read an online version such as the one on Story Nory.


Remind students that they are the audience for Once Upon a Time. Ask if there were any lessons for them, like a fable would have, in the story. Students might recognise things like perseverance, working hard to make dreams come true or finding creative inspiration from the past.


Ask students the difference between a fable and Once Upon a Time in terms of target audience. Students might notice that fables are typically much shorter, and that Once Upon a Time used more complex plot and vocabulary than a fable.


Creating text:

Explain that students will be composing their own narrative with the following conditions:

- The genre will be a fable (point out that this means it will be a short text)

- It should link to another text, preferably a fairy tale

- The language and events should be appropriate for their target audience (young children)


Hand out a sheet of A4 paper and have students fold it into quarters, labelling each quadrant A, B, C and D. Explain that students will be filling out each quadrant as they go.


The first thing students should do is choose a fairy tale to base their story on. Brainstorm lists of fairy tales on the board or use this list on Fairytales.Info. Ensure students select a story they’re familiar with. Students write their choice of fairy tale in quadrant A.


Next, remind students that fables have animals as main characters. This means they need to figure out what animals to use from their fairy tale. For example, Snow White often has birds and deer in retellings and Cinderella is commonly associated with mice. Students can be creative if they can’t find an animal associated with their fairy tale. Have them write their chosen animal characters in quadrant B.


Third, students need to decide what lesson they want to convey in their story. Remind students of the fables they’d read at the beginning of the lesson, as well as the lessons they’d found in Once Upon a Time. Explain that lessons should be something that everyone can benefit from. Discuss things like never giving up, being kind, don’t judge a person based on appearance, lying will only get you into trouble, anyone can be a hero and don’t be greedy. When they’ve decided what lesson they want to convey, students write it in quadrant C.


Finally, students should plot a beginning, middle and end for the story. Use Once Upon a Time as an example. Remind students that the lesson was to never give up and that at the end, Bear worked hard and won the competition. Then point out that Bear was struggling at first and almost gave up. Explain that this process of working backwards is another way to plot a story. Have students consider how their characters will learn their lesson, and what challenge they’ll need to overcome. In quadrant D of their paper, students can write in dot points:

- What their character’s problem is

- What they do to try to overcome it

- How they eventually overcome the problem


Once they’ve made their plan, give students time to write their fables.


Assessment for/as learning:

Students use the following checklist for self-evaluation:

- I have used animals as characters

- I have included a lesson

- I have given my character a problem to overcome

- I have used appropriate language and events for young children


The School Magazine also has a marking rubric for imaginative texts that students can use to guide their writing and/or for teacher assessment. Note that as the text is a fable, less detail and description is required.