Teaching Aesop’s Fables and The Often Elusive “Lesson Learned” Using S - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Teaching Aesop’s Fables and The Often Elusive “Lesson Learned” Using Story Grammar Marker

by Maryellen Rooney Moreau January 11, 2019 4 min read

Aesop bust imageHappy New Year to All! Colleagues often ask how I would use the Story Grammar Marker® or Braidy the StoryBraid® with Aesop’s Fables. Fables are stories that teach a lesson and, because of that feature, are often part of academic curricula from grade 1 on.

I decided to write a little bit about fables today because the lessons learned often relate to New Year’s Resolutions we all make! Most often fables involve animals as the characters but relate to human nature.

Perspective taking, Theory of Mind and Lessons Learned are required to understand a fable. All of these are difficult for many students.

The following shows the use of our Story Grammar Marker® icons to map “The Ants & The Grasshopper” fable for purposes of comprehension and expression. These icons—and our entire SGM® approach—will be 28 years old in 2019!

Ants and Grasshopper Aesop Text image

Fables teach a lesson, so the final (Resolution) heart is important to fables: “lesson learned”…plan and work hard; slow and steady wins the race, etc.

BUT, to get to the lesson of the ants and grasshopper, one must understand the story from two perspectives! Taking each set of characters (ants/grasshopper), fill out a map for both perspectives before you begin the lesson with children.

First, though, it is important to note the characteristics of the characters:  ants (busy workers) / grasshopper (heard “fiddling” through the summer months and seems to do nothing more than fiddle and hop around). Both of these characteristics have been observed by farmers/naturalists, etc., through the years. Thus, these characters have different work ethics! 

So…the Critical Thinking Triangle® is very important for understanding these perspectives. Young children may not identify the Kick-Off, name the Feelings, or think about characters’ Thoughts or Plans. That’s why it is so hard to teach fables: perspectives and elements of the CTT.

  • Setting: End of autumn (winter is coming...snow, etc.), working to dry out grain for winter food.

The Ants’ perspective alone would make an Action Sequence:

  • Action: Get the grain
  • Action: Set it out in the sun
  • Action: Let it dry
  • Action: Haul it in
  • Action: Store it.

That is what they are doing since they have goals ( Plan) to meet: Food for winter!

  • BUT...

(See following Critical Thinking Triangle map.) A grasshopper (a fellow insect) approaches with a request to give him food they are harvesting….This is the KICK-OFF for the ants. They areANGRY that he interrupted their work. They THINK that he is lazy since they KNOW he spent his summer fiddling. They  PLAN to deny him the grain since he didn’t plan ahead and didn’t do any work.

  • Action: So, they tell him he can‘t have any, “then (they) dance”….this is figurative language/semantic connection (fiddle/dance)
  • Direct Consequence: As a result, they harvested their own food and told him he couldn’t have any.
  • Resolution: They feel satisfied since there is a time for work and a time for play.
  • Setting: Late autumn.
  • Kick-Off: Sees ants working at harvest and realizes he has no food for winter
  • Feeling: desperate (sad and mad)
  • Thought Bubble: Thinks: I will starve if I don’t have food. Knows: The ants have food.
  • Plan: To get the ants to give him some grain
  • Attempt: Asks them.
  • Direct Consequence: They deny him the grain…he doesn’t get it.
  • Resolution: Feeling: sad, hungry; Lesson: Too much play and not enough work.

Critical Thinking Triangle image

Sometimes I begin the lesson, “I am going to read a story to you. It is about a group of ants and a grasshopper.”

“The lesson of this fable (Story) is that sometimes it is time to work and sometimes it is time to play.”

Divide children into “character listeners”: an ant group / a grasshopper group.

“Who worked….what happened? Who played…what happened?”

“Should the ants have given the grasshopper any of the grain?” I used this one time and there was a girl who said he should have played the fiddle (she said guitar) for them and maybe they would give him some…Somehow I don’t think it would have worked!

The following two books would be great to use to work on variations of the Ants and the Grasshopper fable. One has different characters and the other has a very different ending.

Frederick book coverLionni, L. (1967) Frederick. NY: Pantheon Books. In this book, the characters are all mice, a family of field mice. Four mice are hard workers who harvest food for winter. The fifth, Frederick, gathers sunlight, colors, and words by observing the world about him while the others are working. The family wonders aloud why Frederick does not work as hard as they do. He replies that he “is working while gathering sunlight, colors, and words for harvest.”

Lo and behold, the harvested food runs out and the mice and cold and hungry. Frederick saves the day with sunlight, talk of colors of spring and a poem! Lesson: Hard work is not necessarily the same for everyone and the rewards are many if you think outside the box!

Grasshopper and the Ants book coverPinkney, J. (2015). Grasshopper and the ants. NY: Little, Brown & Company. In this beautifully illustrated book, the author “re-imagines” the fable of the grasshopper and the ants.

The lesson learned is voiced by the author: He notes that this timeless fable “cautions against idleness”: but also “It reminds us not only to work hard—but also to find joy in sharing what we’ve worked for.”

Pinkney changed the ending to include a welcome cup of tea, offered by the queen ant, when it was evident that the grasshopper was in dire straits, but had learned its lesson, and would probably come up with a its own plan for next winter. This is depicted by a page that opens vertically showing the grasshopper shivering in the snow as the ants below enjoy warmth and food. The illustrations end with a grand musical celebration which incorporates the grasshopper’s talents!

In both of these books, the Story Grammar Marker® or Braidy the StoryBraid®, can be utilized to depict the story grammar structure from all characters’ perspectives! Enjoy. End of Article icon

Maryellen Rooney Moreau
Maryellen Rooney Moreau

Maryellen Rooney Moreau, M.Ed., CCC-SLP, is the founder of MindWing Concepts. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Disorders at University of Massachusetts at Amherst as a Commonwealth Honors Scholar, and a Masters of Education in Communication Disorders at Pennsylvania State University. Her forty-year professional career includes school-based SLP, college professor, diagnostician, and Coordinator of Intervention Curriculum and Professional Development for children with language learning disabilities. She designed the Story Grammar Marker® and has been awarded two United States Patents. She has written more than 15 publications and developed more than 60 hands-on tools based on the SGM® methodology. Maryellen was awarded the 2014 Alice H. Garside Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Dyslexia Association, Massachusetts Branch.

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