A version of this article appeared in The National Storytelling Journal.
You may want also to refer to the article, In Search of the Folktale
, which describes how to find variants of a folktale using folklore reference works.
I begin by telling a story (fairy tales are ideal). Since a motif is a small
piece of plot existing in more that one traditional story, I ask the class
if anyone has heard any part of the tale before. When I told "La Muerta: Godmother
Death" (recorded on
Folktales of Strong Women; printed in Ready-to-Tell Tales, August House; similar to Grimm #44),
one student said, "I know another story about getting a reward to save the
king's life." The student had recognized a recurrent theme or motif.
it on the blackboard: reward for saving king's life. Then I asked what other
parts of this story could serve as motifs. The sixth-graders added:
as a person
looking for a godmother
person with long finger
if someone is to die, sees death.
Although some of these have not survived in the oral tradition, they could all be motifs.
With this introduction, the children are told to make up a story using two
or more of the motifs from the list.
The results of this exercise have been
most interesting. Some students set their stories in modern city streets,
others in a science fiction land of their own invention. Some made the "Long
Finger" a central character; others emphasized a disappearing person. There
was plenty of variety and good use of the imagination.