Unique Ways to Teach the Central Message of Folktales

For the past few years, I have always taught finding the central message (or moral or lesson) of a story as a separate standard.  But I tried something different and it is working very well in helping my students understand how the problem/solution AND character traits all work together to construct the central message.

teaching the central message

Our Anchor Chart for the Central Message

Rather than teach each literature standard separately, I teach them in a combined form using cause and effect.  I started my Folktale Unit with Native American folktales.  For example, if you look at the chart below made by my class for the folktale The Legend of the Bluebonnet by Tomie DePaola, you will see that we identified the problem and the solution in the story.

central message anchor chart

In this particular story, the people were suffering from drought and famine.  The solution was for She-Who-Is-Alone to give up her most prized possession so that the Great Spirits would stop punishing the people for their selfishness.

But what drove the girl to give up her warrior doll, the only connection she had left to her deceased family?

For that, we examined character traits.  We determined that She-Who-Is-Alone was selfless, loving and giving.  We backed up our claim with evidence from the story.  Finally, we constructed a cause and effect sentence that stated the central message.

central message example

Using Fairy Tales and Fables to find the Central Message

Another way I teach finding the central message and supporting it with evidence is to use these Central Message Puzzle Cards.  I’ve used them for a few years now. The students always enjoy using them.  I think a great way to introduce and practice finding the central message (and supporting with evidence) is to use stories the students are usually familiar with such as fairy tales.  These puzzles I made use some well-known fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel.  

central message puzzle cards

I have both color and black and white copies of the puzzles.  First I always ask my students which fairy tales they’re already familiar with so I can eliminate those they don’t know (in the past, though, I try to find a short version of the one that they’re not familiar with so we can practice with that one too.)  Would you like to try the FREE SAMPLER?  Click HERE!

central message puzzle cards sampler

What is the Supporting Evidence?

Each puzzle has three parts:  the central message, the title and illustration, and evidence to support the central message.  I take all the parts that have the central message and I read them out loud.  Then we try to match a central message to a fairy tale title.  Lots of great discussion goes on as students try to defend their choices.

Then once we’ve matched a fairy tale to a central message, I ask them to prove it by citing some text evidence.  Again, lots of good discussion about what is evidence and we indirectly discuss character traits.  Once the evidence has been shown we put the puzzle together.

Using the Greek Myths to Teach the Central Message

As part of the Folktale Unit, not only do I use Native American folktales, but we delve into Greek myths as well.  These are some of my favorite stories to teach about.  Though they have lasted well over thousands of years, these stories still entertain my students every year.  The Greek gods and other Greek characters are complex characters that lend themselves well to analysis of their traits.

central message of Greek myths

One thing I have noticed about teaching character traits (the concept already having been introduced and practiced with the Native American folktales), is that students get stuck with very limited ways to describe a character’s behavior.  Or conversely, they describe characters incorrectly because they don’t fully understand the definition of certain traits.  Just the other day, I had students confuse dull with lazy!

central message of Icarus

Teaching Character Traits

To help expand their vocabulary and really pick appropriate character traits, I developed a Character Traits PowerPoint that has 25 character traits. Each trait is introduced through a scenario that provides clues to the trait.  Then a picture is shown with some dialogue a person who exhibited that trait might say. This is when I have students try to identify the character trait.

character traits PowerPoint

We discuss possible traits, give evidence from the slid to then reveal the trait.  The slide continues with four synonyms for that character trait.  I teach with this PowerPoint daily and we manage to do about 3 – 4 per day.  I also created accompanying posters that I hang in my room for reference.  From there it is easy to follow up with the day’s ELA lesson.

Which Greek Myths Do I Use?

As I mentioned earlier, by using the Greek myths I can not only teach the central message but character traits, problem and solution and well as many other Common Core literature standards.  Some of the Greek myths I use include:

titles of Greek myths used

Once we’ve read and understood the myth, I give each student a mini-book that they use to explain the central message.  First I have the students pick the central message from four choices.  I’ve made the choices somewhat open-ended so that if you chose any particular one, there would be a way to defend the choice.  However, some choices are easier to find evidence for and defend than others.

central message printable

Once a choice is made then on page two the student uses text evidence to support the claim.  I’ve given the student a sentence starter.  I do this because I want them to eventually be able to construct a short response that is well constructed.  Then on the third page, the student just has to copy page two as a short response.  This is a way for students to go step by step construct a response. With practice, it becomes a habit.

central message with evidence


central message with evidence example

On the last page, I ask the students to describe the main character by using traits and text evidence.


describing characters using character traits

Continuing With the Greek Myths

I continue with teaching the Greek myths as we learn about the Trojan War.  I like to focus on the characters of Achilles, King Priam, Helen of Troy, and Odysseus.  I’ve created some printables that I use with my students to have them identify the character traits of each person.

character traits of Greek myths characters

These printables help students to practice identifying character traits. Then we have discussions on how these character traits (heroism, cunning, clever, etc.) drive the characters in their actions.  From there, we begin to construct the central message.

If you are searching for resources for CENTRAL MESSAGE, CHARACTER ANALYSIS, AND GREEK MYTHS, follow my Pinterest Boards below.  They have many wonderful resources, ideas, tips, and suggestions for teaching.

More Articles About Using Literature to Teach the Common Core Standards

How to Teach the Central Message with Literature

Focus on the Literature Standards with Amazing Folktales

Common Core Based Homework Project Using LIterature

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To teach the central message in my 3rd grade class, we create an anchor chart based on a read aloud. I keep teaching the central message with more folktales, including Greek Myths. Check out the anchor chart! #literature #commoncore #twoboysandadad #centralmessage

As always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions!