Fairy tales are a genre of literature that is clearly defined by common elements. They have roots in oral tradition and storytelling. These types of stories are common to every culture, and they usually teach life lessons that are aligned with the values of that particular region. There are similar stories (plots, characters, magic) all over the world. This genre of literature is fun because it whisks you away to a whole other world where magic lives.
Opening and Ending Line
Fairy tales are usually presented as happening a long time ago. The most common phrase connected with a fairy tale is "once upon a time." The line starts off several different fairy tales and is an immediate hint that you are reading a story in that genre. Likewise, many fairy tales end with the line "and they lived happily ever after." This line is most prominent in "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty."
Hero/Heroine and Villian
Fairy tales have clearly defined heroes and heroines. These characters are often described as kind and good natured. They most often find themselves in unfair situations, such as Snow White, a sweet young girl who was envied by the queen. On that same note, fairy tales always have a villain. The villain is sometimes a witch or sorceress, dabbling in the dark arts, or it could be a gnome or monster.
Fairy tales are notorious for including a magical or supernatural element. It is common to see talking animals who befriend the hero or heroine. Fairy tales with princesses often describe the princess singing and dancing with animals. Even everyday objects can be alive. Fairy tales include such magical characters as fairies, trolls, elves and goblins.
Fairy tales usually feature royal settings or characters. There is often a castle, queen or king mentioned within the story. Sometimes, the heroine is a missing princess as is the case with "Rapunzel" and "Sleeping Beauty." Many of the heroines in fairy tales end up living "happily ever after" with a kind and handsome prince that rescues them.
Problem and Solution
The plot of a fairy tale focuses on a problem that must be solved. The whole story revolves around that problem, and the happily ever after is derived from finding a solution to the problem. Cinderella's problem was that she wanted to go to the ball, her fairy godmother provided a solution to the problem and, thus, Cinderella met the prince.
Fairy tales provide lessons on some sort of universal truth. It's a world where goodness prevails. The story can be focused on coming of age, love, dreams and hope. It shows that the kind hero or heroine can win in the face of adversity and an evil villain.
Fairy tales are excellent resources for the classroom. Children are familiar with this type of genre. You could have students compare different versions of the story "Cinderella" (there are different tales from different regions). Since fairy tales have common elements, they are useful in teaching students how to write. There is a format that they follow, and understanding it helps students to arrange their thoughts and map out their own stories.