A princess, an evil witch, some magic words: these words conjure up visions of traditional fairy tales. With slight variations you get, for example, classic stories like Snow White or Cinderella. But what about 21st century kids who might not get too excited about the prospect of writing their own fairy tale, a common assignment for grade-schoolers. Put a little zing into that activity by instructing kids to set their stories in today’s world, with a modern hero or heroine facing a modern problem.
Brainstorm some problems or conflicts modern kids face. Ask students to come up with individual lists and then take turns contributing ideas as you post them or write them on the board. To get them starters you might suggest categories such as “problems at school,” “problems with siblings,” “problems with technology.”
Ask each student to come up with a name for the main character in his or her story and then to choose a problem or conflict from the list (or one of his or her own choice). This conflict should then be stated clearly in one sentence. For example, “Joe couldn’t understand why his sister always got her way.”
Advise students to decide on the ending before actually starting the story. In other words, decide from the start of the story how the problem will be solved. Here’s where the magic enters in; because the assignment is to write a fairy tale, the story needs some element of fantasy. Therefore, the problem can be solved with a little touch of magic.
Tell students that using magic as a way to solve a problem only works in a story if there have been previous hints at fantasy. Otherwise, the ending will seem to have come out of nowhere. For example, if a story is going to end with a boy being saved from a bully by an invisible dog, we need to have heard some little barks or seen some paw prints early in the story.
Explain how to put little hints in the story so that the reader knows it is happening in modern times. Characters might mention their computers, their cell phones, the names of tv shows, and so on.
Instruct students to make sure that the problem is made clear to the reader in the first few sentences of the story, that the middle is approximately four times as long as the beginning, and that the ending is only a few sentences in length.