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Fairy-tales: The Integration of Values and Language Skills in Teaching

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Fairy-tales: The Integration of Values and Language Skills in Teaching
Henny Putri Saking Wijaya

Herwindy Maria Tedjaatmadja

Abstract: As language teachers, we often encounter resources problems in selecting suitable textbooks which can cover language skills and cultural values under time constraint. These limitations have led language teachers to have a tendency to refer to a single reading book with repetitive activities assigned by the school authority. This phenomenon has gradually created a boring and monotonous classroom atmosphere which can discourage learners to participate actively. Meanwhile, our rich cultures are not well-exploited. Some forms of literary works such as folklore, fairy-tales and legends have the potential to be used in ELT as a valuable source of authentic material. With appropriate adaptation these stories are suitable for use with all ages and all levels. Even university students who think they have outgrown fairy-tales are able to appreciate updated versions and engage in a deeper discussion within the tales. Moreover, learners can compare similar stories from various cultures. This paper will focus on the use of fairy-tales as alternative materials that can encourage learners in a variety of classroom activities: from drama to creative writing. Fairy-tales can also lend themselves to intercultural values comparisons. It is expected that this paper can offer insights to other language teachers who are in similar settings.

Keywords: fairy-tales, cultural values, language skills


As language teachers, one of the most frustrating tasks in EFL class is dealing with time constraint and resource materials. As teachers, we are always in search of the most suitable material to use in class which can teach students language skills as well as values under time constraint. The same problem also occurs in Petra Christian University (PCU), Surabaya. Language teachers in PCU teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP) to non-English Department students and language skills to English Department students. In the EAP class, the students focus on integrated language skills and study skills such as skimming. Meanwhile, the students in the English Department learn language skills as a separate subject. There are a lot of language skills teachers need to cover in each meeting. As a result, they will focus more on the language skills due to the time constraint. Moreover, language teachers have difficulties to find English textbooks which are not only interesting but also challenging enough to motivate the students to learn. Most of the times, the school authorities will make the decision about which books to be used. This decision will lead to a single reading textbook that contains repetitive activities. Thus, it can create a boring and monotonous classroom atmosphere which can discourage language learners to participate actively during the teaching-learning process. In order to make language learners engage actively in the learning process, teachers should provide a supportive environment in which students can learn language skills in a meaningful context. Giving students real-life situation in which the language is used will stimulate them to use their background knowledge to give comments, opinions, or possibly, suggestions. In other words, their critical thinking and participation will eventually increase. These goals can be achieved by teaching cultural values in the language classroom.

Language and culture are two inseparable subjects. Before going deeper into studying any topic, it is good to have a same perception about particular terms. Culture is ‘a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development’, or ‘a particular way of life, whether of a people, a period or a group’ or ‘the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity’ (Williams, cited in Storey, 1993: 2). From these definitions, it is obvious that language is one among other products of cultures.

Several justifications of integrating cultural values in the language teaching are elucidated as follow:

  • Studying culture gives learners a reason to study the target language as well as rendering the study of L2 meaningful (Stainer, 1971 cited in Kitao, 1991). As stated previously, language and culture are inseparable. If learners can have a deeper understanding of how the language works in the culture, they will be likely to understand certain culture. Language can give more description on how certain group thinks, for example, the use of various tenses in English indicates that English emphasizes the significance of time while the different use of Javanese (ngoko, krama madya, and krama inggil) signifies the social status (Mulyana, 2000: vi). To reiterate, studying culture can increase the bond among learners, language, and the culture.

  • From the perspective of learners, one of the major problems in language teaching is to conceive the native speakers of target language as real person. Although grammar books give so called genuine examples from real life, without adequate background knowledge those real situations may be considered fictive by the learners. In addition to providing access into cultural aspect of language, learning culture would help learners to relate the abstract sounds and forms of a language to real people and places (Chastain, 1971 cited in Kitao, 1991).

  • The effect of motivation in the study of L2 has been proved by experts like Gardner and Lambert (1959, 1965, 1972 cited in Genc and Bada, 2005). In achieving high motivation, culture classes does have a great role because learners like culturally based activities such as singing, dancing, role playing, doing research on countries and peoples, etc. The study of culture increases not only learners’ curiosity about and interest in target countries but also their motivation. For instance, when some professors introduced the cultures of the L2s they taught, the learners’ interests in those classes increased significantly and the classes based on culture became to be preferred more highly than traditional classes. In an age of post-modernism, in an age of tolerance towards different ideologies, religions, sub-cultures, we need to understand about not only other cultures but also our own culture. Most people espouse ethnocentric views due to being culture bound, which leads to major problems when they confront a different culture. Being culture bound, they just try to reject or ignore the new culture. As if it is possible to make a hierarchy of cultures they begin to talk about the supremacy of their culture. This is because they have difficulty understanding or accepting people with points of view based on other views of the world.

  • Studying culture also plays a useful role in general education because we can also learn about the geography or history of the target culture (Cooke, 1970 cited in Kitao, 1991).

According to Tomalin & Stempleski (1993 cited in Thanasoulas, 2001), the teaching of culture has the following goals:

  • To help students to have a deeper understanding of the fact that all people exhibit culturally-conditioned behaviors. Students are expected to become more aware of conventional behavior in common situations in the target culture. Each culture has different norms about what is appropriate or not, in which violation to these norms can result in misunderstanding and even worse, create conflicts. This cultural awareness will be useful when students are exposed to different kinds of people or cultures. In order to be able to adapt to new cultures, it is important for students to develop the necessary skills to locate and organize information about the target culture. They need to analyze these differences so that they are able to respond to the different cultures appropriately. Teaching of culture will, at least, give students some basic preparation to deal with this phenomenon.

  • To encourage students to develop an understanding that social variables such as age, sex, social class, and place of residence influence the ways in which people speak and behave. In other words, teaching culture will help them to highlight the importance of tolerance.

  • To provide students an initial help to increase their awareness of the cultural connotations of words and phrases in the target language. The use of words can carry implicit meanings which are open for many interpretations. The word ‘very’ in English apologizing ‘I’m very sorry’, for example, creates a formal atmosphere but not sincere whereas the word ‘really’ as in ‘I’m really sorry’ indicates sincerity (Cohen, 1990).

  • To stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity about the target culture. Knowing more about certain culture can help students to develop the ability to evaluate and refine generalizations about the target culture, in terms of supporting evidence. Certain behaviors in other culture can be totally different and sometimes, unacceptable in our own culture. Studying the background of these behaviors can eventually encourage empathy towards its people.

Fairy-tales as Alternative Materials

Fairy-tales are fictional stories that may feature folkloric characters (such as fairies, talking animals) and enchantments, often involving a far-fetched sequence of events (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_tale). Fairy tales are part of folklore and these are some of their main characteristics (www.readwritethink.org):

  • Fairy tales will usually begin with "Once upon a time...”

  • Fairy tales happen very long time ago.

  • Fairy tales create fantasy and make the readers believe in them unconsciously.

  • Fairy tales often describe extreme opposites such as good and evil characters or rich and poor family.

  • Royalty usually exists in a fairy tale, usually in the form of a beautiful princess or a handsome prince.

  • Magic is present in fairy tales, for example, there are dwarfs, giants, elves, talking animals, witches, or fairies.

  • Fairy tales have a problem that needs to be solved.

  • It often takes three tries to solve the problem.

  • Fairy tales have happy endings as indicated by their most repeatedly last sentence “they all lived happily ever after.”

  • Fairy tales usually teach certain lessons or have particular themes, most of the times, wisdom through suffering and the triumph of kindness over evil.

After looking at their main characteristics, these are several justifications of using fairy tales in teaching language skills and cultures:

  1. Fairy tales as part of folklore can be found everywhere in various forms (Danandjaja, 1984 and Greenia, 2007). Every culture has various kinds of fairy tales which provide a vast array of source for teaching material. In addition, most familiar tales have been reproduced or adapted and are widely available; thus, these have added their popularity.

  2. Fairy tales have universal values and plots which add familiarity to students (Danandjaja, 1984 and Hanlon, 1999). Although each culture has its particular fairy tales, it is fascinating to recognize that there are some resemblances among certain fairy tales in different societies. “Cinderella” in Germany and “Bawang Merah Bawang Putih” in Indonesia share similar themes of a girl who is being mistreated by her step-mother. Therefore, students can compare and contrast those cultures, events, or characteristics in these stories.

  3. Fairy tales are enjoyable but meaningful (Hanlon, 1999). They signify human experience, values, and history; hence they can provide both entertainment and opportunities for further discussion. They set as an excellent example of the multifaceted mixture of history and fantasy. Moreover, they can be analyzed in short essays as well as in some more complicated research. Because of their universal values, similar plots and values, most people find it easy to remember fairy tales.

  4. Fairy tales are short (Bagg, 1991). This advantage has added more opportunities to use fairy tales in language classroom since teachers do not have to be afraid of adjusting most of their lesson plans when using fairy tales. Alternatively, teachers can assign their students to read them at home before further discussion in the next meeting.

  5. Fairy tales are rich in terms of language yet less grammatically complex and syntactically speaking than many other forms of literature (Bagg, 1991). Their simplicity have made fairy tales consistent in style and form

However, although fairy tales own many advantages, there are some drawbacks of using them in language classrooms in which teachers have to be aware of.

  1. It is very possible for fairy tales to contain some grammatical mistakes, vernacular or unfamiliar words (which can lead to confusion) because they might come from unfamiliar cultures.

  2. Fairy tales are open for cultural interpretations that can make students have certain prejudice or stereotypes about particular cultures. Some students might think that certain culture or society is weird, nonrealistic, mystical or pagan which can lead to racism (Dundes, 1968).

  3. Some students might think that fairy tales are childish, nonrealistic, or irrelevant to the modern era (Hanlon, 1999). They might associate fairy tales with childhood stories; thus, assuming that the content should be interesting and entertaining only for children.

  4. As a part of folklore that is “orally transmitted” from generation to generation, many versions of fairy tales might be created (Danandjaja, 1984). It means that different variants might be mixed up in both teachers’ and students’ minds during the discussion. Therefore, it is suggested to make it clear about which variety is used in classrooms.

Integrating Fairy-tales in Language Classrooms

After considering both the advantages and disadvantages of fairy tales as teaching materials, it is the teachers who play important roles to make some proper modifications or adaptations before bringing them into classrooms. These are some possible activities to incorporate fairy tales in teaching.

  1. Activity 1

Subject : EAP

Teaching Point : Adjectives and Adverbs (Language Focus)

Skimming and scanning (Reading skills)

Group Discussion (Speaking skill)

EFL level : Pre-intermediate

Teaching method : Deductive and Inductive method

Material : Appendix 1 (Timun Mas)


  1. T asks Ss to sit in a group of 3.

  2. T shows a passage about ‘Timun Mas’ on transparencies and asks Ss to read in 5 minutes and take important notes on the information given (skimming and note-taking skills).

  3. T distributes the passage (one group gets one passage).

  4. T gives 1 question related to the passage to each group and the group has 1 minute to answer the question (scanning skill).

  5. T explains the theory of skimming, note-taking, and scanning skills.

  6. T explains the theory of adjectives and adverbs.

  7. T asks Ss to identify the adjectives and adverbs in the passage.

  8. In the same groups, Ss are asked to discuss about the role of parents in their children’s life for 15 minutes.

  9. Each group has to present the results of their discussion in front of the class and let their classmates ask questions or give comments on their ideas.

  10. T explains the roles of parents in different cultures.

  1. Activity 2

Subject : Reading 2

Teaching Point : Summarizing (Reading skill)

Creative Writing (Writing skill)

EFL level : Pre-Intermediate

Teaching method : Inductive method

Material : Appendix 2 (Cinderella)


  1. T asks Ss to read a passage about ‘Cinderella’ for 10 minutes.

  2. T asks Ss to make a summary of the passage.

  3. T discusses some guidelines of writing a good summary.

  4. Ss are asked to check their work whether they have produced a good summary based on the guidelines explained.

  5. T divides Ss into groups of 3.

  6. Each group is required to produce a different ending of ‘Cinderella’ on a transparency in 20 minutes.

  7. Each group has to present their work and give reasons why they choose such endings.

  8. T relates the discussion to the issue of gender equality.


To sum up, integrating cultural values in the language teaching is highly recommended due to its significances. Amidst the demand of teaching values and cultures under time constraints in language classrooms, fairy tales have the potential to become a rich resource for teaching both values and language skills. Two lesson plans have been provided and it is encouraged that teachers in similar problems can find them helpful for further adaptation in their own contexts.


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Cohen, A. (1990). Language Learning. Boston: Massachusetts: Heinle & Heinle


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Danandjaja, J. (2003). Folklor Amerika: Cermin Multikultural yang Manunggal.

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Dundes, A. (1968). Ways of Studying Folklore. In Tristram Coffin, III American

Folklore (ed.). Voice of America: 41-50.

Greenia, C (2007). A Folklore Approach to Teaching Spanish Exploratory Classes.

http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1984/3/84.03.04.x.html. (Last retrieved on November 20, 2007).

Genc, B. and Bada, E. (2005). Culture in Language Learning and Teaching. The Reading Matrix 5/1, pp.73-84.

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Tales, Fables, Ballads, and Other Short Works of Folklore http://www.ferrum.edu/applit/studyg/studygfolk.htm (Last retrieved on November 7, 2007).

Kitao, K. (1991). Teaching Culture in Foreign Language Instruction in the United States. http://elib.doshisha.ac.jp/cgi-bin/retrieve/sr_bookview.cgi/U_CHARSET.EUC-JP/BD00001685/Body/e05314.pdf (Last retrieved on November 5, 2008).

Mulyana, D. (2000). Mengapa dan Untuk Apa Kita Mempelajari Komunikasi Antar

Budaya? In Mulyana, D and Rakhmat, J. (eds.) Komunikasi Antar Budaya.

Bandung: PT Remaja Rosdakarya: v-xiii.

Storey, J. (1993). An Introductory Guide to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture.

Hertfordshire: John Storey.

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Appendix 1

Timun Mas

Long long time ago, there was a farmer couple. They were staying in a village near a forest. They lived happily. Unfortunately, they hadn’t had any children yet.

Every day they prayed to God for a child. One day a giant passed their home. He heard what they were praying. Then the giant gave them a cucumber seed.

"Plant this seed, then you’ll get a daughter,” said the giant. “Thank you, Giant,” said the couple. “But in one condition, in her 17-th birthday, you must give her to me,” said the Giant. The couple wanted a child so much that they agreed without thinking first.

Then the couple planted the cucumber seed. Each day they took care the growing plant so carefully. Months later, a golden cucumber grew from the plant. The cucumber was getting heavier and bigger each day. When it was ripe, they picked it. Carefully they cut out the cucumber and how surprised were they when they found a beautiful baby inside. They were so happy. They named the baby Timun Mas, or Golden Cucumber.

Years were passing by and Timun Mas had grown into a beautiful girl. Her parents were very proud of her. But their happiness turned to fear when her 17th birthday came. The giant returned to ask for their promise. He was going to take Timun Mas away.

The farmer tried to be calm. “Just a moment, please. Timun Mas is playing. My wife will call her,” he said. Then the farmer came to his daughter. “My child, take this,” as he was giving a little bag to Timun Mas. “This will help you from the giant. Now, run as fast as you can,” he ordered. So Timun Mas ran away.

The couple was very sad about her leaving. But they didn’t want the giant to eat Timun Mas. Meanwhile, the giant had been waiting for too long. He became impatient. Somehow he knew that the couple had lied to him. So he destroyed their house and ran for Timun Mas.

The giant was chasing Timun Mas and he was getting closer and closer. Timun Mas then took a handful of salt from her little bag. She spread out the salt behind her. Suddenly a wide sea appeared between them. The giant had to swim to reach her.

Timun Mas was still running, but now the giant almost caught her. Then she took some chilly and threw them to the giant. The chilly suddenly grew into some trees and trapped the giant. The trees grew some thorns as sharp as a knife. The giant screamed painfully. At the mean time, Timun Mas could escape again.

But the giant was very strong. Again he almost caught Timun Mas. So Timun Mas took the third magic stuff, the cucumber seeds. She threw the seeds and suddenly they became a wide cucumber field. The giant was very tired and hungry so he ate those fresh cucumbers. He ate too much that he felt sleepy and fell asleep soon.

Timun Mas kept on running as fast as she could. But soon she was very tired herself. To make things worse, the giant had woken up! Timun Mas was so scared. Desperately she then threw her last weapon, terasi (a kind of shrimp pasta). It did a miracle again. The pasta became a big swamp. The giant fell into it but his hands almost reached Timun Mas. Suddenly the lake pulled him to the bottom. The giant panicked and he couldn’t breathe. At last he was drown.

Timun Mas was very relieved. She was safe now. Then she returned to her parents’ house. Her parents were of course very happy to see their daughter safe and sound. “Thanks God. You have saved my daughter,” they cried happily. From then on, Timun Mas lived happily with her parents with no fear anymore.
Appendix 2


Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl called Cinderella and she had two ugly step sisters who were very unkind who made her do all the hard work. She had to sweep the floors, do all the dishes, while they dressed up in fine clothes and went to lots of parties.

One day a special invitation arrived at Cinderella's house. It was from the royal palace. The king's only son was a truly handsome prince was going to have a grand ball. Three girls were invited to come. Cinderella knew she wouldn't be allowed to go to the ball. But the ugly sisters, ho ho ho, they were excited. They couldn't talk about anything else.

When the day of the ball came, they made such a fuss. Poor Cinderella had to rush about upstairs and downstairs. She fixed their hair in fancy waves and curls. She helped them put on their expensive new dresses. And she arranged their jewels just so. As soon as they had gone, Cinderella sat down by the fire and she said. "Oh I do wish I could go to the ball". The next moment, standing beside her was a lovely old lady with a silver wand in here hand. "Cinderella, she said " I am your fairy godmother and you shall go to the ball. But first you must go into the garden and pick a golden pumpkin, then bring me six mice from the mousetraps, a whiskered rat from the rat trap, and six lizards. You'll find the lizards behind the watering can.

So Cinderella fetched a golden pumpkin, six grey mice, a whiskered rate, six lizards. The fairy godmother touched them with her wand and the pumpkin became a golden coach, the mice became six grey horses, the rat became a coachman with the most enormous moustache, and the lizards became six footmen dressed in green and yellow, then the fairy godmother touched Cinderella with the wand and her old dress became a golden dress sparkling with jewels while on her feet was the prettiest pair of glass slippers ever seen. Remember said the fairy godmother you must leave the ball before the clock strikes twelve because at midnight the magic ends. "Thank you fairy godmother" said Cinderella and she climbed into the coach.

When Cinderella arrived at the ball she looked so beautiful that everyone wondered who she was! Even the ugly sisters. The Prince of course asked her to dance with him and they danced all evening. He would not dance with anyone else. Now Cinderella was enjoying the ball so much that she forgot her fairy godmothers warning until it was almost midnight and the clock began to strike. One. Two. Three. She hurried out of the ballroom. Four. Five. Six. As she ran down the palace steps one of her glass slippers fell off. Seven. Eight. Nine. She ran on toward the golden coach. Ten Eleven Twelve. Then there was Cinderella in her old dress. The golden pumpkin lay in her feet. And scampering down off down the road were six grey mice, a whiskered rat and six green lizards.. So Cinderella had to walk home and by the time the ugly sisters returned home was sitting quietly by the fire.

Now when Cinderella ran from the palace, the prince tried to follow her and he found the glass slipper. He said, "I shall marry the beautiful girl whose foot fits this slipper and only her. IN the morning the prince went from house to house with the glass slipper and every young lady tried to squeeze her foot into it. But it didn't' fit any of them.

At last the prince came to Cinderella's house. First one ugly sister tried to squash her foot into the slipper. But her foot was too wide and fat. Then the other ugly sister tried but her foot was too long and thin. Please said Cinderella, let me try. "The slipper won't fit you", said the ugly sisters. "You didn't go to the ball!" But Cinderella slipped her foot into the glass slipper and it fit perfectly. The next moment standing beside her was the fairy godmother. She touched Cinderella with the wand and there she was in a golden dress sparkling with jewels and on her feet was the prettiest pair of glass slippers ever seen. The ugly sisters were so surprised that, for once they couldn't think of anything to say. But the Prince knew what to say. He asked Cinderella to marry him.

And then there was a happy wedding. Everyone who had gone to the ball was invited, even the ugly sisters. There was wonderful food, lots of music and dancing. And the Prince of course danced every dance with Cinderella. He would not dance with anyone else.

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