Promoting Critical Literacy with The Ugly Duckling
The Ugly Duckling Fairy Tale: Wisdom and Hidden Assumption
Fairy tales and classic children's stories are an excellent place to begin exploring critical literacy. Some of these stories are, on close inspection, high in both stereotypes and violence. Others are a wellspring of timeless wisdom... and simultaneously a source of subtle assumption.
One of my all-time favorite fairy tales is "The Ugly Duckling", the story of a scorned and laughed at duckling who eventually comes to realize he is a swan. Think of the lessons the story teaches: There is value in perseverance and in simple goodness. Someday bullying will end, and a little duck -- or child -- will find their place, their niche, their beauty. Not bad for a quick little read-aloud!
But even "The Ugly Ducking" has waters that are best not swum alone. Points to ponder: Are goodness and beauty related? Can you recognize one by the other? And does one have to sprout a long, graceful neck by the last page (or is it enough to have inner beauty)?
On this page, I will introduce you to some resources for exploring these and other themes from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling". This short book is the basis of many lesson plans!
Beautiful or Beautifully? - Discussions and Mini-Lessons Prompted by The Ugly Duckling
'Beautiful' is an adjective; 'beautifully' is an adverb. It's a point of grammar, and also an exploration in values, one that might call to mind the old saying, "Pretty is as pretty does." What's the difference between being beautiful and doing something beautifully? Which of those things is more important -- and in what contexts? This is a complex discussion and one that has meaning across age groups.
You can prompt your child to give real-world or literary examples to support his or her assertion. Substantiating opinions with concrete examples is a skill well worth developing -- if your child begins practicing that skill now, those writing courses will not seem so daunting when s/he's older.
And do find time for a bit of in-context grammar! Adverbs modify verbs. Brainstorm things that can be done beautifully.
The Ugly Duckling: Multimedia Teaching Ideas
Create Your Own Multimedia Project
How about having your students create a video/musical slideshow of drawing or photos that illustrate the concept of beauty? One option -- probably the simplest for young children -- would be to use the online video creation tool Photopeach. When using Photopeach, you can select songs from the YouTube library. Another wonderful online video creation program is Animoto. They give you the option of using their online library of music or uploading your own voice.
Children can also explore the concept of beauty through the online poster creation tool Glogster.
Comparing Multiple Versions of the Story
Comparing multiple versions of a story, written by different authors, is a Common Core standard at second grade level. You'll have no problem finding multiple versions of "The Ugly Duckling". There are plenty out there. After all, public domain stories are ours to modify as well as enjoy!
Many retellings make the story more gentle. Some alter characterization as well.
Sometimes the differences are subtle. These invite exploration of "voice" (a writing trait).
The writing lesson can be extended. Perhaps your child would like to create a version of his or her own?
This is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the classic story. The author has created charming facial expressions as well as general realism. You'll see a silver colored Caldecott medal on the cover.
Not fond of doing read-alouds? Here is that old classic, read in a famous storytelling voice.
Now here is Danny Kaye with a lighter version of the tale, set to music.
The retelling below does take some liberties with the plot. This ugly duckling in this version doesn't have to grow up to be beautiful as he's the best swimmer of all the ducklings. It may not be Hans Christian Andersen, but it's a sweet version for young children -- as well as another interesting exercise in comparing and contrasting (very) different versions of a story. This version, unlike the original, emphasizes that worth is not based on physical beauty.
- The Ugly Duckling (on Meegenius)
Audio and text allows children to read along online. The words are highlighted as they're pronounced. You can personalize the story with the name of the child, mother etc.
Another Retelling - Growing into a Beautiful Black Swan
In this retelling by Rachel Isadora, the ugly duckling, as usual, grows into a beautiful swan -- but he becomes a black one, not the traditional white one. (This is another message to consider: What symbols might children internalize from 'innocuous' fairy tales?)
The illustrations here show animals and children from Africa.
"The Ugly Duckling" has been described as an autobiographical work. After reading short biographies of the author -- and perhaps viewing the musical -- children can consider what might have made Andersen view himself in this light. They can also consider what is different about the two tales. (Was Andersen ever known for physical beauty?)
Children can also consider other real-life figures who might have seen themselves as ugly ducklings and what they themselves did to alter their fate.
Text to Text Connection
Andersen was not the only author who saw himself in this light. Louisa May Alcott, too, cast herself as an ugly duckling. Despite the title, The Lay of a Golden Goose seems to draw more from the Hans Christian Andersen classic than it does from "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg". The fairy tale and poem could make for an interesting paired reading. "The Lay of a Golden Goose" is a poem with fairy tale elements, but one that is based on the writer's own life. How did her life parallel that of the awkward baby swan?
Children may enjoy finding other metaphorical "ugly ducklings" in literature. Different age groups will recognize different literary figures. Anne of Green Gables is a well-known character who might be considered to fit the mold.
Music, too, draws from the archetype. Janis Ian reflects on the choices made by "ugly duckling girls" who, at seventeen, yearn to be popular, and spend their time pretending they are:
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me."
There are many celebrities who once saw themselves as ugly ducklings.
Ducks and Swans - Writing Prompt
An "ugly duckling" inspired picture prompt: Challenge your child to tell about the setting, characters -- and what it is these swans and ducks are doing.
Make Your Own Storytelling Props: Swan Origami
Good with paper? If so, you can use these patterns to create props that children can use to retell the story -- and also use to build reading or listening comprehension skills.
Teaching Resources for The Ugly Duckling
Lesson plans for The Ugly Duckling abound: You can find materials for multiple age groups as well as for different subject areas (reading, writing, drama).
- Read The Ugly Duckling Online
This is the original by Hans Christian Andersen, also available to read for free online. (How about comparing and contrasting versions?)
- The Ugly Duckling Story | Speakaboos Videos
Enjoy the online storybook from Speakaboos. Coming soon: the opportunity to record your own version!
- Folk and Fairy Tale Readers: The Ugly Duckling | Product Detail | Scholastic Mini-Books
You can create an Ugly Duckling mini-book to read -- this activity is from Scholastic.
- The Ugly Duckling Fairy Tale Online Story | Preschool Lesson Plan Printable Activities
Here are preschool activities and printables for The Ugly Duckling -- from First School.
- English worksheets: The Ugly Duckling - Retell the Story
Use this printable activity sheet for retelling The Ugly Duckling in an ESL setting.
- Hans Christian Andersen | The Story Home Children's Audio Stories
Visit Story Home to listen to tales by Hans Christian Andersen.