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From the Brothers Grimm:
A Teacher's Guide

THE GUIDE TO FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM. A 48 page language arts guide on folktales and folklore with lesson plans for four grade levels (grade 2-3,4-6,7-9, and 10-12)


Folktales evolved as family and community stories-narratives. Perhaps because of these communal origins, folktales by their very nature appeal to audiences of all ages.
In addition, the tales are adaptable to more than one curriculum area. Because the stories were transmitted orally, they have strong skeletons in terms of their literary structure, and are thus apt subjects for a language arts curriculum. They also deal in an unusually compact and meaningful way with "life issues," or critical life stages, and therefore lend themselves to discussions in the context of a social studies curriculum.
These factors help explain why the stories can be used for teaching at a number of grade levels. While a second-grade teacher might use "The Frog King" to help students learn what "point of view" is, the teacher of a twelfth-grade literature class could use the same program to explore how acknowledging other people's points of view contributes to growth and development.

The stories and films in this series serve two purposes, then. They bring young audiences into contact with classic folktales-part of our universal heritage-and show the relevance of the tales. The series also provides a way for students to examine essential elements of critical thinking and literature.

Bearskin, or The Man Who Didn’t Wash For Seven Years.
Grades 4-6
Grades 7-9
Grades 9-12

"Bearskin" is a story about endurance, force of character in adversity, and spiritual transformation through suffering. It is set after the end of the Civil War.
After making a bargain with the devil, a young man has unending riches-but he must not wash himself or cut his hair for seven years, on pain of losing his soul. He must also wear a bear's skin. At first the young man (Bearskin) lives without care, thinking that his ordeal will be easy. But as the years drag on, his appearance worsens and his life becomes more and more difficult. Just when Bearskin is about to give up, he learns about the importance of giving. His new-found endurance and generosity enable him to defeat the devil and win the hand of a kind and beautiful young woman.
This story could not take place if the soldier was not willing to take a risk. Because he is young and self-confident, he thinks passing his seven-year trial will be easy. Only after several years have passed and he is isolated from other people does he realize what he committed himself to. Just then, when he is ready to die, his problem is suddenly solved. His heart opens to the suffering of another. This gives him the strength to get through the last years of the trial, as he waits to rejoin his bride.
In a way, then, Bearskin's deal with the devil is like the risks we all take when we are too young to know any better. Ultimately, those risks are necessary. They deepen our characters, and help us develop new strengths to survive the challenges we take on.
Some of the tale's symbols come from our common "mythology" the Judeo-Christian tradition. For students who are not familiar with that tradition, these images (the ring in the glass of wine, for example, or the way the devil can be identified by his cloven hoof) can be a valuable education in themselves.
The devil’s attitute at the end of the story could be interpreted as one of "sour grapes" because the two "bad" sisters are so unpleasant we know that he would have gotten them anyway. We almost feel sorry for him, because he has helped the hero immensely. If there had been no devil and no deal, Bearksin would not attain the level of redemption and self-knowledge he does.

SUBJECT OF THE LESSON: The Use of Visual Symbols in Literature
This lesson is intended to help students know how symbols are used to indicate that a main character in a story is changing.
Explain that, in the film or story, certain symbols show how Bearskin, the main character, changes during the course of the story. Ask the students to watch for these symbols which indicate change.
o What did you like about the film? What did you dislike? What did you think about the deal Bearskin made?
o How did Bearskin start out? How did he end up?
o What happened in between?
o What symbols were used to indicate how he changed from the beginning to the end of the story?
o Assign a short essay in which students discuss when they liked the main character best (at the beginning as the soldier, in the middle as Bearskin, or at the end of the story as the handsome young man), and why.
o Show the class pictures from magazines or newspapers which show how people's clothing makes others feel good or bad about them. In a group discussion, help students explore whether "clothes make the man" (or woman).
o Ask students to identify symbols that are used in school to indicate whether something is good or bad.

SUBJECT OF THE LESSON: The Use of Visual Symbols in Literature
This lesson is intended to help students understand how symbols can be used to indicate the way a character sees a situation or the world.
Explain to the class that, in the story or film they are about to read or see, certain symbols indicate how Bearskin, the main character, sees the bargain with the devil. Ask the students to watch for these symbols and remember them.
o What did you like about the film? What did you dislike? Why?
o Bearskin's looks changed a great deal during the story. How did the changes in his looks cause a change in the way he viewed his situation and the world?
o What other parts of the story or events were used to indicate that Bearskin's point of view was changing or had changed? (Examples: his being forced to sleep in the barn, or his generosity toward the old man.)
o The youngest daughter wore a black dress after she and Bearskin pledged themselves to each other. What did this indicate about her attitude toward Bearskin and their relationship?'
o Ask students whether they would have made the deal Bearskin did. Then have them imagine that they have made the same deal-that they must go without washing and wear a bear's skin for seven years. Hold a discussion on how this would affect them.
o Lead students back to a time when they were ill, broke a bone, had to start wearing glasses or braces, etc. Assign a brief essay on how these events changed the way they saw themselves and the world.
o Have each student select a book (examples: The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage) and write an essay on how symbols show a character's view of a situation or the world.

SUBJECT OF THE LESSON: The Use of Visual Symbols in Literature
This lesson is intended to help students explore the symbols in the story with respect to development toward adulthood.
Introduce the story of "Bearskin" as one in which symbols suggest a changed approach to life, especially with regard to long-term agreements. Ask the students to think about the change in Bearskin's approach to promises with respect to their own lives.
o What did you like most about the film? What did you dislike? Why?
o How did Bearskin's initial behavior after making the contract with the devil indicate a particular way of viewing the bargain?
o A ring (especially an engagement or wedding ring) usually signifies an eternal commitment. How did Bearskin's leaving the broken half of the ring with the youngest daughter symbolize a more mature approach toward long-term agreements?
o If Bearskin had been able to win the bargain with the devil in seven days instead of seven years, would his victory have meant the same thing to him? Why or why not?
o Ask students to decide what the terms of the devil's bargain would have had to be for them to agree to it. Have each student create his or her own terms for such a bargain and try to convince a classmate to go along.
o Help students identify some long-term commitments they have already made themselves, and symbols that show those commitments.
o As a class project, have the students make a collage of symbols showing issues about which they feel strongly enough to make a long-term commitment in the future. (Some examples: civic issues, a college education, marriage.)