Fairy Tales Interrupted

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A Project For Progressive/Continuous Tenses

What was Rapunzel doing when Prince Charming arrived at her tower? What was Red Riding Hood’s grandmother doing when the wolf came in and ate here? What was Snow White doing when her stepmother arrived disguised as an old lady? What was the baker doing when his gingerbread man came to life? What was the first little pig doing in his straw house when the wolf began to huff and puff?

For this project, teams of students will first conjure a backstory to a fairy tale character and lay out a scene, then investigate the scenes that other teams have put together. To express longer actions or ongoing activities that were interrupted by a shorter action, student will use progressive or continuous tenses.

Construct a Scene

First, each group should decide upon a fairy tale, folk tale, myth, or legend that they are familiar with. They’re more than welcome to use one that’s prevalent in their culture they grew up with. If they choose one the whole class isn’t familiar with, they should be prepared to summarize it for everyone else. They should then choose a particular moment when one character’s more-or-less ordinary life gets interrupted.

Next, each team should fill-in a few details of the featured character’s backstory. What was going on in their lives (continuous) at the time? What were some of the hobbies or responsibilities they had (these work best if they are ongoing but do have a foreseeable end, such as a scrapbooking project). Additionally, what were they actively engaged in (progressive) at the very moment of the interruption?

Before you try this with your class, you may want to check out this video on how to teach the progress/continuous aspect on its own and how to apply it to any tense.

For example, let’s say that the baker was experimenting (continuous) with new gingerbread recipes, and at the time one of his little baked men came to life and ran away, the baker was watching (progressive) a basketball game on TV. For the difference between continuous and progressive tenses, check out the video above. Teams should have one or two of each.

Finally, teams need to construct the scene. The idea is that we get to see what the place looked like in the aftermath of this interruption. For my example, the scene might look like this:

The oven door is open, and a baking pan has fallen to the floor. There are bags of flour, sugar, and spices on the countertops, and the sink has unwashed bowls, measuring spoons, and a spatula. There are also papers of notes with ingredients and instructions on the kitchen table. A cat is licking some of the sugar dusted across the countertop.

In the living room, there are a stack of magazines piled neatly on the coffee table. The TV is on and shows the results of a recently-finished basketball game, and the remote is resting on a couch cushion. A grandfather clock ticks quietly in the corner.

You can see that there is evidence of the interrupting event as well as evidence of the baker’s continuous and progressive activities. I’ve also thrown in a few distractors. Your students will need to think of evidence for the verbs they have in mind without directly revealing what the featured character was up to at the time.

The scene can be written out, but if your students have skills in visual arts, they could draw it instead (or make a collage, for instance).


The Investigation

On a later day, student return to this project as monster hunters (or, at least, bounty-hunters searching for trouble-makers). Each group should trade scenes with another group. Before anyone sees the aftermath of the incident, make sure that everyone in the group is at least broadly familiar with the fairy tale. After each group sees or reads the scene, they should discuss it with each other and determine:

  1. What the incident was (the ‘interruption’)? (Both the evidence and the students’ knowledge of the story should come into play here). This should be expressed in the past simple tense.

  2. What is/was going on in the featured character’s life? This could be expressed either in the past continuous tense or the present continuous tense, assuming the featured character will come back.

  3. What was the featured character actively doing before they were interrupted? This should be expressed in the past progressive tense.

If you’d like to challenge your students further, get them to consider using perfect-continuous or perfect-progressive tenses.

Once a group of monster hunters thinks they have everything figured out, they should confirm with the group that wrote/drew the scene. Switch up which groups are paired with each other so they all can investigate another scene!


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For more on Progressive/Continuous Tenses, check out our Indirect Speech Series. Tenses tend to be taught only as combinations of their various aspects, which means there are six progressive/continuous tenses to consider (past, present, and future; perfect or not for each). But if students understand the progressive/continuous aspect on its own, they can apply it to any combination. Watch our short video to learn more. You can even go beyond the video with printouts, slideshows, and grammar guides, all designed to help teachers better reach their students!