"Jack and the Beanstalk" is a classic tale that is useful for teaching many lessons beyond the literary elements of fairy tales. A tale of life and adventure, the lessons a teacher could create from this story are endless and can bridge all subject areas. "Jack and the Beanstalk" can be used for science, social studies, math, reading, writing, art and even economics.
Reading "Jack and the Beanstalk" is one way to teach elements of a story for all ages. In most states, knowing the elements of a story is a requirement of reading for most grade levels through middle school. "Jack and the Beanstalk" could be used through for those age groups. Use this story to teach fairy tales, character elements or compare Jack to other fairy tale heroes. Another activity is to retell the story through drama or with puppets, allowing the students to be the characters.
In grade levels where plants are part of the teaching requirements, "Jack and the Beanstalk" could be used to get students interested in growing things. Classes could discuss the various types of beans and how they are similar and different, then work to grow and analyse each type of bean. An option for older students is to compare the growth of beans in different growing environments. Try growing the beans in sunlight versus darkness, in water versus soil, in a greenhouse versus outside or in warm versus cool temperatures.
Social Studies Activities
"Jack and the Beanstalk" was written in a time very different from what today's children are familiar with. Study the historical aspects of the story and the time period when it was written. Discuss the gender roles the characters had as well as the work ethic of Jack, who was only a child in the story. "Jack and the Beanstalk" was written as an English story, so the fairy tale could also be part of a unit on England. Teach elements of a trial to older students by putting Jack on trial and having all the characters act as witnesses with students taking on roles such as lawyers, judge and jury. Jack also barters in the story, so consider teaching this economics skill to the class.
Use "Jack and the Beanstalk" to teach various math goals such as having students estimate how many of Jack's "magic beans" are in a jar. After planting beans for science, students can estimate the growth of the bean over a time period. Younger students could list each item in the story, such as the beans and hens and count how many are found in the story. For a wide range of grade levels, "Jack and the Beanstalk" could be used to explore geometry by building a castle like the giant's and exploring the 3-D shapes of the castle as well as the dimensions.
Reading fairy tales such as "Jack and the Beanstalk" could be used to begin a writing unit where students write their own fairy tales. For this activity, be sure to teach the writing process along with the assignment. The story also includes a poem ("Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum") which students could read, study and write their own poems. Use "Jack and the Beanstalk" for various writing prompts or journal entries answering questions such as what Jack could have done instead of cutting down the beanstalk, what you think Jack did with the giant, whether Jack was right or wrong for stealing and who is the best character and why.