Folk and fairy tales are in our state’s standards up to 7th grade, and Rapunzel is an ideal fairy tale for use with older students. Preschool teacher Margaret Elkins says she uses it with the younger ones, too, by focusing on the theme of love. The husband loved his wife enough to promise anything for the vegetable she craved. The witch loved Rapunzel so much she put her in the tower to keep her for herself. Rapunzel loved the prince so much that her tears cured his blindness. Try out the Grimm brothers’ version, or try out this retelling by J.M Kearns.
In the story, a pregnant woman is desperate for the taste of rapunzel, a root vegetable. Her husband steals some from a witch’s garden, and when he is caught, he has to give the baby to the witch. The witch names the baby Rapunzel and shuts her up in a tower. The witch goes to Rapunzel every day and says “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, that I may climb the golden stair,” whereupon Rapunzel throws down her hair and the witch climbs up it. A prince hears Rapunzel singing, falls in love with her, and overhears the bizarre hair ritual. He does the same thing the witch does, climbs up to Rapunzel, and they make a plan to get Rapunzel out of the tower. Through Rapunzel’s foolishness (or, in some versions, because she becomes pregnant), the witch finds out. She cuts off Rapunzel’s hair, sends Rapunzel into the wilderness, and hangs the hair out the window. When the prince next climbs up, he finds the witch. Either he jumps from the tower in horror, or she cuts the hair he’s climbing on so that the prince falls. Either way, he lands in a thicket of thorns and is blinded. He wanders around, and is eventually found by Rapunzel, whose tears fall onto his eyes and cure him of blindness. They live happily ever after.
Whew! There is just no way to tell this story simply. Have students draw this story as a comic strip, make a timeline showing all the events, or retell it in separate episodes.
Here are some picture books:
- Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinksy
- Rapunzel, the classic Grimms tale
- Rapunzel, by Rachel Isadora
- Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel
- Petrosinella: A Neopolitan Rapunzel
Use a Venn Diagram to compare different versions of the story.
Once the story is clear in the kids’ minds, check out these activities for retelling and assessment:
- School Express has done a version for the Pocket Chart , including a quiz.
- Rapunzel’s Rap is a reader’s theater with “Queen Beetifah” as the narrator and a number of characters, including some bees who provide the rhythm.
- Print out this brief comprehension quiz to make sure the kids have the gist of the story.
Ready for curriculum connections?
- Mackie Rhodes made this interesting suggestion in Instructor magazine: use the story of Rapunzel to practice conjunctions. Since Rapunzel’s hair was her connection to the outer world, Rhodes braided a skein of yellow yarn to make a long, long braid. Give one end to one student, who makes a starting clause such as “The witch locked Rapunzel in a tower.” The first student throws the other end of the yarn to another student, who has to supply a conjunction and a second clause, such as “…so she would be safe from the outside world.” The second student then takes the braid, produces a first clause, and throws the braid to another student, and so on. This lets you check comprehension, too.
- “The husband loved his wife enough to promise anything for the vegetable she craved. The witch loved Rapunzel so much she put her in the tower to keep her for herself. Rapunzel loved the prince so much that her tears cured his blindness.” Use these and similar sentences to practice the “enough to” and “so much that” sentence patterns in your ESL class.
- Check out this comparison of the 1812 and 1857 versions of the story. Use the chart to discuss the revision process. If you have used a later retelling of the story in the class, continue the chart.
- Rapunzel has a bit of a poem in it: some variant of “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, that I may climb the golden stair” is in almost every telling of this tale. Challenge students to make a new verse in modern language.
- Rapunzel, unlike some fairytale heroines, is involved in planning and working toward her own escape. On the other hand, in many tellings of the story the witch catches on to the plan because Rapunzel foolishly blurts it out to her. Have a class vote on which fairy tale heroine is the most foolish and which is the most resourceful, including Rapunzel and any other fairytale heroines you’ve studied.
- The prince in this story falls in love with Rapunzel just from the sound of her voice. Challenge students to write some advice to this prince about choosing a wife.
- Such a dramatic story deserves to be done as a play.
- The vegetable that is so important in this story is rapunzel, or rampion, a root vegetable like a turnip or a radish. What a good chance to study about vegetables! Vegetables are those kinds of plants that have an edible part that is not the fruit. Wayne’s World has a lot root vegetables, with photos. Have students list all the vegetables they can think of. Use Venn diagrams to sort those vegetables according to what part or parts are eaten: the leaves, the flower, the root, the stems, etc. Our vegetables lesson plan has video and printables, too. Try out this activity on plant parts as an assessment.
- Rapunzel’s hair must have had amazing tensile strength. Cut strips of different materials such as paper, plastic, or string. Hold each strip in a clamp and tie a weight to the other end of the strip. Continue trying with different weights until the strip breaks. Chart the tensile strength (how much weight it can hold) of the different materials.
- Beyond tensile strength, the question about Rapunzel’s hair has to be “Didn’t it hurt?” In fact, if the hair didn’t break, it’s hard to see why it didn’t tear out of Rapunzel’s head or break her neck. Some illustrations show Rapunzel holding her hair or wrapping it around a hook or other object. If the kids in your class are familiar with the TV show “Mythbusters,” recreate the Mythbusters approach with this question: “Could the prince and the witch have climbed up Rapunzel’s hair every day without harming her?” If the students don’t know about “Mythbusters,” help them set up the experiment anyway. One way to do this would be to add some unbreakable materials to the clamp and weight experiment above. With these, note when the materials slip out of the clamp, or out of the hands of the person holding the clamp. Then recreate the experiment, this time wrapping the material around a stationary object after it leaves the clamp. Compare the results.
- The Children’s Theater has an intriguing lesson about position and motion of objects, with reference to people climbing Rapunzel’s hair. This is a PDF file.
- One reason that the poem part of fairytales may persist in retellings is that it is easier to remember things that rhyme. Design an experiment to test this hypothesis. Options might be having the students retell the story to younger children and checking back the following week to see what parts they remembered, or using rhyme to create mnemonic devices for learning something that is hard to remember (states and capitals? periodic table of elements?). Have students present their results and score them on the quality of their experimental design. If possible, get together as a class to report the results of all the experiments.
- If you were planning to talk about head lice or the human reproductive system, Rapunzel could provide a good lead-in.
- The story of Rapunzel, like many other fairy tales, is full of cruelty and violence. Many modern versions of fairy tales leave out the cruelty and violence. Challenge students to decide whether this is right. Some of the points that might arise in discussion might be how this compares with violent video games or movies, whether kids can distinguish between fantasy and reality, and whether there is a purpose served by having these things in the story.
- Have students retell the story as a police report listing all the crimes committed in the story.
- This story also has some odd points and discrepancies. Encourage critical reading by asking children to find as many questionable points as they can. Here are some that occur to me: How did Rapunzel get up into the tower in the first place, since there was no door? Why didn’t she refuse to let the witch climb up her hair?
- Many illustrations of Rapunzel are examples of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting and illustration. Pre-Raphaelite painters liked very romantic and sometimes very sad subjects, and their pictures were known for their wealth of detail. They often used mythological themes, and they were very big on long hair, so it is no surprise that so many of them drew or painted Rapunzel. Khan Academy has information about this group of artists. Others have also done Rapunzel, though, including Rodman Miller who did a neon Rapunzel on Seattle’s Fremont Bridge. Have students compare the images of Rapunzel using as many characteristics as they can. Then have them paint their own images.
- Rapunzel was shut up in a tall tower with no doors. Most pictures of the story show a square or a circular tower. Challenge students to build towers of different shapes, with windows but no doors. Use poster board, or try SketchUp. Make this a math lesson, too, by using this tower building plan.
- Make paper bag puppets of Rapunzel with long yarn hair. Practice braiding for dexterity.
- The Prince fell in love with Rapunzel when he heard her singing. Listen to recordings of various singers and have students decide which one sounds the way they imagine Rapunzel must have sounded.
- Lou Harrison wrote an opera version of Rapunzel. Listen to the piece, or parts of it, and discuss how music can be used to express emotion.
- Walt Disney has an animated film version of “Rapunzel” called Tangled. Listen to the music on the trailer and identify the genres represented. Students should easily name the genres, so challenge them to list the characteristics that let them do so. Another great chance to use a Venn Diagram.
- If you study Rapunzel, you just have to think about measuring her hair. It was 20 ells long, or about 900 inches, roughly 75 feet. Given that information, have students calculate how long an ell was. An ell, an archaic measurement, is the length of an arm from the shoulder to the wrist. Have students measure each other to see how long their personal ells are. If they use their own measurements, how long would Rapunzel’s hair be?
- Rapunzel was shut up in the tower when she was 12 years old. If her hair was 20 ells long by then, how fast had it grown? Challenge students to express this in inches per year, miles per hour, and as many other ways as they can think of. Their answers would make a cool bulletin board display.
- Knowing the approximate length of Rapunzel’s hair, and knowing that the distance from her window in the tower must not have been much greater than the length of her hair, challenge students to draw or build a scale model of the tower. Make a good technology lesson out of this by using AutoCAD Freestyle, a very easy, intuitive CAD program that lets kids practice a broad range of essential computer skills along with math and art.
- The physics experiments up in the science section have to do with weight. Practice the accurate measurement of weight when you do them.
- Girls who lived in towers in the Middle Ages (fairy tale times) often were sent away from home without their consent. A marriage was an arrangement between families, and a daughter was just part of the family wealth. No wonder fairy tale daughters were so often given to beasts or witches or put into towers for safekeeping. “Rapunzel” is a great way to push off a study of women’s position in Medieval and Renaissance society.
- On the other hand, blogger Scott Tyler says,
Feminists often criticize fairy tales such as Cinderella for being chauvinistic, or anti-feminist. But let’s look a little closer at these fairy tales. Who are the protagonists in Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, and all the most popular fairy tales? That’s right: girls or young women. Who are the villains in these stories? Witches, wicked stepmothers, evil queens- also women. But, feminists say, what about the Prince? Oh yes, the Prince- who always comes at the end of the fairy tale, and is called- oh, what’s his name? ‘Prince Charming’? Is that a name? And we know nothing about him except that he’s invariably handsome and always wants to marry the young woman. In other words, a young woman’s dream suitor… What feminists don’t want to admit is that fairy tales- including Cinderella- are tales told and treasured by generations of girls and women- and probably invented by women, as well. They express the dreams- and sometimes nightmares- of the female sex. What young boy dreams of becoming a prince? What young girl doesn’t dream of becoming a princess?
Have middle school and high school students read all of Scott’s brief essay (click his name for the link) and write their own response to his suggestion that fairy tales are all about women.
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