and Books

Classroom Ideas










Classroom Ideas for Using
Mary's Recordings and Book

Here are ideas for using Mary’s stories from her recordings and book in your classroom. They are divided into three sections:

Ideas for Any Recording
Ideas for Specific CDs
Ideas for Individual Stories

Teachers, if you develop a new classroom use for one of my recordings, send me your idea. I'll post it, credit you for the idea, and send you a FREE CD.

Ideas for Any Recording

Pleasure - Just play a story and listen for the sheer pleasure of the story.

Imagination - When listening to a recording, your students will also be exercising their imaginations because they create the visuals. To heighten student awareness of their specific imaginative powers, listen to a story. Then ask students to describe (either through writing or drawing) a character or a place from the story using specific details.

Match students who chose the same character or same place. When your students compare descriptions, they will begin to understand that everyone heard the same story, yet each listener imagined different visual details. The storytelling art depends on both tellers and listeners using their imaginations to create visual imagery.

Storyteller's Tools - The tools of a teller face-to-face with an audience include voice (dynamics, pitch, pacing, inflection, tone, sound effects), body language (movement, stance, gesture), facial expression, words, and audience feedback (used by the teller as a guide to changes in pacing, vocal dynamics, and word choice to suit the specific audience). The audience looks at and listens to the storyteller to comprehend the story.

When I tell stories on a recording, all visual information vanishes. The listeners cannot see me, and I cannot see them. Because the tools change, the telling must change. Listen to a story on a recording. Ask students to imagine the gestures, facial expressions, changes in stance, and movement a teller could use when telling the same story face-to-face. Can your students identify any passages that could be worded differently because the teller could visually convey information that must be conveyed only through sound and word choice on a recording?

Story Listening and Primary Students - Penny Terry, a Primary K-1 teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary in Bullitt County, KY, plays age appropriate stories when her students cut and glue or practice their penmanship. You’ll find several on my Alligators, Bees, and Surprise, Oh My! CD  Her students l soon quack along with "Drakestail" and sing along with "The Bun." Without even realizing they've been learning stories, her students eagerly retell the tales to other classes.

Listening Activity - Judy Sizemore, arts educator, writer, and frequent writer-in-residence, creates a listening exercise for primary students by playing a story from one of my recordings followed by the students drawing pictures of what they heard. To learn more about Judy's work, contact her at
(606) 364-5831

Teaching English as a Second Language
Idea contributed by Bob and Yvonne Flynn
"When we taught English in Hungary years ago, we used your tapes for our students. We wrote out the text of the stories with blanks for certain words. Adapting for various levels of English knowledge was easy. Your tapes were great. It was nice to expose our students to American English and, depending on the story, a challenging accent to boot! This activity would be great for ESL teachers in this country as well."

Dialogue - In my storytelling, I speak for every character. How do listeners know who is talking when? How do listeners know how characters feel about what they are saying? Compare and contrast my techniques with the techniques writers use. Why must techniques vary? Try this activity: Transcribe a dialogue passage from one of the recordings. How does it have to be changed to work as dialogue for a reader?

Sound Tracks - Ruben Moreno, a visual artist, conducts clay animation residencies. For some projects, his students and their teachers listen to my recordings, select the tales they want to animate, then either use my recordings for the sound track of their animated videos or retell the tales in their own words to create sound tracks. To learn more about Ruben's work, contact him at (502) 635-6541.

Different Media, Different Perceptions - Judy Sizemore, arts educator, writer, and frequent writer-in-residence uses my recordings, along with video of storytelling, and stories told in person. The students write about audience perception of stories heard via different media. For more information on Judy's work, contact her at (606) 364-5831.

back to top

Ideas for Specific CDs 

Haunting Tales
How scary is it?  Storytellers are often expected to rate the stories they tell according to how scary the story is. Such ratings are often used to arrange the stories in a performance so the tales appropriate for younger listeners are told first.  Here’s an activity for your students: Make a list of the titles of the stories on the Haunting Tales CD. Then listen to all the stories. Ask your students to rank them in order from least scary to scariest. Then ask students to write essays explaining the basis for their rankings.   Chances are good that not only will different students have different ideas about the ranking of the stories; they will also have different criteria by which they judged the scariness of each. These differences can become a jumping off point for discussions of differing (not right or wrong, just not the same) perceptions, and how those different perceptions influence our judgments (in this case, judging “scariness”).

An idea for using any single story from Haunting Tales: No time to listen to all the stories?  Try this.  Listen to a single story, and ask your students to write a brief opinion essay on whether or not the story is scary, and why or why not? Again, answers will differ (not as much as in the first activity), but you will still be able to look at varying perceptions.  You could also ask them to pretend they are a storyteller who knows the story. What age of listeners do they believe would most enjoy the story? Why? Some of your students may believe the story is too scary for anyone under a certain age. Others may think the story needs to be told only to listeners under a certain age because older listeners will want something scarier. In all of the above writing activities, students will, of course, need to support their opinions with examples from the stories.

Sisters All . . . and One Troll
Active Heroines – In my introductory notes to this CD, I compare these traditional active heroines to Nancy Drew. Make a list of other active heroines – female characters who determine their own fates - you and your students enjoy.

Some Dog and Other Kentucky Wonders 
Kentucky Narratives – On this recording you hear a sampling of the many genres of Kentucky tale-telling traditions. Tales include “Stormwalker” a true ghost story; “Some Dog” a tall tale; and Kentucky versions of tales brought over from England, “Lazy Jack” and Europe, “The Farmer’s Smart Daughter,” plus a Hamilton family anecdote “Jeff Rides the Rides,” and a personal narrative, “Jump Rope Kingdom.”

Ideas for Individual Stories 

Ideas for individual stories from Mary’s books and recordings are arranged alphabetically below.

Note: Titles beginning with the word “The” are alphabetized by the second word in the title. Titles beginning with a numeral are listed at the very beginning of the entire list.

Just select the title from the alphabetical list below to find ideas for the story you would like to use with your students. 

back to top

"The Beaded Bag" and the Influence of Setting on Story - The influence of setting within a story goes well beyond words, "in 1892 in Indiana." Yet, many students want to name a year and a place, and then carry on with the rest of the story as though time and place matter little. In this retelling of the urban legend "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" I have set the story in the Victorian era.

Here are the bones of the urban legend. A traveler picks up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker looks cold so the traveler loans something to keep the hitchhiker warm. Upon reaching the hitchhiker's destination, both hitchhiker and loaned item are missing. The traveler learns the hitchhiker always looks for rides on the anniversary of death. The loaned item is found at the hitchhiker's grave.

Tell your students the bones of the legend. Then, listen to "The Beaded Bag." Ask your students to develop a list of specific examples of the influence of setting on the story. All students will notice the transportation changes. Repeated listening will help them see the setting also influences how characters think, talk, and act. The setting was even well suited for a plot twist not found in the traditional urban legend. Yes, research was necessary to create the story; I didn't "just know" about Victorian times.

"The Bun" and Story Patterns - This tale is the Russian version of the more commonly known "Gingerbread Man." Create a Venn diagram with your students to show what is alike and what is different about these two stories. Use the common characteristics to create runaway food stories of your own.

"The Bun" and Safety - What could Bun have done to stay safe? What role did false flattery play in fox succeeding in tricking Bun? (Look at other false flattery stories. Ex. the fable of "The Fox and the Crow.")

"Drakestail" and Story Patterns - This French fairy tale uses the same pattern as all of the following stories: "The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship" from Russia, "Rum, Pum, Pum" from India, "The Bremen Town Musicians" and "How Six Men Got On in the World" from Germany, and "Jack and the Robbers" from Appalachian folklore. Check your school library to see what versions are available. Once your students are familiar with the pattern, you can create new stories that fit the pattern.

“Drakestail” and Helpful Companions/Extraordinary Skills – In “Drakestail” and in all the other stories mentioned above, each companion has a specific skill that later proves essential for success.  Sometimes the skill is simply the ordinary activity the character would do anyway (a fox going after chickens in “Drakestail” for example.) In some of the variants the skill is extraordinary (a character able to run amazingly fast in “The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship” for example).  You could use “Drakestail” or a variant as a springboard for a speaking or writing activity. Your students could tell or about what skill they would like a companion to have and why.  Or, they could tell or write about what extraordinary ability they would like to have, and explain how they could use that ability to help others (as all those with extraordinary ability do in the stories, rather than using their abilities to enrich themselves).

back to top

“Eleven Cinderellas” and the rest of the story – Using notes provided in the CD booklet and assistance from your school or public librarian, locate complete versions of each of the Cinderella fairy tales I chose to use. Your students will enjoy learning what happened in the rest of the story. 

“Eleven Cinderellas” Artist Comparison - Find picture book versions of the same Cinderella tale illustrated by different artists. Compare and contrast their choices of which scenes to illustrate and how to illustrate them.

“Eleven Cinderellas” and Multi-cultural retellings – Look in your school or public library for picture book versions of the Cinderella story from a variety of different cultures. Put together a single journey through the plot, using pieces from different versions. Mark the sections you’ve chosen with sticky notes; stack the books in the order in which you will use them; share your own multi-cultural retelling of the Cinderella tale.

 “Eleven Cinderellas” and Active Heroines – Cinderella an active heroine? Many people would doubt Cinderella’s inclusion in a selection of active heroines. Often, this is because their acquaintance with Cinderella has come about through the Disney animated film or the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (multiple productions available). Look at the portrayal of Cinderella in film or on stage. Compare/contrast her with Cinderella from traditional narratives.

"Jack and the Wishgiver” - This tale is one of many told about Jack, a common character in Appalachian and English folklore. Other tales Mary has recorded about Jack include  "Sop Doll" and "Lazy Jack."

“Jack and the Wishgiver” and a Project for High School Students  -- Mary has created a residency project for high school writing classes based on this tale. Find out more here.

"Jeff Rides the Rides" and Story Shaping - This story relates an event I learned about in a telephone conversation with my father. I have kept the truth of the tale while reshaping it for telling to listeners outside my family. Listen to the story. Challenge your students to identify information in the story that is needed for an audience of strangers, but would not be needed with an audience of family members. You can also ask your students to imagine how telling about the phone conversation would have changed the story.

"Jeff Rides the Rides," Storytelling, and Life Skills - Being able to laugh at our mistakes and/or embarrassing moments is an important step toward healthy living. Did you or your students ever have something funny happen that wasn't funny at the time, but seems funny now? If so, tell about what happened to you. (Yes, the person involved should do the telling, not observers of the event. I did speak with my brother before telling his story.)

Did you ever encounter something for the first time and make a mistake when you tried to figure out what it was? Students need to know that adults around them have indeed made mistakes and survived. Your students might want to know that my brother is in the midst of a teaching career.

"Jump Rope Kingdom" and Personal Narratives - Here's the memory that I developed into "Jump Rope Kingdom." "In first grade, Anna Jo Hinton, one of the big girls, taught me how to run into the jump rope." Such a brief memory by itself does not a personal narrative make. To create the narrative, I began with the memory, then asked myself questions: Why do you remember this? Why did it matter then? How do you feel about it now? What can you tell your listeners to help them understand why this incident could loom large in your memory?

Listen to the story or read it in Kentucky Folktales and challenge your students to identify how and why specific details helped them picture what happened, why the events happened, and why this incident mattered to me.

back to top

“Kate Crackernuts” and Writing Exercises – Here are some writing prompts sparked by the story.

  1. Pretend you are Kate’s mother. Write your plan for explaining the absence of the girls to Annie’s father. Note: this could also work as an improvised dialogue.
  2. Should Kate ever return home? Defend/explain your answer.
  3. Should Annie ever return home? Defend/explain your answer.
  4. Is Kate’s mother a loving mother? Defend/explain your answer.
  5. Which character in the story makes the biggest mistake? Explain why you chose that character.
  6. Which character in the story is the most dangerous? Explain why you chose that character.
  7. Imagine you are Kate or Annie – choose one. You are older now, and you have children of your own. They want to know about their grandparents. What will you tell them?

"The King and His Advisor" and an Essay of Opinion - The advisor in this story repeatedly insists, "Everything happens for the good." Does it? Have your students write their reaction to that statement using examples from real life to support their opinions.

"Lazy Jack" - This tale is one of many told about Jack, a common character in Appalachian and English folklore. Other tales Mary has recorded about Jack include  "Sop Doll" and "Jack and the Wishgiver."

"The Men in the Open Grave" and the Power of Perception - Just what is the relationship between perception, motivation, and accomplishment? To take a humorous look at the connections, listen to this funny Kentucky tale.

“The Men in the Open Grave” and Story Endings – When I tell this story to live audiences, the ending varies in detail. In my book, Kentucky Folktales (University Press of Kentucky, 2012) you can read about those changes and what I’m observing in my audience to guide my decision-making.

"Mr. Fox" and Story Pattern - "Mr. Fox" is the English variant of a tale known as "Bluebeard" in French folklore, "Fitcher's Bird" in the German folklore collected by the Brothers Grimm, and "Three Yarn Balls," a Kentucky tale collected by Leonard Roberts and published in Old Greasybeard: Tales from the Cumberland Gap (Pikeville College Press, 1980). Look at several variants; find the common pattern; then dare your students to use the pattern to write their own chilling tales.

"Promises to Keep" and the Civil War - Need a way to help your students view the Civil War as more than dates and battlefields? While the plot of "Promises to Keep" is based on legends and the characters are fictional, the specific dates, battles, and regiments are historically accurate in this eerie and poignant tale.

“Promises to Keep” and Reshaping StoriesIn my book, Kentucky Folktales (University Press of Kentucky, 2012) you can read about the two version of the story of the ghostly return of a wedding ring and learn what research I conducted to shape my retelling of the story. You can even read one of the earlier texts.

"Rabbit and the Alligators" and Triumph Over the Powerful - Alligator is far more physically powerful than Rabbit, but Rabbit manages to triumph. How? What skills does Rabbit use? Rabbit almost gets away without a scratch, but doesn't. What's the lesson to be learned about triumphing over the powerful from Rabbit's mistake?

Compare Rabbit to other famous story characters that survive in the face of the powerful. Look for these collections: Bo Rabbit Smart for True: Folktales from the Gullah by Priscilla Jaquith (Philomel, 1981), Uncle Remus, Tales from the Briar Patch by Julius Lester (Dial, 1999), The Days When the Animals Talked: Black American Folktales and How They Came To Be by William J. Faulkner (Africa World Press, 1993), and The Adventures of High John the Conqueror by Steve Sanfield (August House, 1996). What tactics do the main characters in these stories use to insure survival? All of these stories come from African American folklore. Why has it been important, especially to African American people, for the lessons these stories hold to be passed along from generation to generation? Why are these lessons important for everyone?

back to top

“Sam’l”  Sound Effects and Writing - In my storytelling the sound effects I use are all created by my voice alone (no microphone assisted special effects). Your students could easily imitate any sound I use and incorporate such sounds into their spoken word work. Sound effects you'll hear on “Sam’l” include snorts  -- with inflection! Challenge your students to figure out how the same impact conveyed by the sound effects in the telling could be conveyed to readers in writing.

"Some Dog" and Radio Drama - In radio drama residencies, Casey Billings, plays "Some Dog" to help his students grasp the concept of 'writing for the ear' and to provide them with an example of a tale with a strong sense of place.

"Sop Doll" and Jack - This tale is one of many featuring Jack, a common character in Appalachian and English folklore. Mary has also recorded “Lazy Jack,” and “Jack and the Wishgiver.”  If you listen to all three, you can compare and contrast the Jack character as shown by the different stories.

“Some Dog” and Retelling Tall Tales - has as its tall tale base three traditional Kentucky tall tales. You can read all about my process for shaping those three tales into the saga that become “Some Dog” in my book, Kentucky Folktales (University Press of Kentucky, 2012).

"Stormwalker" and Tornado Time - Jeff Hamilton, a high school teacher, plays "Stormwalker" just before he delivers information to his students about where to take shelter in case of tornados. He's discovered they are much more interested in this information after hearing the story.

"Stormwalker" and Point of View - "Stormwalker" is a true story told to me by Roberta Brown. You can read Roberta's retelling of these events from her life in her book, The Walking Trees and Other Scary Stories (August House, 1991). You can read my retelling in my book, Kentucky Folktales (University Press of Kentucky, 2012) or listen to it on my Some Dog CD. Quite naturally, we tell the story differently. These differences provide your students with an excellent opportunity to compare 1st person and 3rd person retellings of the same events. They will also notice how tellers reshape stories heard orally when retelling them. To learn more about Roberta Simpson Brown's work, see her website:

"Stormwalker" and Story Collecting - Let "Stormwalker" inspire your students to collect stories from their families and friends. The story combines two of the most common types of tales told in Kentucky - the personal experience story and a ghostly, or unexplained, event. Related tale topics abound - times when you were afraid, times when you were caught in a storm, times when someone helped you, times when something that could not be explained happened, and ghostly encounters.

back to top

"Tailypo" and Story Patterns - Compare "Tailypo" with such tales as "The Golden Arm," "The Hairy Toe," or "Teeny Tiny Woman." Ask your students to identify the common pattern in these tales.

“Tailypo” & Superstitions - One superstition for keeping scary things away is talked about immediately following "Tailypo." What other superstitions do you and your students know? Why not make a class list? Students could also collect superstitions commonly known among their relatives.

“Three Sisters and the Troll” mystery solved – Whatever happened to the hen? The hen’s role in the story seems to be to cause the sisters to leave home, but what happened to it? Write/tell what happened to the hen.

“Three Sisters and the Troll” and Murder She Planned – By the end of the story, is the youngest sister guilty of murder? Why or why not?

 “Three Sisters and the Troll”  & Trolls – This story is one of many tales told about trolls. Look in collections of folktales from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark for other stories about trolls. From reading several stories, what characteristics, if any, do most trolls seem to share?  Trolls can also be found in pop culture? How are they viewed today? Remind your students to cite examples to support their ideas.  If studying both traditional and pop cultural trolls, students could also compare and contrast them. 

 “Three Sisters and the Troll” other versions - In the CD booklet, you will find a bibliography of other versions of this story. Check with your school or public library to learn which other versions are available. Compare these with the text of the story as told. Can you identify any changes made that were needed because I chose to tell to be heard instead of writing to be read?

back to top


Mary Hamilton, Professional Storyteller
65 Springhill Road, Frankfort, KY 40601-9211
: 1-502-223-4523