Hans Christian Andersen in secondary education
 - Ideas for teaching

With 156 fairytales translated into 145 languages, people all over the world will have plenty of opportunities of working with Hans Christian Andersen. Add to that his other works: novels, plays and poems, although these are not as well-known today.

If a teacher wants to use Andersen?s fairytales in a certain country or region, he or she must of course take as their starting-point a) those of Andersen's fairytales that have been translated into their mother tongue, b) the students' knowledge of Andersen, and c) the students' general knowledge and standard.

Below are a number of suggestions for how to work with Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales. It should be emphasized that they are only suggestions, and that the individual teacher is of course free to adjust them to his or her own teaching. See also the article: Hans Christian Andersen gives nature a voice.

The students and Hans Christian Andersen
Before embarking on a longer period of the class working with Hans Christian Andersen, I suggest that the teacher lets the students answer two questions on a piece of paper: "What do you know about Hans Christian Andersen", and "Which of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales do you know?"

In that way, the teacher will get an idea of how much the students know and will be able to organize the course accordingly. When Danish children were asked the same question, they answered that they knew that Hans Christian Andersen was a world-famous writer, that he had a large nose, small eyes and big feet, that he was born in the Danish town of Odense and that he never got married because "he had trouble with the ladies".

The fairytales that most of the children knew were The Ugly Duckling, The Tinder Box, The Princess on the Pea, Clumsy Hans, The Little Match Girl, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Thumbelina. In the Danish study some of the children also referred to fairytales by other writers, such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.

Some of the fairytales they obviously knew from cartoons and movies. On the basis of the knowledge gathered by the teacher, he or she can then go on to use both familiar and less familiar fairytales. Why should school not by the place where children get acquainted with some other Andersen stories than the most popular ones?

The fairytales and other media
Many of Andersen's fairytales have been translated into other media: cartoons and feature films, musicals etc. Add to that several recent picture books interpreting his texts.

It might be a good idea to work with a combination of the original fairytales and various media versions as the latter are also interpretations.

How is the text perceived? Is it a good or a bad interpretation? And what qualities does the printed text have when it is read aloud, as opposed to, for instance, the qualities of a movie? Is one media able to do something that other media cannot do?

It might also be an idea to look at different picture book versions of the same fairytale. What is the interpretation like here? How are the illustrations made? What has been included and what has not? If you for instance look at The Emperor's New Clothes, you might want to ask whether the emperor is drawn naked or clothed ? and why?

The fairytales translated
If you read one of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales in a translated version, it is of course not the original work. You can never translate without interpreting.

And sometimes the translators even go as far as changing Andersen's text, perhaps because it contains something that they don't think children should read. There are translations of The Little Match Girl in which the girl does not die in the end, but joins the family inside the house. Why do some translators do that?

You can work with this problem concerning translation. For instance, if you're Spanish, you can get hold of an English version of a fairytale, and then translate this English version into Spanish (which might also encourage cooperation between the subjects of Spanish and English in the case of older students).

What are the differences between the regular Spanish translation of the fairytale (from Danish) and the translation from English? There is bound to be considerable differences. In that way, the students will learn something about what it means to be able to read a text in the original.

Fairytales of things
In Denmark, the Centre for Children's Literature has carried out some experiments with using Hans Christian Andersen in connection with teaching all through primary and lower secondary school, from the youngest to the oldest students, that is, from five to sixteen years.

The Andersen fairytales that were used were the so-called fairytales of things. In a fairytale of things, the main character (or characters) is a thing, which speaks, thinks and acts. Well-known examples are The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep and The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Not only can the students get acquainted with this particular genre by getting to know and analyzing the texts. It has turned out that they are also able to tell and write such fairytales themselves. The teacher might for instance prepare the students for telling and writing fairytales of things in the following manner:

  • The students are divided into small groups to discuss what universe to choose. The fairytale might take place in a refrigerator with a lot of different foods. Some of the foods might think that they are better than some of the others; some may go out of date sooner than others, etc. Or the story might take place in a school bag, a drawer full of toys, a pencil case, a dishwasher ? The possibilities are endless. After having talked that through, the students, either as a group or individually, write (or tell) a fairytale each.

  • Each student brings one thing that is to be included in a fairytale of things. The students are now divided into groups with their things and are told to come up with fairytales about these particular things.

  • The teacher has a bag with a lot of things. With their eyes closed, the students put their hands into the bag and take out a thing, which then becomes his or hers, and which must be included in a fairytale.

These fairytales are well-suited for being illustrated, dramatized, made films of (if possible) and turned into little books that can serve as presents for parents.

"Hans Christian Andersen anew"
The exhibition consists of fourteen new illustrations, made by young Danish illustrators. The illustrations are divided between two fairytales, seven for each.

The illustrators have been given each their part of the fairytale to illustrate. If you for instance look at The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep, which is also a fairytale of things, you can work with the exhibition by first making the students draw a part of the fairytale themselves.

If there is for instance twenty-four students in the class, you can make groups of eight illustrate the whole fairytale. The fairytale is divided into eight parts, and each gets his or her own part. In that way you get three times eight illustrations of the fairytale.

You can then discuss the various ways in which the assignment has been carried out. Then you can look at the exhibition, perhaps just by printing the pictures out on small sheets of paper and arranging them next to each other.

How have the Danish professional illustrators gone about it? Are there any similarities ? and what are the differences? Finally, you might use the pictures of the Danish illustrators as an exhibition that can be put up in the school, perhaps just pinned to the wall in larger formats, or perhaps framed (by the students?). You can also turn the students' own illustrations into an exhibition.

A meeting on Hans Christian Andersen
You might try to let the youngest and the oldest students work on the same fairytale, perhaps The Ugly Duckling or The Little Match Girl.

The two processes will of course be very different. When the work is done, the young and the old meet in groups of two or three young students and two or three old students.

Now the youngest students must tell what they have come up with, and the older ones must try and find out whether this has anything in common with their own conclusions. And the older students must then try to communicate their interpretations to the younger ones, in a language they can understand.

Write to us
We are very interested in hearing about exciting courses on Hans Christian Andersen.

Write to us and tell us about your work with Hans Christian Andersen.
We will publish a selection of your good ideas, pictures from your work etc at this site.

Write to:

The HCA Group
Centre for Children's Literature
The Danish University of Education
Empdrupvej 101, Indgang B8
DK-2400 Copenhagen NV

Telephone (+45) 88 88 93 76