Spanish Learning Scenario:
Folk Legends, Tales, and Fables: Creating and Reflecting Community

Author: Aurora Hansis & Teresa Tattersall
Level: Intermediate

In this unit, students read a selection of Spanish-language folk legends from a variety of countries. Folk legends were and are used as a method of communicating ideas, beliefs, or unexplained events that give a community its particular identity. Students see how folk legends are important in creating and reflecting community and also look into how contemporary society uses legends to give meaning to events and community. To achieve that goal, students read legends in Spanish. Using graphic organizers, mapping activities, and timelines, they learn how to organize, summarize, and articulate relationships between the legends. They also learn new vocabulary through word games and investigate local legends by interviewing community members and interacting with a guest speaker. At the end of the unit, students create and present an original legend to the class.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Looking at English-Language Legends
Before reading Spanish-language legends, students work in pairs to brainstorm English-language legends with which they are familiar from their childhood or family (e.g., Paul Bunyan). Once students come up with several responses, they reflect together on the significance of legends. They begin by folding a piece of paper in half and then in half again so that it is divided into four squares. In each square, they write their answers to the following questions: Why do we have legends? How do they get started? What legends do we know and where did we learn them? and Have folk legends influenced us in any way? If so, how? Afterwards, groups share their observations with each other. (The first two sites in the Webliography, below, provide useful insight into the function of legends in culture.)

ACTIVITY SET 2: Introduction to Spanish-Language Legends
Now that learners have begun thinking about the role of legends in society, they are ready to begin reading some in Spanish. To begin, students read the Mexican legend Los novios, the story of the creation of the volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl. Working together in groups of four, students read the legend, completing a graphic organizer as they do so. The graphic organizer provided by the teacher helps students identify main characters and their characteristics, important events, central themes, plot development and climax. Next, using their graphic organizer, each group creates a story map on poster board reflecting their interpretation of the legend. Posters are displayed in the classroom, and students take a gallery walk to compare group versions of the story.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Group Study of Legends
In the preceding activity set, the class had an opportunity to read and reflect on a single legend. In this activity set, each group works independently on a different Spanish-language legend choosing one from among those provided by the teacher. After working together to read and understand the legend, each group creates two products. One is a story map or chart used to aid in retelling the story. The second is a graphic organizer which classmates are to use as they listen to the story. Completed story maps are displayed in the classroom, and a representative from each group retells the story in simple Spanish to small groups of classmates assembled to listen at various locations around the room. As the tale is retold, classmates complete the graphic organizer for each story. The sequence is repeated until each student has heard all the group legends and completed an organizer for each. In the end, all students have completed graphic organizers for every story except their own, and all students have had an opportunity to retell “their” legend.

The second part of this activity set focuses on the ways folktales both reflect and shape culture. Each of the stories the groups have read in the preceding activity have an English-language counterpart. Examples include: Los amantes de Teruel and Romeo and Juliet; El caballo Aliatar and The Legend of the Bluebonnet (actually a Native American tale); El león y el grillo and The Rabbit and the Tortoise; ¿Quién es sabio? and The Fox, the Cock and the Dog. Groups read the English-language version and use a T-chart to compare the two legends as far as characters and plot. Next they identify any aspects of the tales that they believe reflect the target cultures (recurring images or exclamation for example). Once groups have finished, the class works together to list on the board what they believe are characteristics peculiar to Spanish-language and English-language folktales. The teacher asks students for any supporting evidence they can think of from other legends and stories with which they are familiar. Students may follow-up by asking Spanish-speaking friends for confirmation of their hypotheses, i.e., if they know of additional stories that use a particular image and so forth.

To help students think about the ways in which stories help to create culture, have them brainstorm customs or habits in their family which may be more reflexive than logical. It may be something as simple as, "We always open presents on Christmas morning because Santa doesn't come until after midnight on the 24th" (even though the "children" no longer believe in Santa). Or students may have other traditions—"We always..." or "My family never..."—that relate, perhaps, to a family "legend."

ACTIVITY SET 4: Exploring Local Legends
Students have had an opportunity to think about how legends both reflect and create cultural identity. With that idea in mind, students next investigate local legends in their community. First, they talk with family members, friends, neighbors and local folklore experts about stories they learned as a child, especially those with a local “flavor”—a local “eccentric” for example, or a haunted house. They ask questions to find out how the stories were passed on, who told the stories, how people felt about them (whether they were viewed as “tall tales” or true) and so forth. Students return to class and share the information through a variety of means: a written or oral report, a dramatization or storytelling, or a multimedia presentation.

Because not all students have Spanish-speakers to interview, a native speaker from the community is invited to the class. One possibility is to contact the Consulate of a Spanish-speaking country or a Latin American cultures museum or organization to get contact information for someone who could share legends with the students. Another option is to contact a Hispanic church or a nursing home to find local "storytellers" eager to share tales with the class.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Creating an Original Legend
Working together in groups, students are now ready to create an original legend or modernize one with which they are familiar, using the characteristics of Spanish-language legends that they have identified. They begin by articulating within the group the purpose of the legend. (Is it to explain a natural phenomenon? To express a cultural belief? To illustrate social conventions? etc.) Next, students write their story or script in Spanish and present the legend to the class either as a skit, puppet show, or video presentation. Props, costumes, and background music should be an integral part of each presentation.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Nature of Language, Concept of Culture
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting

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  • Leyendas mexicanas or other books with Spanish-language legends.
  • “Pairs” of Spanish-language and English folk tales and fables.
  • Art supplies such as poster board, paper, markers, scissors, etc. for making story maps.
  • Teacher-made graphic organizer
  • Props, costumes, music for presentations
  • Videotape, video camera, VCR

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met

Communications: The interpersonal mode is used when students discuss stories and work on skits and roleplays in groups. Students use the interpretive mode to read the legends and listen to the legends of their classmates. The presentational mode is used as students retell legends, read in groups, and perform skits, puppet shows or videos.

: Students demonstrate an understanding of a target culture product (legends) and practice (telling of folktales) and the perspectives related to them as they develop their own folk tale in the style of a Spanish-language one.

: Students use Spanish-language resources to gain access to legends and information about them. They connect to other disciplines such as social studies (how a community identifies itself) and the fine arts (the use of folk art to represent the ideas of a community).

: Students demonstrate an understanding of the nature of language as they investigate different images and styles of legends in Spanish and English. They learn how legends represent the culture of a particular group and compare Spanish-language legends to those of their own culture.

: Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting as they interact with a guest speaker and interview a Spanish-speaking family member, friends, and local experts to identify local legends.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Students may also enjoy discussing/investigating the topic of “urban legends” and how the use of the Internet and e-mail has made it possible for rumors to become “facts” almost overnight.
  • Students choose a universal theme and look for legends on the topic from a variety of Spanish-language countries.
  • Students watch the Disney movie, El dorado.

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Anaya, R. A. (1995). Bless me, Ultima. NY: Warner Books.

Bacon, S. (2000). Leyendas del mundo hispano. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Barlow, G. & Stivers, W. N. (1999). Leyendas de España. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Barlow, G. (1996). Leyendas latinoamericanas. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Kennedy, J. H. (1991). Relatos latinoamericanos. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Langer de Ramírez, L. (1999). Cuéntame: Folklore y fábulas. New York: Amsco School Publications.

Muckley, R. L. & Martínez-Santiago, A. (1999). Leyendas de Puerto Rico. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Williams, D. S. (1997). When darkness falls: Tales of San Antonio ghosts and hauntings. Plano, TX: Wordware Publishing.

Williams, D. S., & Byrne, R. (1992). Spirits of San Antonio and South Texas. Plano, TX: Wordware Publishing.


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.

Legends and Myth




Urban Legends


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