Learning with Beans

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Learning how to compare and contrast various versions of the same story is an important step in understanding how stories work.Students learn that authors have different perspectives and differing points of view. Earlier this month, we read many different versions of the classic tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

In most stories, Jack is a young boy living with his mother and a milk cow who is their only source of income. When the cow stops giving milk, Jack’s mother has Jack take the cow to the market to be sold. On the way, he meets someone who offers “magic beans” in exchange for the cow and Jack makes the trade.

When he arrives home without any money, his mother becomes furious, throws the beans out of the window and sends Jack to bed.

A gigantic beanstalk grows overnight which Jack climbs to a land high in the sky. There he comes to a house (or in some versions, a castle) that is the home of a giant. In most versions, the giant also has gold coins, a magic gold laying hen, and a magic harp.

We also read and discussed a version with a female main character instead of a boy, one in which Cinderella also climbs the beanstalk with Jack and one with photographs of a boy climbing a “real” beanstalk!

Here are some student responses:
“Jack should have followed his mother’s directions, but didn’t – he wouldn’t have gotten in all of that trouble with the giant.”
“Jack should have been happy with the gold he got from the giant the first time, and not gone back up the stalk.”
“The wife was kind to Jack, he should have been happy.”
“He should have used the giants money to buy a new cow!”
“Maybe his mom should have climbed up with him to talk to the wife.”

This classic tale allowed us to have some excellent discussions about story and possible alternate endings.

We also planted bean seeds! The student reactions were lots of fun:
“Is this real dirt or magic dirt?”
“What will these seeds grow into?”
“Can we eat these beans?” etc.

Each student planted some seeds and we planted a few to transplant into our school garden. Seeds of learning from a few small beans.

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