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Character Development Stories

On this page you will find stories and follow-up suggestions that help to teach about various character traits. The stories will change periodically as the storyteller is able. Feel free to email her with character trait requests.

 

The Bundle of Sticks - An Aesop's fable.

This is a great story to help create a safe and cooperative classroom at the start of the year.

Character traits emphasized: Cooperation, tolerance, creative conflict resolution, sacrificing for the greater good, loyalty, appreciating our similarities and differences, forgiveness, cultivating self-awareness to overcome negative emotions such as envy, and anger.

I have given the storyteller the option to have the main character be male or female. I suggest having a good balance in your story repertoire.

The Bundle of Sticks – an Aesop’s Fable adapted by Elisa Pearmain

Once upon a time, an old woman lived on a beautiful farm in the country. From her window, she could see pasture land, fields of grain, barns filled with animals, orchards and forests beyond. The farm was special to the old woman because it had been in her family for many generations. She had raised her family of ____ (count the number of children in your class) there. Now her husband was dead, and she too was in the last days of her life. The old woman should have been content after such a fortunate life, but she was not. She lay on her bed worrying about her grown children. They could not seem to get along. She heard them quarreling day and night. Even though some of them were good at farming, and some at working with the animals, some at carpentry, and others at cooking or preserving the food they grew.  They each thought that their job was more important and that the others didn’t work hard enough. They held grudges against each other from things in the past, and they were jealous of each other’s good fortune. Though the old woman tried talking to her children about living in peace, they seemed to grow increasingly bitter by the day. She felt sure that they would not be able to keep the family farm after she had died, because they could not seem to work together or appreciate each other’s gifts.

Then one day as her strength waned, she had an idea. She called her children to her bedside. “I have one last favor to ask of you,” she said. “I would like each one of you to go to the forest and find two sticks. Bring them here tomorrow and I will explain.”

The children did as she asked and came to her room the next day with two sticks each. (At this point you will hand the children each two craft sticks.)

“Thank you children,” the old woman said. “Please put one of your sticks down, and see if you can break the other one in half.” The children easily broke their sticks in half. (Tell the children that they can try to break one stick in half with their hands.)

Then the old woman asked the children to pass her the remaining whole sticks. “Let us gather the remaining sticks into a bundle.” She said. (Here the teacher will gather the remaining sticks and wrap the rubber band around them. Make sure there are at least 7 sticks in the bundle and if not add more for missing children, teachers etc.)

Then she passed the bundle back to her children and said, “Please pass this bundle of sticks amongst you and tell me – is it as easy to break the bundle as it was the single stick?” (Pass the bundle to the child nearest you and allow them to try to break it. Tell them to only use their hands.  Some children will try to use feet or even to take the bundle apart.)

(Wait until all of the children have had a turn trying to break the bundle).

The children passed the bundle between them but (just like you) not one of them could break the bundle of sticks.

“You my children, are like these sticks,” the old woman said. “If you go your separate ways, quarrelling, and holding resentments toward one another, you will be alone like the individual sticks and the difficulties of life will easily hurt you. But if you work together, appreciate each other’s strengths, cherish what you share in common, and care for each other, you will be like the bundle of sticks, and nothing in life can break you. Find strength and joy in one another’s company, and you will live well and accomplish much.”

The children took their mother’s lesson to heart, letting go of past grudges and focusing on what they shared in common, appreciating each other’s strengths, and working together. The old woman died peacefully, and the farm remained in the family for many generations.

Notes about Participation

You can choose whether to tell the story with the participation on the first go through, or to tell it first, and then retell it with student participation. All children should be able to participate in this activity. Usually children ages 5 + are able to break a single craft stick. With younger children dry spaghetti has been effective, but more pieces are needed to make an unbreakable bundle.  Middle school kids will make it their life's mission to break the bundle and you may need to tell them that they can only try to break it with their hands. You can find Popsicle or craft sticks at most local craft or pharmacy type shops.

Published versions of this story include:

Jones, Vernon.  Aesop’s Fables, New York: Avenel Books, 1912.
Untermeyer, Louis.  Aesop’s Fables, New York: Golden Press 1965.
Bader, Barbara. Aesop and Company, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Tips for telling the story:

Take the time to visualize the setting of the farm and to capture the feelings of the woman at the end of her life.

Tips for increasing story retention

Next I would suggest an activity that helps to cement the story into the kids' minds.

This can be as simple as retelling it in one big group with each child taking a turn adding a piece to the story, or doing this in smaller groups.

Have the kids do a visual arts activity in which the kids draw a picture of the story, or a short comic strip with before, during and after pictures, or more boxes depending on the age of the child. The pictures can then be put in sequential order around the room, retelling the story. Older students can get into small groups and act it out together. I suggest that all children go home and tell it to their family members.

Personalizing the story ideas and making connections to the larger world

The next step can be to help the kids to make a personal connection to the ideas in the story.

They can talk or write about a time when they did something better as a group than they could have alone. In the story the different strengths of the old woman’s children are described. In your classroom your students have different strengths that add up to a stronger group as a whole. Have your children name the strengths and interests of each child and make a visual reminder of this in the form of a poster. As a group you can brainstorm different situations in our culture in which we behave more like sticks than bundles. Maybe there are examples in your classroom, school, town, or even in the international news. Start close to home and move outward. Ask older students to bring in a story from the news in which people acted more like a bundle or a stick.

This story can be used to teach about the Pledge of Allegiance. Also you may wish to gather some dimes and distribute them among the students. If you look at a dime you will also see on one side, the sheaf of grain tied together and the Latin words, "E Pluribus Unum", which translates to, "out of many one." This kind of connection can add meaning for the students as they experience ways in which our country already celebrates this principal.

Students can make up their own versions of this story, either adding on endings of examples of how the children worked together after the mother died, or changing who the characters and setting of the story.

Trying the ideas in the story on for size.

An important step in helping children to develop the character traits in the stories is to have them take actions in the world that promote those traits. This can be anything from a classroom project to raise money for a good cause, to a cleanup effort, to standing up together in support of someone or some group that is being picked on, to doing a project in the community such as rebuilding a garden, or fixing up a park. It could also be a project in the classroom in which the students made a contract or pledge to all act in a certain way for the common good. An example of the latter would be to make posters to put up in the hall reminding everyone to “stick together” in various situations that the kids think up such as including everyone on the playground, or treating others nicely on the school bus.

Keeping the story ideas alive in the classroom

I would suggest keeping the bundle on your desk or displayed prominently somewhere in the room. That way when situations arise in which people are acting more like sticks than bundles you can point to the bundle and ask them how they could change their behavior to reflect the wisdom of the fable. You could even make a big paper bundle of sticks with each kids name, a personal strength or interest named on it, and personal decoration if they choose. You can use the kids bundle to talk about how each child contributes uniquely to making the classroom stronger.