Story Ideas

There are many different ways to tell a story. Look at a number of different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk and pick a major event in the story, for example between Jack arriving at the castle for the first time, or his first escape from the giant.  Compare the different versions of the story at this point and then discuss the variations further. These are some of the versions we used, or you could find your own:

Briggs, R. (1970) Jim and the Beanstalk, London, Penguin.
– This story takes place long after Jack has visited the giant, this time the little boy is Jim and he helps the giant to obtain a pair of glasses, a wig and a set of false teeth, which might have been a mistake considering he’s a man eating giant!?

Donaldson, J. (2004) The Giants and the Joneses, London: Egmont.
– This is a very alternative giant story that features a giant little girl. This chapter book plays wonderfully with imaginative language such as bimplestonk instead of beanstalk and iggly plops instead of humans!

Godwin, W. (2009) Jack and the Beanstalk, Berkshire: Classic Comic Store Ltd.
– This is a graphic novel that is quite traditional however this version includes Jack in various disguises in order to trick the giant’s maid.

Hoena, B. & Tercio, R. (2009) The Graphic Novel: Jack and the Beanstalk, Minnesota: Stone Arch Books.
– A very modern style graphic novel with characters reminiscent of video games, this is a very engaging version of the traditional tale.

Walker, R. & Sharkey, N. (1999) Jack and the Beanstalk, Bath: Barefoot Books.
– A beautiful illustrated retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk with a springy stalk that sends the giant flying in to space and a maid who comes home with Jack.

You can find out more about the history and different versions of the story by following this link


  • How do these versions of the story differ?
  • What things do the stories have in common?
  • How do the stories make us feel about the characters in it?
  • What makes us feel this way and why?
  • If you were to write your own version of the story how would it end and why?


Telling the story in your own words

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk has appeared in lots of different forms throughout the years, and each time it is told elements of the story change.  A lot of the time, these changes can be to do with the point of view that the story is being told from.

One Word Stories

Sit in a circle, each person takes it in turns to say the next word in Jack and the Beanstalk (this can also work with other well known stories such as the three bears, red riding hood or similar), sometimes the word will be obvious (in, a, of, the) and sometimes the next word will have great effect on the next bit of the story.

  • Split the class into groups of four and number each person 1 to 4
  • Number ones will start the game
  • When they are told to do so number ones will start tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk in their own words.
  • At regular intervals the teacher shouts ‘Change’ and the next person in the group must take on the narrator role, continuing the story from the exact point that the previous person left off.

Once 1,2, 3, and 4 have had a go, the children can try and tell the story from different perspectives:

  • A villager who lived in Jack’s village
  • The maid telling her version of the story to her daughter in giant land
  • The pedlar telling his version of the story in the next town that he comes to
  • A giant telling its children why humans are trouble

Now discuss the exercise as a class.  How does the story change?  What happens with each different person who tells the story?  Which bits got left out or added and why?

Write on exercise

You could add another dimension to the story telling by writing the story as if it were a letter from one character to someone else. It may be a character that we have already encountered in the story or perhaps it is a new character entirely. How does who you are writing to change the way that the story is told?


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Poetry Activities

Bag of Beans draws upon lots of different types of storytelling.  The number challenges are in rhyming couplets? Perhaps you could lay a poetry treasure hunt around the school with the children writing clues for other classes to follow?

The following exercises may help in creating poetry with your class.

Writing a collaborative poem
Word Burst:

To generate ideas, subjects, images and stories, work individually as a whole group or small groups. Write a key word at the centre of a large piece of paper and write as many words as you can think of that are connected to it. Consider these new words? What other words do these suggest write them down also, perhaps in a different colour? What words do these suggest? Perhaps paper could be passed on at each new stage, like the party game consequences. When you have had a three of four rounds look at the sheets and talk about them what themes, images or ideas recur? Are there any unexpected things that warrant further discussion?

The words below might be good as a starting point:

Home – warm, friendly, bed, food
Morning – brightness, light, warmth, breakfast

Here are some more words to consider:

Green            Giant
Mother Castle
Clouds Hen
Grow Land

  • Encourage the children to think about all of the senses. Stress that everyone might have a very different idea about what each word means to them; it is a very personal thing.
  • Now ask the children to write a poem using one word as a stimulus. The poem can be as imaginative and fragmentary as they wish, and it doesn’t have to rhyme.  The pupils could work in groups and take what each pupils has written alongside each word as a starting point for each line.
  • Share the poems as a class, or in smaller groups. Some children might even want to bring the poems to life using their bodies, and dramatise their readings.


Poems for the senses

Writing independently, choose a key word, or a word from a word burst (see above) and apply a different sense with each new stanza so:

If I could see the clouds they would look like cotton wool
If I could touch the clouds it would feel like…..
If I could smell the clouds….
If I could hear ….
If I could taste …
If I could speak to the clouds ……. I would say…..

Each stanza could stand as a poem in its own right and be combined with others from the class to complete the range of senses.

Writing to a structure

Some stories, such as Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, use strong rhyming or rhythmic patterns:

Jack led the old brown cow away,
And came back later in the day,
And said, ‘Oh mumsie dear, guess what
‘Your clever little boy has got.
‘I got, I really don’t know how,
‘A super trade-in for our cow.’
The mother said, ‘You little creep,
‘I’ll bet you sold her much too cheap.’

What does this do for the story?

Creating poems that are inspired by Jack and the Beanstalk

A rhyme or chant is central to the traditional telling of Jack and the Beanstalk:

Fe fi fo fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman
Be he alive
Or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread

This little verse uses a pattern of set syllables.  4 syllables, 9 syllables, 4 syllables, 4 syllables, 9 syllables for each line respectively.

The version that the storytellers use has uses roughly 10 syllables per line of alternate weak strong stresses (iambic pentameter, Shakespeare wrote using this pattern)

Can you experiment with rhyme structures and write some verse of you own?  Try clapping the rhythm of different words first to find out how many syllables they are made of.

Perhaps you could write rhymes to encourage the hen to lay or the beanstalk to grow using different rhyming or rhythmic patterns

Examples of Rhyme Schemes

Rhyming verse – every line rhymes

A/B rhymes schemes – the first line rhymes with the third line and the second line rhymes with the fourth etc.

Rhyming couplets – the first two lines rhyme with each other and the second two lines rhyme with each other etc

A Limerick – the first two lines rhyme, the second two lines rhyme, and have 8 syllables each. The  third and fourth lines are shorter (with 5 or 6 syllables) and rhyme with each other.  The fifth line is the final one and rhymes with the first two. For example:

There was an old lady from Leeds
Who swallowed a packet of seeds
In less than an hour
Her head was in flower
And her chin was all covered with weeds

Haiku – a very short poem of only three lines.  It does not rhyme but has five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second and five in the third. Here is an example:

I am first with five
Then seven in the middle —
Five again to end.


Rhyming Dictionary

In small groups construct a rhyming dictionary.  Use three starter words at the head of a column.  Think of as many words as you can that rhyme with your heading words. You could choose different words appropriate to your topic or the abilities of your children.

Chop – drop, shop, plop, stop, cop
Leaf – beef, thief, grief, teeth
Cow – now, how, plough, bough (as in tree), bow


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Versions Of The Story

Versions and history of Jack and the Beanstalk

A brief history of Jack and the Beanstalk

Fairytales and stories have been passed down through generations of people for hundreds of years using only spoken word: For a very long time these stories were never written down. Jack and the Beanstalk is a story very much like this and because many people for hundreds of years have been telling the story of Jack and the Beanstalk some details have been ever so slightly changed and twisted. It is because of this that we often see or hear so many versions of the story today. In an early version of the story there is a fairy who tells Jack that the giant had killed and stolen from his father giving Jack a reason to steal from the unsuspecting giant. In another Jack steals from the giant simply because he is a trickster and a naughty boy and his father is never mentioned at all! – This is the version that people believe to be closest to the original story and is most likely the one that you are more familiar with. Ours is yet another version of the story is again!

A brief literary history of Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk is a tale of English origin although there have been many adaptations developed within different languages and cultures. Records show that the first version of the story was anonymously published in London by Benjamin Tabart and Jack Nicholson in 1807, titled ‘The History of Jack and the Beanstalk.’ According to Tabart his source was an original manuscript that was most likely based on an oral retelling. A similar tale called ‘Jack Spriggins and The Enchanted Bean’ (1734) as well as other beanstalk tales named ‘The History of Mother Twaddle, and the Marvellous achievements of her son Jack ‘ (1807) and ‘The History of Jack and the Giants’ (1711) have also been closely linked to the story as we know it now. In his writings regarding Jack and the Beanstalk in The Uses of Enchantment, Bettelheim (1976) argues that the stories’ primary concern is with a young boy’s rites of passage and his struggle to achieve maturity. For him it is much to do with the desirability of social and sexual self-assertion in a pubertal young boy.

Versions of the Story

In George Cruikshank’s version (1853) hard work is lauded and idleness, ignorance, cheating, lying and drunkenness are deprecated. This is similar in moral tone to Tabart’s original published version. Jack triumphs as he casts away his ‘slothful habit’ and becomes active, diligent and trustworthy. In the same manner within Tabart’s version Jack is also considered to be the ‘indolent and extravagant son’, however there are many other considerable differences to the story as many of us know it. In more detailed accounts of the story for example the fairy who warns Jack of the frightening giant at the top of the beanstalk and who asks him to avenge his father. Jack is to do this by reclaiming the giant’s wealth. Within Tabart’s version of the story Jack does not marry a beautiful princess, as it goes in many others, but instead lives as a dutiful and obedient son with his mother. Many literary critics have gone as far as to suggest oedipal references within the story: the giant representing Jack’s father. This may of course be inappropriate for our purposes, however is interesting nonetheless. This also aligns itself well with Bettelheim’s belief that the story also has much to do with the loss of infantile pleasure. Bettelheim further suggests many other Freudian connotations.

As we can see there are many, many versions of the story spanning hundreds of years and of course we will be telling our very own! Below are a select few of the many versions available that we have found interesting each with their own merits and significances. Perhaps you might ask your children what they remember of the story and see how their accounts differ? Indeed you might also play them a short video version to tell them one version of the story…

Video link to a version of Jack and the Beanstalk

Click here for a link to a shorter video version of Jack and the Beanstalk with text, designed to allow children to read along with the story. It is very different to our version however follows a largely traditional narrative.


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Drama Strategies

The following page offers a number of drama based activities to enable further exploration of some of the themes and issues appearing in Bag of Beans.  They do not require specialist skills but descriptions of the basic techniques are included for those who have not used them before.  If class control is an anxiety for teachers inexperienced in drama, plan your lesson well in advance and ideally run the session with the support of another colleague or a classroom assistant.

Drama is a good distancing technique for young people as it allows them to explore situations that they may encounter in real life but from within the safety of a fictional context.

Warm-up Activity

It is important to warm up before doing drama to get our brains and our bodies ready for the type of work that we are going to do.  Warm-ups can also be a good way of introducing some of the themes or elements which will be involved in the drama scheme.

Standing in the circle ask the group to become different types of beans
Perhaps begin by making a suggestion e.g. runner beans – the children run on the spot.
Then ask for their suggestions – the might even make a few up.
Some examples:  jumping beans, jelly beans, baked beans, chilli beans, magic beans.

Hot seating

Someone takes on a particular role or character and is interviewed by the rest of the group.  This activity allows a character’s motivations and emotions to be examined in more depth.

The Pedlar, The Giant’s maid, Jack’s neighbour

Ask the pupils to take on the role of newspaper reporters.  Tell them they are going to interview key characters from Bag of Beans in order to gather information for an exclusive story they are going to write for their newspaper.  Prior to questioning the characters get the class to decide on a ‘slant’ for their story and to create a story to go with one of the following the headlines: “Jack the people’s hero” ,“I was robbed – The Giant’s Story told by his closest companion ”, “The Pedlar – the man behind the mystery”.

Still image

This is the creation of a still or frozen image using a group of people who ‘freeze’ in a pose to capture a particular moment, idea or theme, as in a photograph or painting.  This technique has distinct advantages when a teacher is exploring ideas or themes which pupils find complex or vague.

To create a single concrete image requires thought on the part of the pupils so that their image is precise and not misinterpreted.  Particular attention should be given to body posture and facial expressions.  How do others interpret the still image?  Who do they think is depicted and what is happening?  Allow time for adjustments for clarity and dramatic effect.

Ask the children to create a still image marking a moment from the story that they felt was of significance to them.  Ask the rest of the class to try to identify the moment being depicted.  Deepen the image by asking why the moment was important and what the character might have been thinking or feeling in that moment.  Get the children in the picture to articulate these thoughts/feelings as if they were the characters.

It may help to ask the pupils imagine that they are publishers responsible for producing a printed version of the text where there can only be one colour illustration.  They must choose which picture to depict.  Perhaps there is a title or strap-line below the picture, what does it say.  What would the characters be thinking or saying if the picture was brought to life? It is often the onlookers in a picture that have the most interesting things to contribute.

Perhaps create the picture of the giant’s fall showing the people of Jack’s village or the moment just before the giant begins to chase Jack

Role play

Individuals take on a character role and rehearse a scene that deals with a particular situation.  This technique allows young people to explore situations from a different perspective and to practice skills.

Villagers in Jack’s village discussing the famine and what they might do about it
The maid talking to one of her friends about events that have taken place within the castle recently
Market traders talking about the mysterious peddler who seems to be taking their trade

Forum theatre

In groups pupils can improvise scenes that deal with difficult situations or characters want very different things.  Ask them to end the scenes at a moment of crisis or where a choice or problem manifests, and show them to the whole class.

Replay the scenes inviting the observing pupils to stop the scenes at a point where they would have behaved differently in order to bring about a positive outcome for a particular character.  Ask them to step into the scene and show everyone what they would do or say.  The scene continues form that point until it is stopped again and a new suggestion is tried.  The teacher should remain as a neutral facilitator throughout, encouraging the pupils to consider the consequences of their actions.

In pairs get the children to improvise scenes showing the following:

Jack is asked by his mother to sell their cow he doesn’t want to? How does she persuade him, what does he do to try and avoid it?
Jack’s meeting with the pedlar; jack needs to take the cow to market the pedlar wants him to have the magic beans

Through forum theatre the children should be encouraged to explore a number of different responses to the problems encountered within the scenes, which could in turn affect the outcome of the story.

Teacher in role

This is when the teacher adopts a role in order to deepen the children’s understanding of the ideas and themes within the drama, to pass on important information or to shape the drama from within.
The children can also be put into role.

The teacher takes on the role of Jack’s mother talking to her friends.  She tells them that Jack has disappeared and that a giant beanstalk has grown outside their house.  She does not know what to do and wants their advice.  Should she try and get him?  Why might Jack have run away?

The teacher becomes the maid and tells her friends about Jack’s first visit to the castle.  She is worried what the giant will do if he finds out.  Does the maid suspect Jack of taking anything?  What should she do if Jack turns up again?

Where do you stand?

Bag of Beans also invites the pupils to consider the differing points of view of Jack and the Giant, and two story tellers. Some of the difference in opinion arises due to a lack of willingness to see the other character’s perspective.  In the case of the storytellers the older character is unwilling to accept the changes to the story that the younger character proposes. The following exercise can be used to begin exploring notions of progress.

Take two statements about progress:

We have to move with the times                                                                                     History is everything

Imagine that there is a line between these two statements. Place yourself on the line according to which one you agree with more. This can be done as a drama exercise with one end of a space representing one statement and the opposite end the other.

It can be done as a paper exercise with a line drawn between the two statements. The exercise encourages discussion and debate.
Other pairs of statements might be:

Jack is a thief and murderer                                                                                              Jack is a hero for killing the Giant

The Pedlar is the real hero of the story                                                                        The Pedlar should be punished for putting Jack in danger

Pupils can come up with other phrases to examine and debate


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