Religions and Folktales of India and Around the World

  Religions and Folktales of India and Around the World

© Becky Rosenberg, 2005


Grade: 4-6

Subjects:  Social Studies, Literacy (reading, writing, storytelling, computers)

Author: B. Rosenberg, Lincoln Elementary School, Madison, WI 


Estimated time for the activity

2 hours – 8 hours + (varies, depending on how deeply one wants to go into projects and discussions, potential mini research projects and folktale writing opportunities)


Essential Understanding

Beliefs and religions are major parts of our identities.  As our students mature, asking and exploring questions of identity, whether it be about beliefs, values or practices are all part of the process.  While this could be an introspective study, it’s also one that looks at countries and people beyond oneself, but brings questions back to each individual which are potential for independent study.



Belief systems are held by everyone, whether it is in the form of a formal religion or not.  This project explores, at a minimum, what religions (major and minor) are followed in India (consult map of religions in India, the map of distribution of religions of the world as well as world map of origins of religions), and has potential to go beyond to look at investigations into a religion or belief students don’t know much about.


Linked to this is the folktale.  This genre connects cultures and religions to the reader in easy-to-read and curious ways.  Several folktales and resources from India are listed, as well as websites with folktales associated with different religions (with reader’s theater potential), a teacher’s guide to help teach folktales, and some student sheets.


Background information for Teachers

Teachers will need to teach the components of the folktale, and may consult the websites listed for more guidance.  Depending on how much time one has, this can be a one or two day lesson about religions and folk tales from India, more time if looking at more tales from and around the world, or it can go as far as an investigation into various religions, with a look at how folk tales make references and are drawn from faiths and cultures.


It’s critical to discuss topics such as respect and tolerance, prejudice, stereotypes, generalizations, and bias as a preface or in conjunction with this kind of project.  Depending on your student group, you will need to allot more of less time on these depending on your group’s needs.  (Take a look at

for a great bunch of materials to start out the lesson by teaching and discussing diversity and more.)   This is a fantastic website with curriculum support and lots of background information on the following 6 religions:  Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Sikhism.  It might be possible to copy each section, or topics and have small groups jigsaw presentations based on what themes or topics the class selects to compare and contrast (i.e. places of worship, beliefs, celebrations and festivals, spiritual leaders, place of origin of belief or faith, symbols, etc..)



Students will:

  • Look critically at folktales as a specialized genre of literature.
  • Gain more sensitivity to the human experience and cultural differences by reading and discussing literary and nonliterary texts.
  • Look for information about people and places through reading
  • Research and inquire into self-selected or assigned topics, issues, or problems and use an appropriate form to communicate their findings


Instructional Activities     

Look at what major religions are in the world and in India (which is a very rich in diversity country).  This could be stretched into looking at the distribution of religions around the world (major ones), a closer look into comparing and contrasting various faiths, and even having students do individual projects about a belief they know very little about.


A great way to get at this from a literary side is through a genre study of folktales.  There are many collections available to look at folktale collections from certain regions, like:

The World of Indian Stories:  a teaching resource of folktales from every state, by Cathy Spagnoli, Tulika Press ISBN # 81-86895-93-0 (Indian, copyright 2003).



Outlines components of a folktale.

As students read folktales, they can check comprehension (as can a teacher for assessment purposes), as well as see each component of the folktale.

  • The Kingfisher Treasury of Stories from Around the World, by Linda Jennings (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). Seventeen folktales included, from various countries around the world, including one tale from India.
  • Traditional Learning:  Mini Research and Folktale Project (3-part lesson plan that incorporates the student’s independent selection of a belief system or religion to research, and folktale reading and interpretation linked to that major religion, as well as a one-paragraph reflection or preface to their own folktale, written in the context and with reference to the religion selected, by Becky Rosenberg, 2006, based on URI religion website.)


Assessment Activities

Students will be assessed in a number of ways:

  1. They are required to take notes on the folktales they read, and hear others share, thus showing understanding of the components of a folktale, in addition to comprehending these short stories.  Perhaps you will choose to have students tell their stories orally, which gets into some great presentation skill building.
  2. Look at criteria for the Mini research project, which includes research skills (and the use of a full bibliography, showing at least 3 different resources used).


Content Standards

Performance Standards:

  • 4.2 Read, interpret, and critically analyze literature.
  • 4.3 Read and discuss literary and nonliterary texts in order to understand human experience.
  • 4.4 Read to acquire information. (Reading/Literature)
  • 4.1 Conduct research and inquiry on self-selected or assigned topics, issues, or problems and use an appropriate form to communicate their findings.  (Research and Inquiry (Literacy))


Extension Activities/Discussions

This is a multi-faceted project, with parts that you may choose to omit, depending on the amount of time you have.  It’s also a great idea to invite in people from the community (and draw on your students to do this as well) to talk to the group about different religious practices (if your school will permit this, in an informational way), or to deliver folktales in a storytelling fashion.

Printable version of the lesson plan: folktalesandreligions_final

Religious map of India: rel of india map

Modern World Religions






Religion Origins