ADL Libuše Lišková

Repetitive and Cumulative-repetitive fairy tales

These two terms were introduced by Sheila Rixon in her article ‘Using “Chicken Licken” and other cumulative-repetitive children’s stories’* where she argued that such fairy tales can be effectively used in teaching for language development of young learners, either of their mother tongue or a foreign language. In fact, they can be used with any learners of English at various levels of language proficiency, as you saw at the ADL seminars.

In repetitive fairy tales there is one or two events – or actions or situations - that repeat several times throughout the story, and thus the language repeats as well, sometimes with minor changes reflecting either the progress of the story or specifics of a character. Repetition of the action enables listeners to predict what will come next and repetition of the language enables them to take over and continue telling the story. Needles to say, that in this way they can learn the language (i.e. grammar structures and phrases or vocabulary) by heart, without realizing that they are memorizing it. The same can be said about a special type of repetitive fairy tales, cumulative-repetitive fairy tales. In addition, every time the action repeats a new character appears and usually joins in. With the growing number of characters also the language used for the repeated actions can get gradually longer.

As for the use of these fairy tales in foreign language classes, while with beginners the language should be kept as simple as possible without using many variations, with more advanced learners we can encourage their enriching the language and using alternative phrases. Irrespective of their level of English language proficiency the learners can employ their imagination and creativity – apart from predicting, by suggesting additional characters or actions that weren’t in the story, by changing or reversing the story etc.


Examples of repetitive fairy tales: The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, The King and the Mice, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Billy-Goats


Repeated actions

Examples of repeated language

The Little Red Hen

asking the others to help,

      but to no avail

doing things

Who will help me [plant the seeds]?

Then, I’ll [plant them] myself.

And so she did.

The Three Little Pigs

building a house

wolf’s visit and threats

running away or being eaten

The [first] pig built his house of [straw].

I’ll huff, I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.

And the [first] pig ran to his brother’s house.

The King and the Mice

calling the wise men and 

    complaining to them


replacing animals

The king called for his wise man. He said: I don’t like these [cats]. I’d rather have the [mice]. Send the [cats] away.

The wise men brought in [dogs]. The [cats] ran away but the palace was full of [dogs]. They were everywhere.


Examples of repetitive cumulative fairy tales: The Great Enormous Turnip, Henny – Penny,

The Gingerbread Man


Repeated actions

Repeated language

The Great Enormous Turnip

calling another character to help

pulling the turnip

The man called his wife.

The wife pulled the man, the man pulled the turnip.

Henny -Penny

meeting a new character


new character’s joining the group

Henny- Penny and Cocky- Locky went along and they met Ducky- Daddles.

So H-P, C-L and D-D went to tell the king that

the sky was falling.

Repeated actions can also be found in more complex fairy tales, such as Cinderella (Cinderella’s visit of the ball), Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (queen’s conversation with the magic mirror and her visit to the dwarves’ house) or Rumpelstiltskin (his helping the miller’s daughter and later her guessing his name). The action almost always repeats three times. Other fairy tales employ cumulating of characters, e.g. the traditional English fairy tale How Jack Went to Seek his Fortune, where at the beginning the animals join Jack, one by one. However, the repeated action isn’t the central one.


*) in Holden, S. (ed.) English at the Primary Level. Oxford: MEP/BC, 1988