Half Upon a Time Lesson plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

'Half Upon a Time' by James Riley is a fantastically twisted play on the original fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. This lesson plan reinforces key aspects of the book. An activity gives students a chance to re-enact their favorite parts of the story.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to do the following:

  • summarize the plot of Half Upon a Time by James Riley
  • list and describe key characters in the book
  • compare and contrast the story to the original fairy tales that serve as a basis for the plot and setting


  • This lesson plan is designed for use with students who have read Half Upon a Time by James Riley in its entirety.


60 to 90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.


Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.


  • Copies of Half Upon a Time by James Riley
  • White butcher paper
  • Markers
  • Tape
  • Scissors


  • Ask the students to gather in a circle in the classroom.
  • Pick one student to go first and ask him or her to describe the opening of the book in one or two sentences.
  • When the first student has finished, have the student sitting immediately to his or her right pick up where the previous student left off to describe the next event that occurred in the story in one or two sentences.
  • Repeat this process, moving from student to student in the circle, until the entire plot of the story has been summarized by the class. Fill in and clarify points when appropriate.
  • Once the last summary sentence has been presented, reverse the order in the circle and ask each student to take turns naming and describing a specific character from the book, again clarifying and filling in any missing information for the students as they go.
  • When all characters in the book have been exhausted, reverse the the order once again and ask students to share and compare the original fairy tales mentioned in the book to the adventures depicted in Half Upon a Time, again offering help and clarification to the students when needed.

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