Reading and Writing Lesson Plans for The Ugly Duckling

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The Beautiful Story

The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson is a popular fairy tale that your students have probably heard before. After sharing this story with them, these lesson plans for The Ugly Ducking will improve students reading and writing skills. The main character in the story, the “duckling,” is shunned by others because of his appearance — he doesn’t fit in. He tries to find a family, but fails at every attempt. Finally, when he can just not bear it any longer, he throws himself at the mercy of the swans, only to discover he is a swan himself. There are many different versions of this story — most use the storyline of Hans Christian Anderson with various illustrations for the story.

Reading Lesson

An objective students must often meet in elementary reading curriculum is how the setting and specific character traits affect a story. Can this same story take place in a different setting? Could this same story take place if the main characters were frogs? The answer to that question for The Ugly Duckling is, “Well, that depends.” First, students should explain to you what the setting of the story is. If students can’t remember what setting means, then you can remind them with a definition and examples from stories you have read this past year. Next, ask students if the story could take place in various settings around the world. So, you could ask, “Could the author set the story in a desert?” Use the think-pair-share strategy for students to answer these setting questions. This way, each student is thinking about the question and sharing their thoughts with at least one other person.

With the desert question, most children should answer NO. Ducks and swans cannot survive in a desert, so this story could not happen. However, the important objective with this lesson is that students understand what setting is and that they can reason whether or not the setting affects the plot. If they can come up with a way it can take place in a desert, then you can accept their logic. You could also ask questions like:

  • Could this story take place in Manhattan?
  • Could this story take place in our town?
  • Could this story take place in Central Park?

Once you have discussed setting with students, then you can also discuss character traits if you want to extend the lesson. Would this story work if the main characters were dogs? Possibly because puppies look so different; perhaps a Basset Hound puppy wouldn’t fit in with a family of German Shepherds, and so on.

When you have finished the lesson, give students a chance to do some independent practice. Students can illustrate a twist on The Ugly Duckling with a brief written explanation. For example, maybe one group said the story would work in a busy city, as long as there was a body of water for the ducks and swans. So, the students in that pair/group would draw a picture of the ugly duckling in a city and write about why the story would work in that setting. You can post these illustrations on a bulletin board with the title: “Try these settings for The Ugly Duckling."

Writing Lesson

With either of these lesson plans for The Ugly Duckling, you can do them separately or together. One is not dependent on completing the other, and you can do them in any order. For the writing lesson plan, students will compare and contrast themselves with the ugly duckling. For younger primary students, you can do this lesson as a shared writing activity. For older students, they can work on it in pairs or individually. You will know the ability of your students and how well they can accomplish the following tasks.

1. Students fill out a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting themselves with the ugly duckling. Even if students are doing this on their own, you can help them think of ideas as a class — especially if this is one of the first times they are working with a Venn diagram or if students seem stuck for ideas.

2. Students will write a five to six sentence paragraph, comparing and contrasting themselves to the main character. The paragraph will have a topic sentence, one or two sentences with comparisons, one or two with contrasts, and a concluding sentence. As the teacher, you can provide students with the topic sentence, especially if writing a paragraph is new for them.

3. Students draw an illustration to go with their paragraphs.

4. In small groups of four or five, students share their paragraphs and illustrations with each other before these are hung up for display.

The Ugly Duckling Lesson

The Ugly Duckling is such a wonderful story, and one that has an obvious lesson for children. But besides this lesson of self-esteem, individuality and longing to fit in, you can use the book to teach reading and writing skills.


My 16 years of teaching experience in preschool and elementary school

Andersen, Hans Christian. The Ugly Duckling. North-South Books, 2008.