From Rags to Riches
Close Reading (including summarizing, sequencing, and identifying cause
and effect), Critical Thinking, Creative Writing
- A copy of the opera’s synopsis (either the written or illustrated version)
- Writing supplies
For optional Diving Deeper activities:
- Large construction paper
- Index cards
- Other art supplies
Common Core Standards
This activity directly supports the following ELA-Literacy Common Core Strands:
Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
Stories are similar to journeys: We have a starting point, a destination, and a variety of experiences along the way. This activity uses a change-based approach to narrative to explore the plot of La Cenerentola, deconstructing it, reconstructing it, and discovering the internal logic that makes it all fit together.
STEP 1. READ THE SYNOPSIS
Ask students to read the synopsis of La Cenerentola (either the written or illustrated synopsis will work). You might also invite them to take turns reading in small groups.
Before moving on, check for understanding:
- Do students have any questions about the plot?
- Do they recognize the plot?
- If so, did anything about the synopsis surprise them?
STEP 2. BOIL DOWN THE PLOT
PART 1: IDENTIFY THE BEGINNING AND END
Suggest to students that plots can be boiled down into three core components, which combine to make a “big change”:
To figure out what these three components are in a story, start with the first and last: the beginning and the end. These should be a pair of opposites that can be expressed in a two-part statement.
(Journey’s Start) At the beginning ……
(Destination) By the end ……
Take a moment to practice articulating this beginning/end pair with simple, familiar stories. Here are two examples:
Charlotte’s Web At the beginning, Wilbur the pig was destined
to be slaughtered.
By the end, Wilbur was a valued companion.
The Wizard of Oz At the beginning, Dorothy wanted to leave
By the end, Dorothy knew there was “no place
PART 2: CONSTRUCT THE CAUSE
The final element of the three-part narrative structure is a concise statement that begins: “The change happened because …”
Here is an example that uses all three guide points:
The Boy Who Cried “Wolf” At the beginning, people believed the boy.
By the end, no one believed him.
The change happened because the boy
lied too often.
Again, practice identifying and articulating this “change happened” statement with your students using familiar stories.
STEP 3. ANALYZE LA CENERENTOLA
Now have students apply the above model to La Cenerentola: Ask students to name the three core components that summarize the opera’s plot.
Example: In the beginning, Cenerentola is an unloved servant.
By the end, Cenerentola finds true love by marrying
The change happened because Alidoro gave
Cenerentola the means to go to the Prince’s ball.
Note that numerous “the change happened because” statements are possible. Some students may focus on love, others may focus on wealth. Encourage a variety of ideas and solutions.
STEP 4. VISUALIZE THE PLOT
Arrange the three elements students identified above as a graphic timeline. Leave plenty of room in between, as other events will fill in the blank space. (Note that a three-element timeline may suffice to develop younger students’ story sense.)
Have students use cause-and-effect strategy to fill in major events (but not minor details) to connect the three big elements. They should list, not explain—less is more. (Students are free to add more than one event between the three core events, but these events should occur in order. By working toward these landmarks, the events become goal-directed.) Establish that these interior events are essential to realizing the landmarks they lead to.
STEP 5. TRANSFORM THE TIMELINE
Invite students to transform the finished timeline into a summary of La Cenerentola by turning the brief notes about each event into full sentences. For instance, the above timeline might be rendered thus:
Cenerentola is an unloved servant. When a beggar comes to the house, she is kind to him. Little does she know that the beggar is really Alidoro!
Then, Cenerentola’s stepfamily receives an invitation to the Prince’s ball. The Prince and his valet change places so they can see through the inevitable flattery. Cenerentola is kind to the valet (who is secretly the Prince).
Cenerentola wants to attend the ball, but her stepfather forbids it. Just then, the beggar reveals to Cenerentola that he is a magical being who can make sure she can attend the ball.
At the palace, the stepfamily behaves very badly. They are aghast when a mysterious, elegant woman appears at the ball. It is really Cenerentola! Despite all the trappings of wealth, Cenerentola still favors the Prince’s valet. She leaves the ball, giving the valet one of her bracelets. She invites him to use it to find her later.
The Prince searches far and wide to find the bracelet’s owner. When he does, he proposes marriage. The Prince and Cenerentola have found true love.
More advanced students can use the change-based model to create original plots:
- Begin by imagining the beginning and ending.
- Next, devise a cause to explain the change.
- Arrange these as a timeline, allowing ample space between events.
- Fill in goal-directed events to explain how and why things changed.
- Review the sequence of events for focus and logic.
- Between events, reserve spaces for description, explanation, and/or dialogue.
- To transform the annotated timeline into a story, follow the plan from beginning to end, expanding each item into sentences and paragraphs.
In groups, students can transform their timelines into La Cenerentola: The Silent Movie.
- Copy each plot point onto a large paper to form an intertitle (the filmed, static text that appears between scenes of a silent movie to clarify the action).
- Ask students to assign roles within their groups. One role will be to hold up each intertitle card between scenes and display it to the audience; other students will play the characters.
- Direct students to pantomime each scene melodramatically, with the goal of reaching the next intertitle. (Optional: Play music from La Cenerentola to accompany the action.)
Create a dynamic plot development chart as a concrete organizer.
- Convert the straight line connecting all timeline events to a line that angles up for positive events and downward for negative events. Here is an example, using the example timeline for La Cenerentola.
- Alternatively, write each event on an index card, and use rulers or other sticks as line segments to connect them with tape, tracing the story contour. You can decorate your bridge, and possibly have figurines representing the characters cross the bridge, from the beginning to the end of the story.
Create a metaphorical map of Cenerentola’s journey.
- Students can represent the opera’s narrative journey as a fanciful metaphorical map, tracing milestone events from their timeline. Rather than charted line, the map uses landform obstacles to represent negative events, such as a mountain or an alligator-filled river. It can also represent advantages (such as bridges, magical tokens, or even conveniently placed vines). Have students annotate the map by labeling each plot event along the way.