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Paperbag Princess

Context for this Lesson


TOPIC: Language Arts, Individual Talents, Gender Roles/Challenging Stereotypes

FOCUS QUESTION: How can a young woman succeed despite limiting stereotypes?

TARGETED OBJECTIVES: (depends on age focus)

MATERIALS: A paper bag. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch with illustrations by Michael Martchenko (Toronto: Annick Press Ltd. 1980)


Invite the students to join you in a circle. Place a paper bag in the middle of the circle. Ask them to consider: what do you see, where do you think it came from, why might it be here? (pick up bag a show that a whole has been cut out of the top) Typically bags are used to hold things, but this bag has whole at the bottom why do you think this whole might be here? (take student predictions) This bag reminds me of a story about a girl named Elizabeth. She put a hole in a bag, just like this one to put it on her body after she lost all of her clothes. She was a very resourceful and smart girl, our Elizabeth, let’s hear her story.

SHARE the story of The Paper Bag Princess using the book read the story to students. Or, tell the story, without book, including major details from the beginning to the end. Afterwards, invite students to explore the story together.

Transition: "In a moment we are going to step into our story. We are going to imagine the moment when Elizabeth sat on the floor hiding after the dragon burned down her castle and stole Ronald away. When I finish talking I’d like to invite you to find your own space in the room on the floor, so that your body does not touch anyone else’s body so we can all become Elizabeth. Any questions? Please find your space on the count of 10." (Count from 10 until students are settled).


A) Narrative Pantomime: Once students are settled encourage them to listen to the narration and to move and respond to everything just as if you were Elizabeth.

"You look up and the room is filled with thick smoke. A dragon has broken into your house and stolen the prince. You stand up and dust yourself off. You feel chilly. I wonder why…you look down… EEP ! You are completely naked! The hot fire from the dragon burned up all your clothes. What can you wear…you see an old paper bag. You punch a whole into the top, push through for your arms. It just fits. Now to find Ronald. Start by looking down, you think. Hey, what’s that over there? You walk over a few steps, bend down, and see the shape of a dragon’s footprint. You place your hand into the dragon’s footstep. It’s a big dragon all right. Your hand is tiny inside the dragon’s large footprint. You start to follow the prints. You go through tall, itchy grass. It would sure be nice if you had a pair of pants. Out of the grass, now, you walk on sharp rocks. It would sure be nice if you had a pair of shoes. Suddenly you stop. You look down!! What’s that??!! Something is lying on the ground, something really big. It’s white and hard and smelly. As you look closer you realize that it’s a bone. Maybe a bone from something the dragon has eaten. You feel scared. You see a large cave. You hide behind a rock. A small wisp of smoke is coming out from the entrance to the cave. You think this must be the dragon. Slowly, carefully you walk into the cave its dark, and dirty, and smelly. (Just the kind of place that dragons like to live.) You turn a corner and stop there in front of you is a big, green, smelly dragon!!! AND FREEZE."

"As I slowly move around the room and tap your shoulder tell me one thing you are thinking as the Character Elizabeth right now...." (take a number of answers) "Excellent you can relax."

Transition: "Thank you for your excellent work let’s join together in a seated circle" (offer comments on choices participants made that were clear in the narrative pantomime/if this is a guided imagery and students are listening ask them to describe what they remember most from the visualization)

B) Dragon Machine: "Now let’s see if we can create the dragon that Elizabeth sees when she enters the cave." Use half the group to create the dragon. Ask for one volunteer to be the head of the dragon and work backwards through the body. Have the dragon try to roar and breathe fire. As a science connection emphasis can be placed on body parts and characteristics of a dragon’s body. Ask the dragon to walk, to roar, and to breathe fire. Reflect as a group about which body parts really seem important to use to represent the dragon.

Transition: Now that we’ve built our dragon we are ready to explore the scene where Elizabeth tricked the dragon into falling asleep. Our dragon can have a seat on this side of the circle while we plan out our drama work.

C) Scene Work: Using the strategies the group came up with to portray the dragon, play out the scene in which Elizabeth outwits him. ½ the group is the dragon (already made) the other ½ will play Elizabeth together. Ask the group what happens in this scene, describe the major events, then have students stand up and improvise them through. (Younger students may needs the Teacher to narrate action and they fill in lines of dialogue as able. Older students could break into groups of four and improvise their own scene with three students playing the dragon and one student playing Elizabeth). Play the scene with the full group, or in parallel play with each group playing at the same time, just until the dragon falls asleep. After playing it through, ask the group to evaluate their scene. Is there anything they could do to make the story clearer? Replay if students have suggestions. If older students are playing simultaneous scenes, one group could be invited to share their version with the rest of the class. After the scene work is complete, invite the group to return to a seated circle to reflect on their work. What did you learn about the character of Elizabeth by playing through this scene? What words would you use to describe her? Why? (Older students can focus more on motivation and character intention trying to use context clues from their improvisation to support the details they offer about her)

D) Teacher-in-role: "Let’s take some time now to think about what happens AFTER the end of the story told by the author and the illustrator. We have this final picture (show last image in the book) what might you infer about the Character of Elizabeth at the end of this story based on this picture?" Have students describe and analyze what they see and make a prediction about what might have happened next. Build on students’ predictions to offer: "Well one of the many things Elizabeth did was start a School for Dragon Defeaters. But the problem was all the adults in her community did not believe that a child, particularly a GIRL child could defeat a dangerous dragon. So Elizabeth went out to find a group of resourceful, smart children (like all of you) to see if she could get some help to build her dragon defeaters school. In just a moment, when I put on this scarf, I am going to become Elizabeth and I’ll invite you to be the smart, resourceful children that I know you already are. Any questions?"

The teacher puts on a scarf and becomes Elizabeth. "Oh my! I heard there was a group of smart, resourceful children in this town but I didn’t realize I would find so many of you, how wonderful (she walks around and shakes a few students’ hands). It’s very nice to meet you, I’m Elizabeth. Well I’m so glad you are here because I have a BIG problem. See I don’t know if you heard but I defeated a dragon and I didn’t do it using a sword or any sort of violence. I actually defeated the dragon by using my brain to trick the dragon so he (or she you can decide) to fall asleep. Now I created a Dragon Defeaters school, a school where we learn to defeat dragons without violence, with wonderful classes, to teach ways to deal with Dragons... but no one has come to learn my methods. This is my dream and I’m not going to give it up. But I need help. What can I do to get people interested in my school?" Encourage students to ask questions and make suggestions. Ideally the group will want to help share information (advertise) the school to get more clients. Encourage the group to help Elizabeth come up with other ways to capture the dragon that uses their intelligence and resources.

Groups might come up with:

  • a net and a way to trap dragons
  • learn to speak dragon and convince her/him to be “nice”
  • introduce the dragon to another dragon…does he/she need a friend ?
  • teach the dragon about vegetarianism, etc.

Press students in the conversation to think about ways to change the opinion that girls can’t be brave or use self-defense. Once ideas have been gathered. Elizabeth explains that she has to run because a dragon has been spotted in the green meadow near her arugula fields so she needs to get there before everything burns. Could they help create statues of an ideas which she could share around town? The teacher takes off scarf and clearly steps out of role. Out of role the students can work individually to create statues or work in groups to create tableau images that model a way to catch dragons. Other ideas are listed below.

E) Scene/Project Work: Depending on student ideas, do one or more of the following:

  • Create a slogan to advertise the school.
  • Create a print ad campaign.
  • Create a television commercial or infomercial.
  • Create a billboard on butcher paper.
  • Create a radio ad using an IPAD or Phone to record the sound.
  • Create a brochure.
  • Create business cards.

Continue to challenge students to question stereotypical ideas about what girls can or cannot do. Share drafts and offer feedback. Can invite Elizabeth back to share ideas.


Describe: What challenges/problem did Elizabeth face in our story today? (try to make connections here with stereotypes of what girls can and cannot do)

Analyze: How did the advertising agency help Elizabeth deal with her problem and address the stereotypical beliefs that people had around about how girls should act and what they can do?

Relate: What do you think it will take for people to stop stereotyping or assuming that they know what all girls or all boys are like? What can we do to address this issue in our own school?