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Jack and the Beanstalk

Can a Thief Be a Hero?

Jack and the Beanstalk: Can a Thief Be a Hero?

Unit Summary

Students analyze Jack’s character in the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk and determine whether his actions are heroic. Using the Showing Evidence Tool, they make a claim about Jack’s heroism and collect evidence from the text to support that claim. Students print out their project work from the tool and use it as an outline to write a persuasive essay.


Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Questions
    Is being bad for a good reason ever OK?
  • Unit Questions
    What are the traits of a hero?
    When is it stealing OK?
  • Content Questions
    Which character traits does Jack possess?
    How do choices by characters affect the outcome of a story?

Assessment Processes

View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Jack and the Beanstalk Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.

Instructional Procedures

Week 1

Read the Story

Write the Essential Question on the board, Is being bad for a good reason ever OK? Have students write their responses for 3 to 5 minutes in a journal. Give students the opportunity to share their responses from their journals. Conduct a general discussion about the question. Tell students you will be reading them a well-known fairy tale called Jack and the Beanstalk and you want them to keep this question in mind as they listen to the tale. Explain that Jack and the Beanstalk has many different versions and each story is written a little differently. Let them know they will be reading a version told by Joseph Jacobs, which is based on the oral versions he heard as a child. As an extension to this unit, have students read more than one version, and compare and contrast how Jack is depicted in each by using a Venn diagram or T-chart, or by writing a comparative essay.

A character’s identity is revealed through actions, words, and interactions with other characters. The character’s nature is also revealed though a sequence of events involving a conflict and resolution. Read Jack and the Beanstalk aloud to students while they follow along with their own copies. In small groups, have students examine Jack’s behavior and the behavior of other characters to answer questions, such as:

  • Why did Jack climb the beanstalk the third time?
  • Is Jack honest with his mother?

Also discuss whether stealing the giant’s property and taking the law into one’s own hands can be justified. Have students share with a partner their thoughts on the following questions:

  • Why did Jack steal from the ogre?
  • Is it ever OK to steal?

Give students time to write their thoughts in their journals. Follow up with a class discussion and record students’ thoughts on chart paper.

Examine Character Traits

Remind students that characters are an important element of a story. Traits of a character can be stated or can be shown to the reader by the character’s actions. Use the character analysis organizer to analyze traits seen in Jack. Students should list a trait and provide evidence from the text showing Jack exhibiting the trait they recorded. Have students think about what they read that makes them connect the character trait with the character. Students may complete this organizer for other characters in the story, but their later work with the Showing Evidence Tool will focus directly on Jack.

After students finish the analysis, discuss how Jack’s choices affect the outcome of a story. Have students share their final organizer with a partner and make any necessary changes based on feedback. Post the following questions on the board and have students focus on them as they share:

  • Do the chosen traits represent Jack?
  • Does the evidence support the trait?
  • Is the evidence from the text?

Collect organizers as an assessment of student understanding. Redirect teaching as needed based on student work.

Further refine students’ understanding of character traits with a dramatization of the story as a way to help students experience the characters. Group students and have them develop staged readings of Jack and the Beanstalk using the Reader's Theater* technique.

Next, pose the question, Is Jack a hero? Have students make an assertion about Jack’s character and then back it up with textual evidence from the story. Have students read the story on their own and highlight or note sections of text that relate to the question, Is Jack a hero? Group students in teams of two or three, and ask them to discuss their findings in the text. Have students consider in their groups the most important characteristics of a hero. Have students discuss the following questions and record their responses in their journals:

  • What are the traits of a hero?
  • Does a hero have to be nice?

Read journals periodically to check for student understanding, and direct teaching as needed. Provide students with written feedback to acknowledge their opinions, offer suggestions, and write probing questions.

Weeks 2-3

Practice Using the Tool

Create an example project, using the simplified version, to give students experience moving evidence and linking it to the claim. A possible prompt for the example could be: Should schools require students to wear uniforms? Create a claim and add three to four pieces of evidence for students to manipulate. Have students add additional pieces of evidence for practice.

Set Up the Project

Before proceeding with the next activity, click here to set up the You call that thief a hero? project in your workspace. Group students with like-minded classmates according to their claim of Jack’s heroic nature. In this project, encourage students to agree and work together to collect and link evidence. Tell them that completing the project is more important than disagreeing on the claim and spending time sorting out which claim the group will make. Distribute the evidence rubric and ask students to review, check for understanding, and encourage them to refer to it as they build their case.

Use the Tool

Have students log into their Showing Evidence team space. Point out the prompt that guides their work, In the story Jack and the Beanstalk, is Jack a hero? Have each student group use their research from the previous activities to make a claim and back it up with evidence.

Students use Showing Evidence Tool  to structure the support for their answer. Using the tool instructions, students are reminded how to correctly cite evidence and construct a claim. Working in teams of two or three, have students use their decision-making skills to make a claim about Jack’s heroic nature. Instruct students to use the text and their completed character analysis organizer to gather evidence. To cite the evidence, have students identify the page, column, and paragraph where the information is found. The explanation section of the evidence must include the quote from the text. Tell teams to gather five pieces of evidence to support their claim and three pieces of evidence that could weaken the claim. Encourage students to use strong argumentation skills and persuasiveness to argue their point and make others want to support their claim.

Conduct a series of mini-lessons about using strong words to convey support for a claim and give examples of how to be persuasive.

Review Evidence

Assign each student team another team’s work to review. Have students use the rubric to help in their reviews. For the initial reviews, join like-minded teams. This allows students time to share support for their claim. After the first review, allow teams one lab day to make necessary changes and improvements before moving into the secondary review phase. For the secondary review, join teams with opposing claims in the review process. This gives students a different perspective and helps them become aware of possible counterarguments. Give students time to make any necessary revisions based on both teams’ feedback and suggestions.

Examine the Showing Evidence Activity

The Showing Evidence Tool space below represents one team's investigation in this project. You can double-click on the evidence or comments to read the team's descriptions.


Project Name:   You call that thief a hero? (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)
Prompt:  In the story, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” is Jack a hero?

Explore an interactive demo.


Week 4

Writing the Essay

Have students print their project work from Showing Evidence and use the hard copy as an outline to write their essay. Pose the prompt Is Jack a Hero? to students again. Tell students that they will craft a persuasive essay in which their claims become their thesis statements. Remind students to use the writing process, which includes prewriting, rough drafts, peer editing, revising, and publishing. Explain to students that they need to meet with you to get their drafts approved before they begin each step in the writing process. Describe to students that the most important features of creating a persuasive writing piece are:

  1. Make a claim. The claim is the thesis or point and is central to the argument—what a writer wants to convince readers is true.
  2. Support the claim with reasons and evidence. The evidence in this case consists of text used to prove a point.
  3. Analyze the evidence. Review the evidence and explain how the evidence backs up the point and helps readers understand why the evidence supports the claim. Persuasive language should be used to persuade the audience to support the claim.
  4. Anticipate counterarguments. Acknowledge and refute counterarguments. Explain why the counterarguments are not as strongly supported as the claim.

Distribute the persuasive essay scoring guide before students begin writing and go over the criteria so students know what is expected of them. Give students the writing process checklist to help them document each step. The student essay should use the support collected while using Showing Evidence to back up their thesis.

Wrapping Up and Revisiting the Essential Question

Pose the Essential Question again, Is being bad for a good reason ever OK? In small groups, have students discuss the question in relation to what they have learned from reading Jack and the Beanstalk and by using the Showing Evidence Tool. Allow students time to record their thoughts in their journals. Bring the discussion back to the whole group and give students an opportunity to share what they talked about. Give students an opportunity to share real-life examples as well.

Prerequisite Skills

  • Basic computer skills
  • Experience with the writing process

Differentiated Instruction

Resource Student:

  • Pair the student with a stronger reader during reading activities
  • Supply a copy of the book on CD
  • Teach the resource teachers how to use the Showing Evidence Tool

Gifted Student:

  • Offer the student alternative versions of Jack and the Beanstalk and have the student compare and contrast the different versions using a Venn diagram
  • Have the student read Giants Have Feelings, Too/Jack and the Beanstalk (Another Point of View), by Alvin Grawowsky and Henry Buerchkholtz, and then have the student write a persuasive essay from the giant’s perspective
  • Have the student orchestrate a mock trial and put Jack on trial to evaluate his actions
  • Require the student to find more evidence to both support and weaken the claim

English Language Learner: 

  • Pair the student with a stronger reader during reading activities
  • Provide copies of the text in the student’s first language, if available
  • Provide a glossary of important terms
  • Teach the ELL teachers how to use the Showing Evidence Tool


Joel Lang is a sixth-grade teacher in Lacey, Washington. He participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.

Jack and the Beanstalk

At a Glance

Grade Level: 3-5

Subject: Language Arts

Topics: Character Traits, Heroism

Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Argumentation, Analysis, Decision Making

Key Learnings: Literacy themes, Interpretations of Characters’ Actions, Persuasive Writing

Time Needed: Four weeks, 45-minutes/four days per week

Background: Washington, United States