Stories from the Thousand and One Nights

Stories from the Thousand and One Nights
Frances Cleveland: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two weeks to a semester


In 1888, the Russian composer Nakolay Rimsky-Korsakov composed the symphonic suite, Sheherazade, based on some of the very famous Tales of the Arabian Nights.  It is one of his most famous pieces, and there is every chance that both Frances and Grover Cleveland heard its music at one time or another.


This lesson should be an on-going activity that takes several months, or maybe even a whole year.  How much is done with it depends in part on how much time is available.  It can be accomplished, however, in small increments of time—a little here, a little there, without taking away too much from the regular curriculum.  In light of current events in the world, it should “pay” for itself many times over in students’ understanding of classic literature from another culture, and a piece of classical music.  The overt purpose of the lesson is, first, to introduce students to the Tales of the Arabian Nights, second, to encourage them to reflect on what the stories tell them about Persian (Iranian) culture, and third, to acquaint them, if only briefly, with the music of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet access to print materials about The Arabian Nights books, listed below, of The Arabian Nights art materials CD of Sheherazade


1.  Begin the lesson by asking students if they have heard the stories of Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, or Sinbad, the Sailor.  Thanks to Walt Disney, many of these names will probably be at least familiar.  Explain that these stories are part of a larger group of stories called The Arabian Nights, and come mostly from Persia, or what is now Iran.
2.  Announce that your class is going to have a '1001 Nights Story Telling Festival', in which each student will have the opportunity to memorize a story (not necessarily word for word, but rather, getting the essence of the story) and then tell it to the class in as dramatic a way as is possible. 

3.  Spend some time reading some of the stories from the books below to the class, or have them read them to themselves, from the books and from the first website, below.  Play some of the music from Sheherazade, while the reading is going on, to set a mood.  Encourage students to explore the rest of the websites listed below, to learn about the stories and their history.  Then ask each student to select one story for his or her own.
4.  Using the website, Storytelling in the Classroom, below, coach students through the process of learning to “retell” his or her story.  Give students an opportunity to practice telling their stories—perhaps to students in a lower grade.
5.  In the process, discuss with students what the stories have to say about the culture in which they were told. 
6.  When all students have perfected their storytelling, set several dates for a '1001 Nights Storytelling Festival'.  Invite other teachers, students, parents, and community members to one of the storytelling events.  Take pictures of the events, and mount them on a special bulletin board.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by asking the music and art teachers to participate, as well as by including other kinds of folktales and stories.

Sources & Resources:


Haddawy, Husain (Translator), Mahdi, Muhsin, Ed. The Arabian Nights. New York: W. W. Norton, Co., 1995.
McCaughrean, Geraldine, and Fowler, Rosamund (Illustrator).  One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.


The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights: Origin and Legacy

Arabian Nights Information

The Arabian Nights Resource Center

Nikolay Ardreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov

Rimsky-Korsakov and Sheherazade

Interactive Map of Persia (right click to reveal contemporary map of the area)

Storytelling in the Classroom


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.