The Emperor’s Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen

Teacher: RebeccaHaden 

Level of students: Elementary-Grade school

Language skill focus: Reading and comprehension

Topic: Fairy Tale: The Emperor’s Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen,

Time: Approximately 1 hour

Objectives: Students will improve reading and listening skills and learn new vocabulary.image 1

Introduction: The Emperor’s Nightingale is a story by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author, set in China. In the story, the Emperor of China discovers a nightingale, a bird which sings so beautifully that its song restores the ailing Emperor’s health.  The Emperor of Japan sends a mechanical singing bird to the Emperor of China, and his court prefers the artificial bird to the real bird — until the Emperor of China falls ill again. The nightingale come back, sings the Emperor back to health, and asks the Emperor to keep it secret. When the servants arrive in the morning, they are amazed to find the Emperor well.

Materials: There are several online versions of the story:

The Nightingale, by Hans Christian Andersen

A simpler version

There are some excellent picture books of the story as well:

The Nightingale by Pikko Vainio

The Nightingale by Stephen Mitchell

The Nightingale by Jerry Pinkney is out of print, but check your library or buy used — great illustrations)

Vocabulary, Questions for Comprehension and Discussion :

Source: Rag and Bone 

Vocabulary from the Story:

China, Emperor, nightingale, Chief Councillor,  kitchen maid  expert, fisherman, porcelain, corridors, court (room and people)

imperial,prostrate,  pagoda,  probe, permanent, position, permission,

parallel, plumage,  puny, plain,  tomb, mourning, detail, courtiers

attractive, awesome, banish, ruby,  attendants, footman, sensation,

Comprehension Questions

  1. How did the Emperor find out about the Nightingale? Why was he angry?
  2. Where did the Chief Councillor go first when he was looking for the Nightingale?
  3.  How did the Kitchen Maid know where the Nightingale lived?
  4.  What did the Nightingale’s song remind the Kitchen Maid of? The Chief Councillor? The Grand Master? The Emperor? Why did the Emperor cry?
  5. Where did the  artificial nightingale come from?
  6. Why did the real Nightingale fly out the window? Where did she go?
  7. Who broke the  artificial nightingale? Who had to tell the Emperor about it?
  8. Who did the Grand Master say wore out the  artificial nightingale? Was that true? Why did he say that?
  9.  Was the bird really fixed?
  10. Who saved the Emperor’s life? How?
  11.  Does the Nightingale want to live in the palace? Where does she want to live?

Discussion Topics

  1. Did the Fisherman have an easy life?
  2. Did the Emperor know about the Fisherman’s life?
  3. Before the Nightingale came to court, how did the Emperor learn about his kingdom?
  4. Were the Chief Councillor and the Grand Master wise and honest?
    How do you know?
  5. At the end of the play, the Nightingale says: “I will fly every where and tell you about your kingdom.”
    How will this help the Emperor be a better ruler?
  6. The Nightingale was a great success at court. Everyone
  7. talked about her. She became a fad.
    Can you name some things which are fads today, things which everyone talks about, everyone wants, but that everyone could forget about tomorrow?
  8. Why do people value these things?

Extra Activities

Write a poem.

Malvina Reynolds wrote a song based on the story.

Have students read the lyrics and discuss how the verses connect with the story.

Is Reynolds retelling the story or using the story to make a different point?

Ask students to think about the points that come up in reading and thinking about “The Emperor’s Nightingale.”

Divide students into groups and have each group choose a point to write about.

Challenge students to write their own verses.

Create a mechanical bird.

The mechanical nightingale was a sort of robot. Use our Robot Lesson Plans to explore the idea of robots further.

Explore Orientalism

Andersen was Danish, and didn’t visit China or Japan. Why did he choose to set this story in Asia?

Many 19th century European artists, including writers, were fascinated by Asia, seeing it as the embodiment of mystery and wonder. Andersen might have chosen China as the setting for his story in order to make it more romantic.

The practice of creating works of art emphasizing the mysteriousness of the East came to be known as “Orientalism.”

Older students might find it interesting to study the controversy surrounding Orientalism and whether it is a racist approach to Asia, but younger students might be comfortable with the idea that people enjoy thinking about far away places.

Have students prepare a Venn diagram comparing China and Japan during the 19th century.

Additional Resources:


Usborne has a worksheet suitable for ESL as well as for elementary students.

The Barnum Museum has a PDF of activities to go with their play based on The Nightingale. It includes map work for the continent of Asia and particularly for China.

Penguin has a reproducible guide as well, designed to go with The Emperor and the Nightingale (Penguin Young Readers, Level 4).

The Midland Art Center has a collection of worksheets for their production of “The Emporer and the Nightingale.”

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