The Emperor's New Clothes

Who will tell the truth about the Emperor’s new outfit?

By Spencer Kayden, Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen
From the May/June 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: As students read this fairy tale adaptation, they will identify the theme of being unafraid to speak the truth. 

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Think and Read: Theme

As you read, think about what the Emperor learns from his Royal Aide. 

Scene 1

The Palace

Narrator 1: A group of nobles are chatting. Suddenly, a trumpet blares. The room goes quiet.

N2: The Emperor enters wearing a yellow robe covered in jewels.

N3: The nobles bow.

Emperor: How do I look?

All (clapping): Ooh . . . aah . . . ooh!

N1: The Emperor sees himself in a mirror and smiles.

Noble 1 (whispering): The Emperor sure loves his fancy clothes.

Noble 2 (whispering): Well, nothing matters more to him than how he looks.

Noble 3 (whispering): It’s true. He’s very vain.

Royal Aide (to himself): I worry that could get him into trouble.

Dave Clegg

Scene 2

The Palace Gate

N2: Off to the side, two people speak quietly.

Tailor 1: I hear the Emperor spends a fortune on his clothing.

Tailor 2: I’m told he spends more time getting dressed than he does ruling the kingdom.

Tailor 1: If he cares that much about his looks, he’ll be easy to trick. We’ll be rich!

N3: The tailors go up to the palace gate.

Guard: Stop! What do you want?

Tailor 2: We can weave the most incredible clothes.

Tailor 1: The fabric is very special. It can’t be seen by those who are fools.

Tailor 2: Your Emperor will want to know about this.

Guard: Wait here.

N1: The guard goes inside to tell the Royal Aide.

Scene 3

The Throne Room

Royal Aide (chuckling): Your Majesty, there are two tailors outside. They say they can weave a cloth that fools cannot see.

Emperor: Really? Bring them in.

Royal Aide: Clearly it’s nonsense.

Emperor (annoyed): Why don’t you trust them?

Royal Aide: I am being sensible.

Emperor: Well, I need a new outfit. This cloth sounds perfect.

Royal Aide: But . . .

Emperor: Bring me the tailors!

Dave Clegg

Scene 4

The Emperor's Bedroom

N2: The tailors measure the Emperor.

Tailor 1: Your Majesty, when you wear these new clothes, you will be admired by all who are worthy.

Tailor 2: And if people cannot see your outfit, you will know they are fools.

Tailor 1: Just think, you will be the first to have clothes like these.

Tailor 2: We have only offered this cloth to you.

Emperor: That settles it. Royal Aide, pay these tailors whatever they ask.

N3: The tailors give each other a sneaky smile.

Emperor: Now I will be remembered as the best-dressed emperor of all.

Royal Aide: Your Majesty, I fear that you will be remembered as a fool.

Emperor: How dare you insult me!

Royal Aide: Can’t you see what is happening?

Emperor: Get out!

Scene 5

The Emperor's Bedroom, the next day

N1: The tailors spend all night in the sewing room.

N2: Then they rush in with their arms stretched out in front of them. They’re carrying imaginary clothes.

Tailors 1 and 2: We’re here! We’re here!

N3: The Emperor looks around, confused.

Emperor: Where are my clothes?

Tailor 1: You can’t see? We’re holding them up.

N1: The Emperor nearly faints. He has a scared look on his face.

Emperor (to himself): I see nothing. But I cannot say that!

Tailor 2: Do you like them?

N2: The Emperor quickly smiles and nods.

Emperor: Of course I do! You are true artists!

Tailor 1: Put them on. The cloth is so lightweight, you will barely feel it.

N3: The Emperor undresses. The tailors hold out imaginary pants for him to step into.

N1: They dress him in an imaginary jacket. They put an imaginary robe over his shoulders.

Royal Dresser: A perfect fit.

N2: The Emperor looks in a large mirror and turns around slowly.

Emperor: Really?

Royal Dresser: Yes!

Emperor (relieved): Yes. I look gorgeous.

Dave Clegg

Scene 6

N3: The people of the kingdom line the streets.

Guard: Step back! You will all have a chance to see the Emperor’s new clothes—unless, of course, you’re a fool. Then you won’t see them at all.

N1: The gate opens and the Emperor comes out.

N2: He is wearing only his crown and underpants.

N3: The crowd is shocked as the Emperor walks down the road.

N1: At first, there is silence. Then a few people clap. Soon, the whole crowd cheers.

All: Hooray! Hooray!

Subject 1: What a wonderful outfit!

Subject 2: Such bright colors!

N2: Just then, a small child points up.

Child: Look! The Emperor has no clothes!

N3: No one can believe he said it.

N1: Suddenly everyone laughs.

All: Hahahaha! Hahahaha! Hahahaha!

N2: The Emperor runs inside the gate where the nobles stand. Their faces are red with shame.

Emperor: Those tailors tricked me! Get the Royal Aide. NOW!

N3: The nobles bring him over.

Emperor: I truly am a fool. Why didn’t you stop me?

Royal Aide: I tried, but you wouldn’t listen.

Emperor: Other than that child, you were the only person brave enough to tell the truth.

Royal Aide: I’d rather be hated for being honest than loved for lying.

Emperor: From now on, I would like you to be my chief adviser.

Royal Aide: Of course!

Emperor: And for your first job . . .

Royal Aide: Yes?

Emperor: Bring me some pants.

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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Teach This

Share this template of a classic stage with your students, and ask them to draw the stage for one scene of the play. Which will they pick? How will they imagine the palace or the streets of the kingdom?

Read This

Learn about the life of Hans Christian Andersen on the Scholastic Book Wizard site. Then explore many of the master storyteller’s 168 stories on here

Teach This

In the play, almost everyone is afraid to speak up. Help your students learn about peer pressure and the importance of speaking up with this video.

Watch This

Your students will love seeing this classic story come to life in this 12-minute animated version. After watching, make a list of how the video version is different from the play. Do you think the Emperor learns the same lesson?

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Social-emotional learning: Responsible decision-making (analyzing situations, solving problems); relationship skills (communication); selfawareness (accurate selfperception)

Key Skills

Theme, key details, character traits, plot, compare and contrast, making inferences, text features, drawing conclusions, interpreting text, explanatory writing

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan


Set a Purpose for Reading (10 minutes)

  • Turn to pages 24-25. Explain that an emperor is a ruler or king and that a fairy tale is a make-believe story that has been told for many years.
  • This play is adapted from a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, a writer who lived in Denmark in the 1800s. Point to Denmark on a classroom map. Andersen’s other fairy tales include “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Snow Queen.” Ask students if they’re familiar with “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and invite them to name other fairy tales they know.
  • Call on volunteers to read aloud the Think and Read box on page 24 and the Think and Write box on page 29. Ask your students to keep these prompts in mind as they read the play.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • While the play does not include definitions of vocabulary words with the text, a Vocabulary Skill Builder online previews eight challenging words.  You may also play our Vocabulary Slideshow.
  • Vocabulary words: nobles, blares, vain, tailors, weave, sensible, lightweight, gorgeous


Bridging Decoding and Comprehension

  • Storyworks Jr. plays provide a perfect opportunity for students to build fluency.
  • Remind students that the stage directions in parentheses tell a reader or actor how to say a line or perform an action in the play. Direct students to page 24. Point to the words clapping and whispering in column 1 and to himself in column 2. Read the dialogue aloud with appropriate expressions or actions. Ask students to repeat after you. 


  • Before reading: Point out the Characters box on page 24. Explain that “Subjects” refers to the people who live in the kingdom ruled by the Emperor.
  • First Read: Continue reading the play as a class.
  • Second Read:  Project or distribute the Close-Reading Questions. Discuss them as a class, rereading lines or scenes as necessary.
  • Separate students into groups to discuss the Critical-Thinking Question. Then ask groups to share their answers with the class.

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)

  • Read Scene 1. What does the Emperor do as soon as he enters the room? (key details) He asks how he looks and admires himself in a mirror. What do his actions show about his character? (character traits) He cares a lot about his appearance.
  • Read Scene 2. What is the tailors’ plan? (plot) They want to get rich by pretending to sell the Emperor cloth that is invisible to fools. Why do the tailors think their plan will work? They think the Emperor is so vain that he will be foolish enough to fall for their trick.
  • Read Scene 3. What does the Royal Aide think about the tailors’ invisible cloth? What does the Emperor think?  (compare and contrast) The Royal Aide thinks the invisible cloth is nonsense. However, the Emperor wants to meet the tailors. He needs a new outfit and thinks the cloth sounds great.
  • Read Scene 4.  How do the tailors feel about their plan at the end of this scene? (making inferences) They give each other a sneaky smile because they are pleased that their plan is working.
  • Read Scene 5. How does the picture on page 27 help you imagine what the tailors and the Emperor do in this scene? (text features) The picture shows the tailors carrying imaginary clothes to give to the Emperor. He has a scared look, which is described by Narrator 1.
  • Why does the Emperor say to himself “I see nothing. But I cannot say that!”? (theme) He’s afraid that if he’s honest and admits he can’t see the imaginary cloth, people might think he’s a fool. He’s afraid to speak up and tell the truth.
  • Read Scene 6. Why do the people in the crowd clap and cheer for the Emperor? (plot) They are pretending that they can see the Emperor wearing beautiful clothes.
  • Why does everyone in the crowd start laughing after the child says “The Emperor has no clothes!”? (drawing conclusions) Before that  moment, they were afraid to speak up. They were afraid of being thought of as fools. Now they feel it’s OK to admit what they really see—that the Emperor is wearing only his crown and underpants.
  • What does the Royal Aide mean when he says “I’d rather be hated for being honest than loved for lying.”? (interpreting text) It’s important to him to speak honestly, even if people (like the Emperor) don’t like him for telling the truth.
  • Why does the Emperor ask the Royal Aide to become his chief adviser? (making inferences) The Emperor realizes that he wants an adviser who is an honest person, instead of someone who just flatters him. The Royal Aide has always been truthful, even when it made the Emperor mad.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

  • In this play, almost everyone is afraid to speak up. When might it be important to speak up, even if no one else does? Why might this be difficult? (theme) Answers will vary. Students might say it’s important to speak up if someone is in danger or being treated unfairly. It might be difficult because others might not like what you say, or you might not feel confident about what you think.


Exploring the Big Idea (30 minutes)

  • Have students complete the Theme Skill Builder.
  • They should also write a paragraph to answer the question in the Think and Write box. Students can read their paragraphs aloud in small groups.

Differentiate and Customize
For Small Groups

Divide your class into groups and assign each group a scene from the play to perform in class. As students practice their lines, remind them to reinforce their fluency skills by paying attention to stage directions and punctuation marks in the dialogue. Groups can add background music or make simple props for different characters. Ask each group to perform its scene in class.

For Struggling Readers

Read the play aloud as students follow along in their magazines. Ask students to look for details that describe what the Emperor and his Royal Aide do at the beginning (Scenes 1-3), in the middle (Scene 4–5), and at the end of the play. Ask students to share their details.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to write a first-person journal entry describing what happens when the Emperor wears his “new clothes” for the first time. The journal can be written from the point of view of the Emperor, the child, or the Royal Aide. Invite students to read their journals aloud in small groups.