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A Tall Tale's Big Ideas - Published Version
Content Topic:
Tall tales, American pioneers, 1800s, hyperbole, storytelling, creative writing
In this lesson, third grade students will listen to the reading of selected tall tales. Tall tales were often told orally around a campfire in America’s pioneering days of the 1800s. The humorous stories were meant to boost the spirits of the settlers as they faced an inhospitable land. The stories were sometimes, but not always, based on real people and places. The students will explore how exaggeration and hyperbole contribute to the humor of these tall tales, and are an essential element to the genre. This teacher librarian-taught lesson is presented in conjunction with the classroom teacher’s social studies lessons on America’s frontier days and language arts lesson on writing in a select genre style.
Collaboration Potential:
English Language Arts teacher, Social Studies teacher
Total Estimated Time:
2 hours
Suggested Number Of Sessions:
  • Tall Tale worksheet (SM1_TallTales)
  • Tall Tale Mad Libs Writing Prompt handout (SM2_TallTales)
  • Materials for writing and drawing
  • Variety of tall tale books
  • Folk music CD (or on computer)
  • Props for pioneer scene (coon tail cap, stump, fake trees, campy atmosphere props)
  • Tall tale picture book


Hanlon, Tina L. "West Virginia's Appalachian Musc and Literature: Folk Heroes."

     AppLit:  Resources for Readers and Teachers of Appalachian        Literature for Children and Young Adults.  2000. Ferrum College.  19 Oct. 2008 <>.

Kellogg, Steven. Paul Bunyan. New York: William Morrow & Co, 1984.


Pope Osborne, Mary. American Tall Tales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Instruction / Activities:

Day 1

Direct instruction:

TL will greet students in the library with welcoming statements that include humorous exaggerations.  Students will sit around in “camp-fire” style.  The lights will be dimmed and a spotlight will be focused on TL, sitting on a stump and wearing a coon skin cap.  Some silk ficus trees will be grouped near the TL to create a campy scene.  The TL will explain that the story the students are about to hear is called a “tall tale.”  Students will be asked to keep in mind why the story might be called a tall tale as the story is being read, and the TL will read a tall tale.  The TL will initiate a brainstorming activity for students to determine why the story they just heard is called a tall tale.  TL will give a quick mini-lesson on the origins of tall tales and the role of exaggeration in the stories.


Sharing and reflecting:

TL will lead an instructional conversation on the difference between exaggeration and lying.  Students will be asked to orally provide examples of exaggeration and give instances when they exaggerate.  The TL will then explain to the students that they will listen to another short tall tale and listen for and record examples of tall tales on a worksheet that is provided.  Students will share examples of exaggeration that they recorded from the story.  TL and students will discuss how exaggeration contributes to the overall story. (Use SM1_TallTales)


Direct instruction:

TL will introduce a concluding task to be completed during the next classroom period.  Students will be placed in groups of three and create a tall tale using a “Mad Lib” story prompt.  The writing piece will be illustrated and presented at the next meeting at the library.  TL will summarize the class lesson and answer any questions students have. (See SM2_TallTales)


Day 2 (in classroom)

Independent practice:

Students will work cooperatively to write a tall tale based on the story prompt they have selected.  Each group will produce an illustration to accompany their story. 


Day 3

Sharing and reflecting:

The groups will present their stories at their next meeting in the library, and the stories and illustrations will be displayed on a library bulletin board.  A selection of tall tale books will be on display for students interested in further reading.

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Presented By: Tibbi Angelastro
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