Tall Tales

Lesson Plan for Third, Fourth, or Fifth Grade Students
by Ginny Bennett
Correlates with Literature and Language Arts


The Student will:

1.           identify characteristics of a tall tale
2.           locate examples of exaggerations in a story
3.           plan and draw a tall tale character made on paper
4.           design and create paper props to accompany tall tale character
5.           apply color to drawings
6.           write a rough draft of an original tall tale
7.           peer edit rough draft checking for inclusion of exaggerations
8.           revise rough draft
9.           type and print final copy of revised tall tale story then attach to the drawing
10.       cut out laminated version of tall tale character with story
11.       analyze and write about final version of this project
12.       write how a tall tale is different from other stories


1.           Locate tall tale books for the classroom using the resource list of sources.
2.           Show example of student tall tale character with original tall tale written on it.
3.           If available, postcards with exaggerated pictures should be shown.
4.           Additional activities which could be used are attached to this project.


      8-1/2 inch X 11 inch white computer paper
       Scotch tape
       Crayons and felt-tipped pens
       Sharpie pens (Black)
       Laminator with laminating plastic
       Notebook paper


             The teacher should read the class several tall tale short stories.  Ask the students to point out things in the story that could not really happen.  Explain that such things are called exaggerations.

             Discuss the characteristics of tall tales and the history of this type of story.  Correlation between hard times faced by many of the pioneer settlers and some of the invented exaggerations which made humorous light of these situations could be pointed out.  Weather, climates, animals, and human strength were often the topics that lent themselves to exaggeration in tall tales.

     Show the class a student example of the type of tall tale project that they will be making.  Discuss that there are many interesting occupations or hobbies a character might have and in this tall tale their character may be something that they would not want to be in real life.  The may have their character do something they may actually like to do themselves.  I always have the students concentrate on making the character out of paper long before they think about writing the story.  I have found that this helps them form a bond with their character.  Later, they are more inspired to write the story to accompany their wonderful character.


The student will:

1.        listen to tall tales read aloud in the classroom
2.        point out examples of exaggerations found in the tall tale stories
3.        brainstorm in whole class group many varied occupations
4.        select an individual idea from class list
5.        tape three or four sheets of white paper together to make one large sheet of paper (tape on back side only)
6.     think of pose for his or her chosen character
7.        think of props for chosen character
8.        draw character on large sheet of paper (item 5 above) with arms up or down (teacher should point out that the body should have large area on which tall tale story can be written)
9.        if character's arms are drawn sticking out or bent, attach another sheet of paper to each side of the large sheet of paper made in item 5 above
10.    draw props on extra sheets of paper and tape to main figure (the props can be drawn on the same sheet as the character of there is enough room)
11.    color character an props (teacher should tell students that the area on the character where story will be written must be lightly colored so story will show up)
12.    using notebook paper brainstorm things his or her character might do, including exaggerations
13.    lay out in numerical order the ideas he or she wants to use in the rough draft
14.    plan a beginning, middle, and end of his or her tall tale
15.    write a rough draft of the tall tale
16.    peer edit the rough draft with at least two other students checking for the use of exaggerations, story ideas, story contents, order, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation
17.    revise the rough draft after editing
18.    reread draft after revision to be sure it says what was meant, and if needed, make any further changes or revisions needed for final story
19.    using computer, type and print the final tall tale story for attachment to the figure of the tall tale character
20.    take note of width of paper that school laminator can handle and cut off figures arms and props if page is too wide to laminate (may be taped together later)
21.    give the completed character with the final typed story attached to it and any arms or props which have been cut off to fit the laminator to his or her teacher to be laminated
22.    teacher will laminate character's body and any arms and/or props which were cut off to fit width of school laminator
23.    teacher will return laminated items to students
24.    cut out the laminated character and any separately laminated arms and/or props and tape them back together to make the whole tall tale figure
25.    analyze his or her completed project by writing answers on the student evaluation sheet
26.    give evaluation sheet with student part completed to teacher and teacher will complete teacher part of evaluation based on rubric
27.    compare student evaluation with teacher evaluation
28.    share tall tales with classmates and others


What Are They?

      Tall tales are stories written from someone’s imagination.  The story can be funny or silly.  They are filled with exaggerations, similes, metaphors, and lots of descriptive language.  It is always told as if it were true, even though the listeners know that the story could never really happen.

      Some of the characters were real heroes and heroines whose stories got exaggerated a lot, others were characters such as cowboys, railroad workers, loggers, sea captains, and firefighters.  Tall tales told information that really happened at the time and combined it with a wild tale full of fantasy.

      In general there were some bad things about tall tales.  They were negative towards Native Americans, African Americans, women, and animals.  The tales were about people who were trying to conquer the American Wilderness.  Most of these tall tales were written back in the 1800's when the pioneers were trying to conquer the wilderness of America.  It was a way for the pioneers to make the taming of America a little easier to handle.


      Many settlers originally came west because someone made many optimistic claims, those which told only of the good things.  They were told the climate was perfect and that there was plenty of water.  They were convinced that crops would spring up overnight.  It was said that the soil was so fertile that even footprints would grow!

      In real life, living on the plains was a lot tougher that the settlers had been told.  After they found out what life on the plains was really like, they had to face many hard times.  It was easier to do that if a person used humor.  One farmer is reputed to have said, “It could be so hot one day that the corn popped, and so cold the next day that a bucket of water would freeze so fast that the ice would still be warm."

      The settlers loved to exaggerate when they told tales about the huge animals, the incredible weather extremes and the monstrous fish that got away.  We can thank the pioneers for tall tales.  Tall tales have been associated with America’s past.

      Tall Tales are part of our nation’s oral history.  We can make many connections between such tall tales and events in history.  Among these are John Henry and the expansion of the railroads and Paul Bunyon and the timber industry.  Tall tales were stories told and passed down from generation to generation.

Tall Tale Postcards

      In 1902, it was popular in America to send tall tale postcards.  The pictures on these cards had been changed using photo distortion, such as enlarging part of a picture without enlarging the rest of it.  Some of these results were huge fruits and vegetables that were too large to fit in a wagon; giant fish that could fill a railroad flatcar; and gigantic rabbits that appeared with saddles on them.  These rabbits looked in the pictures like they could be ridden as if they were horses.  These cards made people laugh and were quite popular in the Great Plains states.

Activities To Use With Tall Tales

After reading several different tall tales:
  1.  Decide which tall tale hero or heroine you most admire; write a paper telling why.
  2.  Write a letter to a tall tale character telling your opinion of his or her heroic deeds.
  3.  Write a magazine article in which you recommend tall tales as a valuable type of literature for other students.  Include personal opinions along with specific examples.
  4.  Using a tall tale as the basis, write a script for a puppet show.
  5.  Select a tall tale you have read, then write your own sequel to it.
  6.  Design a bulletin board which will portray a variety of tall tales.
  7.  Pretend that you are a friend of a tall tale hero or heroine.  Tell how you handle the uniqueness of this person.
  8.  Write a paper telling whether it is important for children to have a hero, someone to look up to, to model themselves after.  Tell whether heroes and heroines exist in our society today.
  9.  Prepare and give a speech about the admirable qualities of a tall tale hero or heroine.
10.  Write a paper discussing current Americans who could be tall tale heroes or heroines.  Be sure to specify the reasons for your selection and tell occurrences in their lives which could be humourous or exaggerated.
11.  Combine two or more folk heroes or heroines into one tall tale; write a story of their adventure.  Illustrate your story with something your tall tale hero or heroine might own.
12.  Write a poem about your tall tale hero or heroine using the following format.
       Line 1  -  Name the hero or heroine.
       Line 2  -  Three present-tense verbs telling the hero’s or heroine’s actions.
       Lines 3, 4, and 5  -  Three phrases telling where the hero or heroine might be found.
       Line 6  -  A summarizing thought.
       Paul Bunyon
            Chopping, clearing, hauling
            Over mountains
            Across plains
            Through rivers
            The greatest lumberjack of all.
13.  Read two different versions written about the same tall tale hero or heroine.  Then, write a composition telling which version you prefer and why.
14.  Imagine what it would be like having this tall tale hero or heroine as your parent.  Write a composition discussing the answers to the following questions.
       a.  What do you think would be the most or least fun about having this hero or heroine as a parent?
       b.  Do you think people would think differently of you because this hero or heroine being your parent?  Would this be good or bad?
       c.  How would your new parent affect your friendships, hobbies, or your schoolwork?
       d.  What traits would you hope to inherit from this hero or heroine if he or she was your parent?
After reading some specific stories in Cut From the Same Cloth by Robert San Souci the following activities could be done:  On a U.S. map chart all the locations mentioned in all the stories used in #15-#19 then chart all of these locations mentioned in the story/ Make a map legend to identify the character.
15.  For Sal Fink - Mike Fink and his wife want a husband for Sal. People used to advertise for a husband in those days.  Write and advertisement pretended that it was written and illustrated by the Finks as an advertisement for their daughter.  In your letter be sure to tell at least three good reasons why men would want to marry Sal.
16.  For Annie Christmas - Find out what a "keelboat" is and draw a picture of one.  Then write a death notice for Annie, tell the highlights of her life, and what she will be remembered for.  This should be at least two paragraphs in length.  List five examples of exaggeration in this story.
17.  For Bess Call - Draw and color a picture of Bess based on the description of her on page 13 of the book. Then make an advertisement for a wrestling match featuring Bess's brother, Joe.  Make your ad convincing by giving reasons why someone would want to attend such a match.
18.  For Molly Cottontail - Molly just heard of  the Woman's Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls in 1848.  Pretend to be molly and write a letter to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Lucretia Mott and tell what she has done to prove that men and women are equal.
19.  For Sweet Betsey from Pike - On a map chart the Pikes' journey on your map.  Show all the places along the trail where they had trouble.  Then, look on the Oregon Trail map and use it to help you plot the Trail on your map. Use Encarta to find out about the California Trail and Pilot Peak.  Write a diary entry at least one page in length to tell how you feel as you travel across on this Trail.  make sure you tell about the hardships along the trail and about Betsey and or Ike.  Write this pretending you are one of the characters.
20. (This one does not go with the above book.)  This one is to be done after you have read about a hero such as John Henry, Paul Bunyan, Mile Fink, Pecos Bill, John Chapman, or Stormalong.  Draw your own picture of this character based on the description that was given in the story.  Then write your own description of this character.

Writing Your Own Tall Tale

       Think of different careers a tall tale character could have.  Some of the ones you  might think of include a clown, a dancer, a pirate, a king, a princess, an astronaut, a nurse and others.  Examine the pictures below for ideas:


Select the style you will use for the character in your tall tale.  Using three pieces of computer paper taped together end-to-end, draw the head, body, arms, legs, and feet of your character.  The body of your character should be exaggerated, made slightly slightly longer or larger than normal.

         You may use one other piece of computer paper to make props such as a hat or some object for your character to hold.  Be sure to color your character leaving the middle of the body uncolored as the place where your story will be written.

         Think of a name for your tall tall character.  You are now ready to write the rough draft.  One way to begin is to say, you are about to hear the true story of (name of your character)  or you could say (name of your character) is . . . . .  You could then begin to describe your character by using some exaggerations about the size or about the special abilities of your character.  Now write your rough draft.

         Remember, a story needs a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  These tall tales should be short stories which are about one page long.  Try to use details to describe things.  You could use similes (as large as . . . . ,  as strong as . . . .  ,) and you could compare it to some real exaggerated topic.

         Read your story to a friend.  Sometimes when you hear your own story, you may realize that you left something out or that you need to add something to your story.

         Ask your friend if there is anything you could do to make your story better.

         Check your rough drafts to see if you described you character and told at least two or three exaggerations either about your character’s appearance or about something your character can do.

         When your rough draft has been checked by a friend or parent, ask your teacher to check it.  After your teacher has checked your rough draft, you are ready to type the final version and attach it to your character.

         After you have typed your whole tall tale, write Written by: and your name on the bottom left of the figure.  Your tall tale is now finished and ready to be displayed and enjoyed by everyone.

         You may even want to write other tall tales.  These are fun to make!

Tall Tale Resource List

!     Cut From The Same Cloth: American Women of Myth, Legend, and Tall Tale by Robert San Souci
!     American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osbourne
!     Big Men, Big Country (an anthology) by James Bernardini
!     From Sea to Shining Sea compiled by Amy Cohn
!      Johnny Appleseed by Stephen Kellogg
!      The Narrow Escape of Davy Crockett by Ariane Dewey
!      Sally Ann Thunder and Whirlwind Crockett by Caren Lee Cohen
!     Davy Crockett: Young Pioneer by Laurence Santrey
!     John Henry, An American Legend by Ezra Jack Keats
!     John Henry, Steel-driving Man by C.J. Naden
!     John Henry by Jerry Pinkney
!     A Natural Man: The True Story of John Henry by Steve Sanfield
!     Paul Bunyon by Stephen Kellogg
!     Paul Bunyon by Louis Sabin
!     The Story of Paul Bunyon by Barbara Emberley
!     Paul Bunyon and Babe, The Blue Ox by Jan Gleiter and Kathleen Thompson
!     The Bunyans by Audrey Wood
!     Pecos Bill by Stephen Kellogg
!     Pecos Bill by Ariane Dewey
!     American Tall Tales by Adrien Stoutenburg
!     Larger Than Life, The Adventures of American Legendary Heroes by Rogert San Souci
!     Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs
!     Ten Tall Tales (McBroom) by Sid Fleschman
!     Whoppers by Alvin Schwartz
!     Mr. Yowder and the Train Robbers by Glen Rounds
!     The Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories by Joan Aiken
!     Ira Dunnit and the Big Wind by Carol Purdy
!     How Glooscap Outwits the Ice Giant and the Other Tales of the Maritime Indians by Howard Norman
!     Fin McCoul: the Giant of Knockmany Hill by Tomie De Paola
!     Febold Febolson by Arian Dewey
!     The Elephant’s Bathtub: Wonder Tales From The Far East by Frances Carpenter
!     Old Stormalong, John Henry, or Paul Bunyan by deLeeuw

The Statue of Liberty

     My name is the Statue of Liberty.  I'm so tall that I can see half around the world.  I'm so tall, I can even see the ocean.  So, here's my story ……….

     It was late one night, nobody was around but me, so I decided to hop off the pedestal and go into the ocean.  I picked up my long dress and step by step  went into the ocean.  It was cold, but I went on.  I saw lots of fish, seaweed, seashells, and rocks.  It was so colorful down there with all those fish.  I wouldn't have been able to see without my torch.

     One of the fish, an Angel fish, came to me and said, "What on earth are you?"

     "Why, I'm the Statue of Liberty!"

     "Oh sure, whatever, well I'm Bubbles.  How did you get down here?" she asked.

     "I walked."

     "Oh," said Bubbles.  "Have you ever been in the ocean before?"

     "No, but I look at it every day," I said.  "Well, it was nice down here while it lasted," I said.  "Bye."

     "Bye," said Bubbles.

     After Bubbles swam away I walked out of the ocean and got back on the pedestal the place where I was before.

Written by:  Hillary

The Soccer Player

    I was getting ready for a soccer game.  I started stretching.  My legs stretched so far they got stuck on a branch in a tree.  I ended upside down with my arms folded.  By the time I got down, it was time to start the game.

    The kids in the other team looked pretty scary.  I got to kick the ball first.  I kicked so hard, it ended up at Furman University!  The kids there started playing with our ball too.  Except, they were playing baseball.

    The batter hit the soccer ball and got a homerun!  Then, we got the ball back.  When we got back to the game, I kicked the ball into the goal!  It bounced back and I kicked it back in.  This kept going on until the end of the game.  Everyone cheered for me.  I began to stretch my arms.  Suddenly I was stuck on the top of a tree.  Everyone cheered louder.

Written by:  Erica
                    Former Student
Rubric for Tall Tales




Good Job

Nice Effort/ Keep Going

Writing Process

Student devotes a lot of time and effort to the writing process (prewriting, drafting, reviewing and editing).  Works hard to make the story wonderful.

Student devotes sufficient time and effort to the writing process (prewriting, drafting, reviewing, and editing).  Works and gets the job done

Student devotes some time and effort to the writing process but was not very thorough.  Does enough to get by.

Student devotes little time and effort to the writing process.  Doesn't seem to care.

Focus on Assigned Topic

The entire story is related to the assigned topic and allows the reader to understand much more about the topic.

Most of the story is related to the assigned topic.  The story wanders off at one point, but the reader can still learn something about the topic.

Some of the story is related to the assigned topic, but a reader does not learn much about the topic.

No attempt has been made to relate the story to the assigned topic.


The final draft of the story is readable, clean, neat and attractive.  It is free of erasures and crossed-out words.  It looks like the author took great pride in it.

The final draft of the story is readable, neat and attractive.  It may have one or two erasures, but they are not distracting.  It looks like the author took some pride in it.

The final draft of the story is readable and some of the pages are attractive.  It looks like part of it might have been done in a hurry.

The final draft is not neat or attractive.  It looks like the student just wanted to get it done and didn't care what it looked like.


The story contains many creative details and/or descriptions that contribute to the reader's enjoyment. The author has really used his imagination.

The story contains a few creative details and/or descriptions that contribute to the reader's enjoyment. The author has used his imagination.

The story contains a few creative details and/or descriptions, but they distract from the story.  The author has tried to use his imagination.

There is little evidence of creativity in the story.  The author does not seem to have used much imagination


Many vivid, descriptive words are used to tell when and where the story took place.

Some vivid, descriptive words are used to tell the audience when and where the story took place.

The reader can figure out when and where the story took place, but the author didn't supply much detail

The reader has trouble figuring out when and where the story took place.

Assessment Rubric

Tall Tales Today

Student Name:_______________________  Date________________________

Written Scoring: 0 = Not included; 1 = Somewhat included; 2 = Obvious

•    The story had at least three exaggerations ______
•    The main character had a problem to solve ______
•    The main character had super-human abilities ______
•    The plot was funny and impossible ______
•    The main character solved the problem ______
•    The story had action ______
•    The writing process was completed:
     *   Pre-writing ______
     *   Rough Draft ______
     *   Revisions ______
     *   Final Copy ______

22-19 PTS. A, 18-16 PTS. B, 15-13 PTS. C, 12-10 PTS. D, 9-0 PTS. F

Written Grade: ______

Performance Scoring: 0 = Not Evident; 1 = Barely Evident; 2 = Consistently Evident

•    The actor used vocal projection. ______

•    The actor used vocal expression. ______

•    The actor used facial expression. ______

•    The actor maintained believability and concentration. ______

•    The actor was memorized and knew the sequence of the story. ______

•    The actor showed creativity in costume and character. ______

•    The actor used body expression to tell the story. ______

14-13 PTS. = A, 12-11 PTS. = B, 10-8 PTS. = C, 7-5 PTS. = D, 4-0 PTS. = F.

Performance Grade: ______

Modern Tall Tale Rubric

Name of Writer ____              ________________________

Name of Evaluator_________________________________

Mark 1-5 on blank line. Five being excellent and one indicating unable to identify.

  1.  The writer includes 4 characteristics that can be identified. __________

  2.  The writer has developed a modern day problem.  __________

  3.  The Tall Tale uses an exaggerated solution.  __________

  4.  The exaggerated solution has been developed with understatement.  __________

  5.  Writer has a title that relates to Tall Tale.  __________

  6.  Writer has used dialogue and correct punctuation.  __________

  7.  The writer was aware of organizing the paper to proceed in smooth sequence.  __________

  8.  Write down your favorite part of the Tall Tale.

  9.  Name one area in which the student could improve the paper.
10.  Your overall evaluation of paper.

*Be helpful...

         -by editing for corrections!
         -giving encouragement!
         -giving constructive feedback!
         -and helping them write a Terrific Tall Tale!

Student Evaluation of Tall Tale Project

Name                                                                                                 Date                                                


Write your answers in complete sentences.

1.         What did you like about making this project?                                                                          
2.         What was difficult for you about making this project?                                                             
3.         What was your favorite thing about this project?                                                                      
4.         If you did this project again, what would you do differently?                                                   
5.         List the exaggerations that you put in your tall tale.
6.         Explain why you think your project is or is not successful.
7.         Explain what makes a tall tale different from other stories.


Scoring Rubric for Expressing Ideas Clearly


Clearly and effectively communicates the main idea or theme and provides support that contains rich, vivid, and powerful detail.


Clearly communicates the main idea or theme and provides suitable support and detail.


Communicates important information, but not a clear theme or overall structure.


Communicates information as isolated pieces in a random fashion.

Scoring Rubric for Effectively Communicating for a Variety of Purposes


Clearly communicates a purpose in a highly creative and insightful manner.


Uses effective techniques to communicate a clear purpose.


Demonstrates an attempt to communicate for a specific purpose but makes significant errors or omissions.


Demonstrates no central purpose in the communication or makes no attempt to articulate a purpose.

Scoring Rubric for Creating Quality Written Products


Clearly communicates a purpose in a highly creative and insightful manner.


Uses effective techniques to communicate a clear purpose.


Demonstrates an attempt to communicate for a specific purpose but makes significant errors or omissions.


Demonstrates no central purpose in the communication or makes no attempt to articulate a purpose.

Student Evaluation Rubric

Name                                                                       Project                                                            

Date                                                                         Media                                                              

How well did I follow directions?                                    1          2          3          4          5

How well is my project organized?                                1          2          3          4          5

How well is my project written and designed?             1          2          3          4          5

How creative is my project?                                           1          2          3          4          5

How would I grade my total project?                             1          2          3          4          5

Teacher Evaluation Rubric

Name                                                                       Project                                                            

Date                                                                         Media                                                              

How well did the student follow directions?                  1          2          3          4          5

How well did the student organize the project?           1          2          3          4          5

How well did the student write and design it?              1          2          3          4          5

How creative is the project?                                          1          2          3          4          5

What is the overall grade for this project?                    1          2          3          4          5

Sample Scoring Rubric for a Story


•  The story is complete and well developed.

•  The story has correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.


•  The story is partially complete and adequately developed.

•  Most of the story has correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.


•  The story is incomplete but has some development.

•  Most of the story shows little use of correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization.


•  The story is incomplete and is not developed.

•  Most of the story shows little or no of use correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.


Tall Tales Today

exaggerate: to represent as greater than is actually the case; to overstate.

hyperbole: a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or


metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily refers to

one thing is used to describe another, as in: "The sky was a blank gray slate"

or "Her eyes were deep, blue pools."

simile: a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared, often in a

phrase introduced by like or as, as in "she swam like a fish" or "his face was

as red as a beet."

tall tale: a humorous tale told in a straightforward, believable tone but

relating absolutely impossible events or feats of the characters. These tales

were commonly told of frontier adventures during the settlement of the western

United States.

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