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Tall Tales

Compiled By: Mrs. G

This is a collection of resources to use when teaching tall tales.

Tall Tales
Posted by: ConnieWI

Before beginning your study of tall tales, visit your school and public library. Collect all kinds of books about tall tale heroes including Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, Slue-Foot Sue, Robin Hood, John Henry, etc. Also, look for a good anthology that your students might not be able to read, but that you can share as a read-aloud. My favorite anthology is Classic American Folk Tales by Steven Zorn.

There are so many tall tales, but here is a list of books I recommend:
I Can Read About Paul Bunyan by J. I. Anderson
I Can Read About Johnny Appleseed by J. I. Anderson
I Can Read About Pecos Bill by J. I. Anderson
The Story of Paul Bunyan by Barbara Emberley
The Story of Johnny Appleseed by Aliki
Pecos Bill by Brian Gleeson
Paul Bunyan by Brian Gleeson
John Henry by Ezra Jack Keats
Iva Dunnit and the Big Wind by Carol Purdy
The Bunyans by Audrey Wood
Paul Bunyan by Steven Kellogg
Pecos Bill by Steven Kellogg
Mike Fink by Steven Kellogg
Folks Call Me Appleseed John by Andrew Glass
Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett by Steven Kellogg
Robin Hood and Little John by Barbara Cohen
John Henry by Julius Lester
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs
The True Tale of Johnny Appleseed by Margaret Hodges
Johnny Appleseed by Reeve Lindbergh
Avalanche Annie by Lisa Wheeler
Johnny Appleseed by Carol Ottolenghi
John Henry by Carol Ottolenghi
American Folk Tales by Steven Zorn

After I introduce tall tales and their characteristics (see below), I spend several days reading them aloud. We locate landforms and places mentioned in the story. We also decide which tall tale characteristics are included in the read-alouds. At this point, I display all the books I have collected in baskets so students can begin to enjoy them independently.

Tall tales by Steven Kellogg lend themselves to guided reading groups or literature circles. I recommend you use these for your reading groups. Hopefully, you can get enough in multiple-copy for this purpose, but if not, ask other staff members. They may have single copies in their classroom collections that will give you enough for your groups. These books are also available in multiple-copy from Scholastic.

Remedia Publications used to have some very good materials called “Create-a-Classic.” I purchased Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Old Stormalong, Johnny Appleseed, and John Henry. These are not only stories about tall tale heroes that you make into booklets, but also comprehension and word attack activities. I recommend these. I did not find them on their website, but some of your staff members may have access to them. If you would like me to copy and send them to your, my home email is

I also recommend Teaching Tall Tales (Scholastic) and Read-Aloud Plays- Tall Tales (Scholastic). Readers’ Theater – Grade 3 (Evan-Moor) includes “Davy Crockett: Fact or Legend?” and “Brer Rabbit Shares His Crops.” The Big Book of Thematic Plays (Scholastic) includes “Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue.” These books are probably available at your local teacher store, but might also be owned by staff members in your building.

Tall tales lend themselves very nicely to learning about landforms and places in the United States. Be sure to have a large map of our country on a bulletin board, and give each child a map too. If you have lots of time, give your students a blank map. To save time, give students a map with the states already labeled in the two letter post office abbreviations with a key for the abbreviations on another piece of paper. You could add landforms to the map (eg. Rocky Mountains, Mississippi River, Great Lakes, etc.). You will know which landforms are needed as you read a variety of tall tales. You might even want to mount this map and abbreviations on a large sheet of construction paper for each child. This makes a great on-going project as they read independently. Leave room for what I call a “tall tale key.”

A “tall tale key” is a symbol my students use for each tall tale hero. Johnny Appleseed might be an apple, Paul Bunyan a tree or ax, Pecos Bill a rope/lasso, etc. As you read-aloud tall tales or your students read independently, they can add the symbols to their map in each state or near each landform that is mentioned in the story.

When working with tall tales, be careful of Pecos Bill. He is often shown nude, and depending on the maturity of your class, this can either cause giggles, squirming, or parents at your door the next morning. Use your best judgment! It is not that I don’t discuss him at all, but he might be the one I read about from an anthology of tall tales, and not show the pictures.

Tall tales have certain characteristics. The following comes from somewhere on-line, but seemed too complicated for third graders. I synthesized it into a document I am attaching (“Characteristics of a Tall Tale”). You may find that you would like to add one or more of the characteristics I felt were too complicated. If nothing else, you could sure discuss the following and use them when you read-aloud tall tales that are challenging for your students.
--The main character accomplishes great feats using strength, skill and wits.
--The main character is helped by a powerful object or animal.
--The story starts when the hero is a child (e.g., Pecos Bill falls off a wagon and is adopted by wolves, Davy Crockett kills a bear at age three).
--The author uses exaggeration and humor; the hero brags but also makes fun of him/herself.
--The story explains how some familiar things began (e.g., Pecos Bill invents the lariat and creates the Grand Canyon).
--The hero has a colorful way of speaking.
--The hero has one or more companions (e.g., Pecos Bill's wife, Mike Fink's friends, Johnny Appleseed's animals).
--Famous people and places show up in the story.
--The hero has problems with nature, people and/or progress.
--The hero tries hard to be a good person but sometimes fails.
--The hero does not like what others call progress (e.g., the steamboat spells the end of the keel boatmen in the story of Mike Fink, the tall tale hero moves because of a neighbor five miles away). More often than not, the hero dies or disappears.

You could use “Characteristics of a Tall Tale” as an independent project for your students. Run it on legal-sized paper. Then students read a tall tale independently and complete the form. Of course, you will have modeled how to use this form several times before your students use it.

I am also attaching “Comparing and Contrasting Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.” You could change this form to any characters. After your students have read many tall tales, do a compare and contrast activity using this form.You could also change this form to compare two books about the same tall tales hero. Your students will find that different authors tell the story slightly differently, and comparing different versions is, in my opinion, a worthwhile assignment.

I hope you are feeling better soon and that these ideas give you some food for thought.

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Johnny Appleseed
Posted by: Mrs. G

Johnny Appleseed is one of my favorite Tall Tales. When this was part of our curriculum we would read several versions of the story and have the students do Venn diagrams to compare and contrast the stories. This activity will work with any of the tall tales. We also wrote our own tall tales, then published them by having the students take a long sheet of construction paper and accordion fold it. They would write the story on the accordion folds and it was used as the body of the main character in their story. Then they added a head and feet to the top and bottom of the paper. These were really cute displayed on our bulletin board. :p

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tall tales
Posted by: Rebecca

Here are some tall tales that I have used....Johnny Appleseed(Steven Kellogg's is the best, I think), Pecos Bill, Slue Foot Sue, John Henry, Paul Bunyan.

After discussions on tall tales, the students got into groups (of 3 or 4) and each took a tall tale. They discussed within their groups (I had question cards). They did skits, made a poster, etc. to present to the class.

They made a list of their individual qualities/characteristics. Then they made up a tall tale about themselves and shared. They had fun with it! Don't forget to have them draw pictures.

I have also had them compare books (different authors) of the same tall tale.

Tall tales
Posted by: Julie

Scholastic has a wonderful book with Tall Tale plays for students to perform and act out. We also have a boasting match. Students use their name and create a tall tale character. Then they use their talents and write exaggerations of them. We then have a boasting match and students boast back and forth using their exaggerations. It's really quite humorous. Of course, depending on your grade level, you'll have to emphasize that boasting is not the most pleasant character trait of a person! As a final project, we create Tall Tales and publish them using the software "Storybook Weaver". Have fun!

tall tales
Posted by: Linda

I introduced tall tales to a low 5th by giving each one a piece of white butcher paper (every one larger than the other until reached a very large sheet). I then told them they had the entire sheet to draw a fish on. They were given no other directions except to color it. The next day we arranged them in order from smallest to largest. We then talked about how people exaggerate about catching the big fish. They each had to then stand up and tell how they caught their fish. After a couple, the idea caught on and each one tried to top the one before. Hope this may help.

Whale of a Tale
Posted by: Shelley

Title your door "whale of a tale." Cover it in paper and use watered down paint and sponges to make the paper look aquatic. Have your kids write their favorite fish story/book/tall tale, etc on a whale cut out. You can carry the idea over to tie in a bulletin board as well if your kids then write their own tall tales or "fish stories."

tall tales video
Posted by: martha

Once you are throught with your unit there is a great video called Tall Tale: The Legend of Pecos Bill starring Patrick Swayze. It is rated PG but it is a great story that I just love and the classes I have shown it to loved it too. It is a very powerful story and has Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry in it. You can buy it online at

tall tale suggestions
Posted by: Christy

I also posted the same thing a few weeks ago but didn't get much response. One cute thing we did was write tall tales about ourselves, or you have them write about two tall tale characters meeting. I got some of that adding machine tape and had them write their stories. The skinny paper made the stories really long and tall. I also had them trace a person on butcher paper and make it look like a tall tale character. The had to draw the setting behind the character and everything. Let me know if you need any more ideas.