American Tall Tales

Using Folk Tales for Writing Tall Tales

American tall tales are whoppers, indeed! Use Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink and other legendary heroes to write original tall tales.

Kids love a good bragging contest! The more exaggerated the exploits, the funnier the deeds, all the better! Put their love of "fish stories" to good use by reading tall tales to inspire their own wildly creatively written stories!

First, discuss the elements of tall tales with your students, namely the characteristic of unbelievable exaggeration, ususally as if it were hard fact. These stories are quite humorous, and the line between myth and tall tale is a fine one. Whereas myths often exaggerate heroic deeds of their characters, such exploits do not take over the whole of the plot. With a tall tale, however, wild exaggerations tend to become the story itself! I recommend assembling a collection of short stories and picture books based upon some of the better known heroes:
  • Paul Bunyan, legendary lumberjack of the Northwest, whose axe carved out the Grand Canyon
  • Paul's younger brother, Cordwood Pete, and their cousin, Tony Beaver, both lumberjacks as well
  • Pecos Bill, legendary cowboy who lassoed tornadoes
  • Mike Fink, legendary boatman of the Mississippi River, who wrestled alligators
Tall tale anthologies and picture books are wonderful read-alouds! As a class, count and list the number of exaggerations per story, and discuss the "wildness" of the descriptions!

Next, have students practice the "art" of exaggeration by completing the following statements:
  • Her voice was so loud that...
  • He walked so slowly that...
  • They were so rich that...
  • The football team was so confused that...
  • My cat is so smart that...
  • My mom drives so fast that...
  • My desk is so messy that...
  • My dad snores so loudly that...
Last, choose one of the completed statements and build a tall tale around it! Remind students that stories should have at least one main character, a problem and solution, and be 50 pages long! (Just exaggerating!). These tall tales lend themselves wonderfully to accompanying drawings and paintings! Display and share the work! Have fun!

Paul Bunyan, and his fellow heroes of American tall tales, would be mighty proud, indeed!

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