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Exploring Tall Tales


15-20 Minutes

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  • Explore special traits of tall-tale characters

  • Recognize and create exaggerations

  • Pick a personal hero

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  • Paper or notebook

  • Pencil, pen, or other writing tool



We’re thinking about

the question: 

"How can we celebrate our everyday heroes?”

Your challenge this week is to create a “Tall-Tale Trading Card” that describes the special traits and talents of your personal hero.

Let's Get Started!



Look at this postcard. 

Ask yourself:

  • What’s going on here?

  • What seems real?

  • What seems fake?  

Tall-tale postcards like the one in the picture were made by putting together different photos to make unbelievable scenes, like a corncob so big that it took a horse-drawn cart to move it! 

Like the postcards, stories called tall tales were popular in the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s. These tales were exaggerated, meaning that people and events were made to seem much larger or greater than they really were. 


tall tale:


a story about a larger-than-life character, sometimes based on a real person, who has exaggerated adventures



described as larger or greater than is true

Paul Bunyan Statue in Bangor, Maine image from Wikipedia


This picture shows a statue of a tall-tale character.

  • What’s something you notice about it?

  • How would you describe the person in it? 

The statue is of a tall-tale character named Paul Bunyan, a mighty lumberjack. People began to tell stories about the lumberjacks of North America in the late 1800s, when the Western United States was first being settled.


At this time, lumberjacks did the work of cutting down trees so that towns and farms could be created.

"Disney’s Paul Bunyan (1937)" video

Here is a short video that shares some tall tales about Paul Bunyan. Before you watch, read these larger-than-life descriptions from Paul Bunyan, American Hercules (1937). 


  • “So great was his lung capacity that he called his men by blowing through a hollow tree. When he spoke limbs sometimes fell.” 

  • “For a big man, Paul was very quick on his feet. He could go to one end of his house, blow out the light and get into his bunk before it got dark.“

  • “Lumberjacks say that he is the man who cleared all the trees out of North Dakota. He also scooped out the hole for Lake Superior.” 


What do these exaggerations tell us about the character of Paul Bunyan? 


What do they tell us about what people might have valued during this time period? 


Watch the short clip and see if it confirms or changes your thinking.

This tall tale makes Paul Bunyan seem superhuman in strength, skill, and size. All of these traits were important for lumberjacks living and making homes in wild, forested areas.




a quality that makes one person different from another


Your challenge this week: Create a “Tall-Tale Trading Card” that describes the special talents and traits of a hero. Today, you're going to choose your real-life hero!



A trading card – like this one of Paul Bunyan – usually contains a picture of a person with some important facts about them.


People often collect or trade these cards with other people.

The trading card you create will describe a real-life hero. This might be a person in your own family, your community, or anywhere in the world. 



Think about:

  • Who are the heroes in your life? 

  • What makes them special? What trait or talent do you admire about them? 

    • Are they strong like Paul Bunyan?

    • Do they have a skill or talent?

    • Is there something else special about them, like kindness or courage?


You're going to:



  • Make a list of three people that you think are heroes in your life.

  • Include an important trait or talent for each person.  



  • Choose one of the heroes from your list.

  • Practice talking about your hero in an exaggerated way. 

  • Need help? Look at the example below. Notice how each sentence about Paul Bunyan is a bigger exaggeration! Can you do the same with your hero?

    • 1st try: Paul Bunyan is so strong he can cut down a forest by himself.

    • 2nd try: Paul Bunyan is so strong he can clear a forest with one swing of his axe.

    • 3rd try: Paul Bunyan is so strong he can clear a whole forest with one swing of his axe, or sometimes with just a sneeze! 

Ready for Day 2?

On day 2, you will investigate what makes a story into a tall tale, then create a plan for your “Tall-Tale Trading Card.”

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