Imagining Your Hero


15-20 Minutes

  • Investigate what makes a story into a tall tale

  • Explore the story of John Henry

  • Create a “Trading Card Plan”

  • 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!

Some tall tales are about real people who did amazing things.


Just not as amazing as the tall tales make them seem!

Read below to learn about real people who became tall-tale characters!



“Calamity Jane"
Real Name: Martha Jane Canary
Lived 1852–1903


Martha Jane Canary rode horses over many miles and across rivers to deliver the mail. She was known for being strong and brave.



Calamity Jane was so good at throwing a rope, that she could knock a fly off a cow's ear.

“Johnny Appleseed”
Real Name: John Chapman
Lived 1774–1845


John Chapman planted some of the first apple trees in the West. He was good at hiking and sleeping outdoors.  



Johnny Appleseed walked across the country planting apple seeds, with a sack for a shirt, a tin pot for a hat, and no shoes.

“Davy Crockett”
Real Name: David Crockett  
Lived 1786–1836


David Crockett was a good hunter.



Davy Crockett killed a bear when he was three years old.

Let’s dig deeper into a tall tale based on a real person named John Henry.


He helped to build the railroads in the mid-1800s.


To build the railroads, people needed to dig tunnels and create paths through mountains.

Look at this picture of people standing in front of a railroad tunnel they helped to dig. 

  • If they didn’t have big machines to help them, how do you think they could have dug these tunnels?

  • What kinds of special traits or talents would help someone do this work?

Statue of John Henry, near Big Bend Tunnel, in West Virginia


This picture shows a statue of John Henry.

  • What do you think John is holding?

  • How would you describe John in this picture?

John Henry worked on the railroads as a steel driver.


To dig tunnels, steel drivers like John would swing their hammers as hard as they could to pound a drill into rock.


This was hard and dangerous work.

This video tells the story of John Henry’s race against a machine called a steam drill. He tries to work faster and harder than a steam drill.

Who do you think will win the race?

As you watch…

  • Look and listen for parts of the story that show John Henry being strong and working hard.

Now watch the video! Isn’t it amazing that people still tell John Henry’s story today?​

If you were making a “Tall-Tale Trading Card” for John Henry, what would it look like? How would you fill in these blanks? 


  • Name: _______________

  • Trait or Talent: _______________

  • Tool: _______________

  • Setting: _______________

  • Known For: _______________

Your challenge this week: Create a “Tall-Tale Trading Card” that describes the special talents and traits of a real-life hero. Today, you will choose one of your everyday heroes and make a “Trading Card Plan.”


Think back to the list you made of three people you think are heroes.

Do you remember choosing one of those heroes and making up exaggerations about them?


The plan you create today will show that hero’s important trait or talent in an exaggerated way.    


Goals: Your “Trading Card Plan” should show:

  • A real person who is a hero in your eyes

  • A special trait or talent that has been exaggerated

  • Words and pictures that show the person’s actions in an exaggerated way


Now it’s time to create your “Trading Card Plan." Make sure to include:

  • Hero Name:

  • Trait or Talent:

  • Tool:

  • Setting:

  • Known for: (Hint: This is your exaggeration!)

  • Sketch:

Write it out on a piece of paper or use the “Trading Card Plan" handout. 


Remember to save your “Trading Card Plan” so you can use it when you make your “Tall-Tale Trading Card.”

Ready for Day 3?

On day 3, you will examine other students’ "Tall-Tale Trading Cards," then make a plan to improve your work.