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Imagining Your Hero


15-20 Minutes

Today you will3.png
  • Investigate what makes a story into a tall tale

  • Explore the story of John Henry

  • Create a “Trading Card Plan”

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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!


While tall tales could be outrageous and funny, they also served an important purpose.


Characters showed qualities like strength, courage, and cleverness, all of which were important in rugged landscapes and dangerous times in US history.


These stories provided examples of people coping with hardships and overcoming challenges.


Some historians say they also helped to create a shared history for a new nation.


Tall tales did include things that were unreal, but some tall tales were based on real people who did amazing things. 



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


Martha Jane Canary worked as a Pony Express rider, carrying mail by horseback over 50 miles of rough terrain and across rivers. She was known for being tough and fearless, as well as good at horse racing.

Calamity Jane was so good at roping cattle that she could knock a fly off a cow's ear with a 16-foot whiplash.



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


John Chapman was a religious man and a businessman who planted nurseries of apple trees on the western frontier. He was known for his wilderness skills and his love of sleeping outdoors. 



Johnny Appleseed walked across the wilderness of the United States, wearing no shoes, a burlap sack, and a tin pot hat, scattering apple seeds in the wind. 



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


David Crockett was a politician and soldier who died at the famous Battle of the Alamo in Texas. He was known as a very skilled frontiersman and 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.

Workers posing in front of unknown tunnel (1880)_cohs-9580_longe


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.

  • How would you describe how John is represented in the statue?

  • Why do you think someone like John would be a hero to railroad workers?


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. Then, those holes would be filled with dynamite and the rock would be blasted away.   


The companies that built the railroads needed steel drivers to work hard and fast. These companies were racing each other to build railroad systems across the United States. Thousands of people worked on building the railroads. It was very hard and dangerous work, and workers did not get paid very much for doing it.

This video tells the story of John Henry’s race against a machine called a steam drill.  


In 1870, railroad workers began to dig the Great Bend Tunnel in the area now known as West Virginia. While digging the tunnel, John Henry competed against the steam drill. Who do you think was faster? 


As you watch…

  • Find details in the text and illustrations that capture John
    Henry’s struggle against the machine that would replace him.

  • How are the themes of bravery and death central to his story?

  • In what ways was he heroic? 


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


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

  • Details that reflect the time and place


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.

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