A Tale of a Tail

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Students will be able to retell familiar stories including some key details about the events.

Big Idea

Retelling story events aids in building summarization skills and also comprehension.


10 minutes

Gather students on the rug using a preferred classroom management technique. I like to use my “Stop, look, listen.” The students stop what they are doing, look at me and listen for the direction. I usually preface the direction with, “When I say go…” This reminds the students to listen to the whole direction before moving to follow the directive.

In this case I would say, “When I say go I would like you to clear your space, push in your chair and go take a spot on your dot. Walking feet go.” By saying walking feet I am reminding the students to use walking feet in the classroom to ensure safe movement between areas.

When all of the students are seated on their dot in the rug area I open up a screen on the SMARTBoard and write the words “tail” and “tale.”

I turn to the students and ask, “Can anyone tell me what a “tale” is?”

I use the Fair Sticks to select a student to respond to the question.

The majority of my students will tell me, “It is the long thing that sticks off the back of an animal.”

“Great answer. That is this type of tail,” I say as I point to the word “tail” on the SmartBoard.

“Can anyone tell me what this type of “tale” is?”

I select a few students to respond but not too many as I do not want to lose my audience’s attention. I very seldom have students who know what a tale is. If you do, great, and if not then I say, “A tale is a story about a real, or imaginary, set of events being told by someone, or something, in a dramatic kind of way.”

I tell the students, "In order to be able to tell a "tale" you need to know the events that make up the "tale." For example, if I asked you to tell me the "tale" of the The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, what are some events I would need to remember so I could tell it?"

I select students who are following the correct classroom protocol of raising their hand to respond. I select enough students to cover the main events of the tale.

"Those were all great responses. Now I think I could tell the "tale" with confidence that I covered everything that happens."  

Now I turn off the SMARTBoard and sit down ready to read to my students. 


Recalling story events helps students develop summation skills which becomes important when completing Brief Construction Responses (BCR's) in assessments in later grades. 


40 minutes

“The book for today is called Little Penguins Tale and it is written and illustrated by Audrey Wood. Looking at the cover, what do you think this book is going to be about and why?”

I select a couple of students to reply using the fair sticks.

“Those were both good predictions. Rachel said it could be about a penguin who wants to fly with the white birds because he is jumping up in the air and the white birds are flying. Devon says that the book could be about a penguin that has friends over to visit because of all the other birds on the cover. Well let’s go ahead and read and find out for ourselves.”


As we begin the book I mention the colors of the first few pages and we try to determine if it is sunrise or sunset.


During reading we discuss how the word “dawn” is another way to describe the beginning of the day.

We also keep an eye out for the whale and try to predict what will happen to the little penguin as he appears to get closer and closer to the whale.

When the Gooney birds appear we discuss how we know for sure this book is imaginary. We mention all of the imaginary things that have happened thus far in the book. I select as many students as necessary to cover all of the imaginary clues – penguins with walking sticks, animals “talking,” penguins with snack baskets, penguins listening to stories, the Gooney birds, birds wearing hats, and birds playing musical instruments.

When the walrus appears I ask the students if this particular meeting could ever take place. “Could a walrus ever meet a penguin in the wild and why?”

Why mention "in the wild?"

“You are right Finnley. A walrus and a penguin would never meet in the wild because walrus’s live in the Northern Hemisphere and penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.”

We discuss the word “madcap” as we come across it within the text. “Can anyone take a guess what the word “madcap” means?” I read the sentence slowly two times to give the students a chance to digest the word as it is used in context.

“That is a very good description Carson. It is like a crazy party. Madcap means that you do things you would not normally do, so if I had a “madcap” idea, it is a crazy wild idea that I would not do on a regular type of day. For example, if Mrs. Clapp decides to put on her bathing suit in the middle of winter and float on the Patuxent River in an upside down umbrella, that is a pretty madcap idea.”

We discuss the word “weary” as it is used in context. “I can use the picture clue to help figure out the word “weary” as I see all of the animals sleeping or resting on the ice. I can also tell weary is like tired because the story says, “Little penguin could hardly keep his eyes open…” and I know that happens when you are really tired.”

Now I begin to the read the book in a ominous kind of voice as we see the picture of the whale about to eat the penguin.

I stop and ask the students if the penguin is going to get eaten. “Raise your hand if you think the penguin is going to get eaten. Okay, hands down. Now raise your hand if you think the penguin is not going to get eaten. Okay Owen can you tell me why you think the penguin is not going to get eaten?”

“That is a good observation. Every other time we have thought something bad was going to happen the Grand Nanny Penguin has said, “But he didn’t.” You have really been paying attention to the story. Okay let’s read on and find out.”

Most of the time my students are stunned by the fact the penguin does actually get eaten. However, they are quickly reassured as we read the next page where the Grand Nanny Penguin changes the ending.


After we have read the new ending I ask the students why they think Grand Nanny Penguin changed the ending of her tale. This is a great little inferencing questions as students empathize with how the little penguins felt about the first ending.


Now I ask the students to take a seat around the Edge of the Rug

Once the students are seated around the edge of the rug I show them the little penguin book they will find at one of the integrated work stations.

“At one of your work stations today you will find a little penguin book. The first thing you will do is write your name on the book so we know whose is whose.”  

 Penguin book directions

“The next thing you will need to do is use a pencil to write the title of today’s book on the penguin’s belly.”

“This next part is very important because you are going to need to recall the story we have read for today. It will be your job to draw the beginning, the middle and the end of the story in your penguin book. Here is the hard part; in the past I have helped you recall the beginning, the middle and the end. Today you will need to do it using the  resources available for you at the table. Can anyone tell me a resource they can use at the table?”    

Why retelling books?   

I select enough students to respond to the question to make sure all of the resources are covered.

“Well done team. You can use the book, you can use your friends, and you can use your very own brain.”

  “Does anyone have any questions?”


Once I feel the group has a good grasp of the instructions I send the students over one table group at a time to maintain a safe and orderly classroom. It usually sounds like this;

“Table number one let’s go have some penguin book fun.

Table number two, you know what to do.

Table number three, hope you were listening to me, and

Table number four, you shouldn’t be here anymore.”


Allow the students 15 minutes to work on this activity. Set a visual timer and remind the students to look at the timer so they will use their time wisely.

Students working 1     Students working 2     Students working 3


10 minutes

When the time is up I blow two short blasts on my whistle and use the “Stop, look listen” technique mentioned above. “When I say go, I would like you to clean up your space remembering to take care of our things, push in your chair, and use walking feet to go and take a spot on your dot.”

Students know to put completed work in the finished work bin. Any work that is not completed goes into the under construction bin and can be completed throughout the day whenever the student finds he/she has spare time or it will be completed during free choice center time.

Student sample cover     Student sample beginning     Student sample middle     Student sample end

Once the students are seated I tell them that their exit slip for today is to tell me their favorite part of the story and why. Once a student has told me his/her favorite part and why, they are able to use the hand sanitizer and go to get their snack. If a student is unable to give me an answer, they know they can do one of two things.

  1. They can ask a friend to help, or
  2. They can wait until everyone else has gone and then we will take a quick picture walk through the book to help him/her come up with a favorite part. 

I like to use this type of closing process because it allows me to see which students have grasped the concept of the lesson activity and those that may need some extra attention in a smaller group setting; such as reading work station time.  


For this activity I will do two things. First I will have the students bring their work to me and explain what they did. I will film them as they speak to me and then play it back to them. 

Student retell 1

Student retell 2

Second, I will go over the students work using the Little Penguins Tale checklist to see if they met the set objectives. Once the checklist has been completed, it is attached to the student’s work and placed in their collection portfolio. 

Looking at the student’s work with the checklist helps me to stay focused on the objective of the assignment. I am looking to see if a student was able to recall the story events in order, were they able to draw a picture to support the story event and is the work neat and tidy.  

The checklist helps me because the work sample provides me with evidence of students learning as to whether the student has met the objectives or not. The checklist helps to convey information to the student’s family as to how well they are doing in class, and finally it helps the student by letting him/her know how he/she did and if there are areas where he/she could improve. 



Play the penguin subtraction game from the Making Learning Fun website.

Penguin subtraction game 


Play the penguin sight word game from the Making Learning Fun website.