ALEX Lesson Plan


Mapping the Travels of Paul Bunyan Through Alabama, Too!

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Mary Boone
System: Montgomery County
School: Montgomery County Board Of Education
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 35035


Mapping the Travels of Paul Bunyan Through Alabama, Too!


During this lesson, students will recount a Paul Bunyan tall tale, an entertaining way to identify bodies of water and landforms in the United States. Although Paul Bunyan's Tales did not focus on Alabama, students will create their own narratives after viewing photographs of major mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes throughout Alabama (ACOS 3.2). This lesson will utilize older maps of the United States and Alabama, which are used to remind us that this folk tale was handed down orally until the early 1900s when a newspaper printed several accounts of the tall tale.

This lesson was created in partnership with the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
TC2 (3-5)
10. Use digital environments to collaborate and communicate.
Examples: publishing online journals, sharing presentations, contributing to online discussions, communicating with experts
  • Producing digital works collaboratively
  • Examples: developing shared writing projects and group multimedia projects
    TC2 (3-5)
    12. Create a product using digital tools.
    Examples: products—digital story, podcast, digital artwork
    ELA2015 (3)
    2. Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text. [RL.3.2]
    SS2010 (3) Geographic and Historical Studies: People, Places, and Regions
    2. Locate the continents on a map or globe
  • Using vocabulary associated with geographical features of Earth, including hill, plateau, valley, peninsula, island, isthmus, ice cap, and glacier
  • Locating major mountain ranges, oceans, rivers, and lakes throughout the world (Alabama)
  • Local/National Standards:

    Primary Learning Objective(s):

    During this lesson, students will recount a tall tale as a fun and entertaining way to identify bodies of water and landforms in the United States in general and Alabama specifically.

    Students will write a summary of a tall tale, which will describe landforms and bodies of water.

    Students will create a narrative that identifies landforms and bodies of water in Alabama after observing pictures, video, or photographs.  

    Additional Learning Objective(s):

    Students should be given the opportunity to put together a collection of photographs or construct a collage to create a narrative tall tale about landforms and bodies of water in Alabama.  Students may use technology, if available.

     Preparation Information 

    Total Duration:

    91 to 120 Minutes

    Materials and Resources:

    Chrome books, laptops, computers, printers and iPads are optional.

    Materials needed are chart paper, and desk maps of US and of Alabama.  These resources and materials are shown in attachment. Download attachments prior to teaching the lesson.

    The school library would be helpful in providing research materials.  Photographs of landforms and bodies of water of Alabama are necessary for this lesson.


    Technology Resources Needed:

    Computers, Chromebooks, laptops, etc. are not necessary for this lesson.  This would be an ideal lesson for teachers with no access to technology.



    Students should have some knowledge of ACOS 3.1.

    1. Locate the prime meridian, equator, Tropic of Capricorn, Tropic of Cancer, International Date Line, and lines of latitude and longitude on maps and globes.

      • Using cardinal and intermediate directions to locate on a map or globe an area in Alabama or the world

      • Using coordinates to locate points on a grid

      • Determining distance between places on a map using a scale

      • Locating physical and cultural regions using labels,

        symbols, and legends on an Alabama or world map

      • Describing the use of geospatial technologies

        Examples: Global Positioning System (GPS), geographic information system (GIS)

      • Interpreting information on thematic maps
        Examples: population, vegetation, climate, growing season,


      • Using vocabulary associated with maps and globes 

    Geographic reasoning rests on deep knowledge of Earth’s physical and human features, including the locations of places and regions, the distribution of landforms and water bodies. 

    The teacher will entertain students with a tall tale about Paul Bunyan. This tall tale is a narrative that depicts the wild adventures of extravagantly exaggerated folk heroes. The tall tale is essentially an oral form of entertainment; the audience appreciates the imaginative invention rather than the literal meaning of the tales.  Associated with the lore of the American frontier, tall tales often explain the origins of lakes, mountains, and canyons.  They are spun around such legendary heroes as Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack of the Pacific Northwest.

    The Paul Bunyan Tall Tale will be used to located landforms and bodies of water. Realism and fantasy will be maintained throughout the lesson.  Students will identify oceans, rivers, the gulf, hills, mountains and other landforms in the United States in general and in Alabama specifically.

    The following article from the Encyclopedia of Alabama provides information about the "Physiographic Sections of Alabama":

    There are many notable landforms and bodies of water in Alabama worthy of creative narratives.  As students create their own narrative, they will be able to identify them.

    Students will be able to distinguish between The Paul Bunyan Story as make-believe (fantasy) and the places in the tall tale as “real” or facts.  Then students should be able to create their very own tall tale using pictures from the book, 100 Things You Need to Know About Alabama by Horace Randall Williams.


    Essential Question:

    How were bodies of waters and landforms created according to a tall tale?


    Teacher and students choose a word list (optional)

    Purpose or Learning Outcome:

    The students will use the retelling of a tall tale as a fun and entertaining way to learn about landforms and bodies of water.  Students will increase their vocabulary by using synonyms or descriptive words when creating a story.

    Before Strategy: 

    Give students a copy of the attached map of the United States.  Tell students that the 1826 map is a primary resource. 

    Allow students to locate places, such as a city, states, landforms, or bodies of water.  Assist students, if you need to, with identifying a city, state, landform, or body of water.  Sometimes students can name an area on the map but doesn't know if the area is a city or a state, river, gulf, or ocean.

    Have students call out as teacher records the places on the board or chart paper.  

    Example:  City(Capital)      State     Country     Body of water        landform

    Tell students that those places are real but they will hear a tall tale or make-believe story of how some places on the map were formed.  

    During Strategy: 

    Show pictures of Paul Bunyan, so students will have a visual of the giant. (see attachments)

    The teacher will tell the story of Paul Bunyan using expression and gestures.

    If possible, the teacher should use the interactive whiteboard to project a map of the United States.

    The teacher or helper can point to the places on the map referred to in the story.

    Paul Bunyan was so large. (HOW LARGE WAS HE?) Everything he did received huge results.

    This story tells how Towering Paul Bunyan went to get water from the Great Lakes. He wasted the colossal bucket of water, which began to cause an enormous flood on the abundantly populated community. Quick thinking and clever, Gigantic Paul started to dig an immeasurable ditch from the vast Great Lakes to the exorbitant Gulf of Mexico. He called this extensive ditch, The Mississippi River. Paul threw the monumental amount of dirt he dug, to the West and called it, the Mighty Rocky Mountains.

    The teacher should ask students to take out desk maps (or atlas in textbooks) and locate the “real” places they heard in the story.

    Students use desk maps, wall maps, or the atlas to located places mentioned in the story.

    Working with a partner, students will summarize the story of Paul Bunyan using synonyms for big.  The students should understand that the main objective of the story is to learn how to locate landforms and bodies of water on a map.  Partners should use markers to trace, highlight, or circle places on the map.  The teacher should observe as students retell the story and trace/identify landforms and bodies of water on the map correctly.

    Activity 1

    Make a T-chart by folding a sheet of paper on the line of symmetry. Tell students that this means half is on one side and a half is on the other.

    Label the T-chart Realism on one-half and Fantasy or make-believe on the other half.  

    Place three statements that are facts from the stories on one side.  

    Place three statements that could never happen on the other side.

    Students should be able to write a conclusive statement at the bottom of the page to this questions:

    What is a tall tale?

    Why use a tall tale to identify landforms and bodies of water?

    After students write their child-friendly answers, give them the "textbook" answer.  

    A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual.

    Some stories such as these are exaggerations of actual events, people or places.

    The students should look at their T-charts, which show imagination on one side and facts on the other.

    Use an exit slip to determine if the student understood the purpose of the lesson. The exit slip should demonstrate that each student can identify landforms and bodies of water.

    The teacher should repeat the purpose of the lesson to students whose answers did not include Great Lakes, Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico and Rocky Mountains.

    Emphasize at this time that each location must have capital letters because they are proper nouns.

    Correct answers:

    The ditch in the story is the Mississippi River.

    A river is a body of water.

    Ponds, lakes, oceans, and seas are also bodies of water.

    The dirt in the story is the Rocky Mountains.

    A mountain is a landform.

    Canyons, hills, plateaus, and mesas are landforms.

    Continue or Day 2

    After Strategy: Activity 2

    Give students a primary resource 1823 map of Alabama. The task is for students to create their own tall tale using Paul Bunyan as the character, any other folk hero, or fictional character to explain how landforms and bodies of water were formed in Alabama.

    Encourage a mixed-ability group of students to volunteer to retell the Tall Tale of Paul Bunyan.

    Remind students of the definition of a tall tale.  

    Remind students that we used the tale to identify landforms and bodies of water in the United States. Tell students we are using a primary resource map of the United States drawn up during the time that Paul Bunyan tales started.

    However, now we will identify landforms and bodies of water in Alabama. Tell students that they also have the opportunity to create an entirely different tall tale using pictures of landforms and bodies of water of Alabama.

    Students work with partners or small cooperative groups. Students should use landforms and bodies of water found on the Alabama map to create a tall tale.  Create the story using technology.



    **Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download.

    Assessment Strategies


    Using an Alabama map, students should identify landforms and bodies of water just as the teacher and students did with the United States map.  Students make a T Chart.  Label the chart landforms and bodies of water of Alabama.

    Students should have a map of Alabama and pictures of landforms and bodies of water.  Tell students they will be viewing a primary resource map of Alabama drawn up in 1823 about the time when Paul Bunyan tales would have been recounted.  Students will use this map to identify landforms and bodies of water.  

    Students will work independently, brainstorm with partners, or in a cooperative group to create a tall tale about the landforms and bodies of water in Alabama.

    Each student should make a concerted effort to contribute to their tale.

    After a sufficient amount of time, have students share their tales with classmates. Students' retelling should include a picture, map of Alabama showing where the place is located, and the creative tall tale.

    Students should have the opportunity to comment and make constructive comments to their classmates. 


    Have a group of students to dramatize the story again, using descriptive words for big and expressive gestures. The main purpose of the lesson is to identify landforms and bodies of water.

    Students may use technology to create a podcast, digital collage, or a tall tale with pictures of landforms and bodies of water in Alabama.  

    Suggested Reading List:

    William, H., 100 Things You Need to Know About Alabama. Atlanta, GA.: Whitman Publishing, LLC., 2016

    Hamilton, Virginia, The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. Knopf Books for Young Readers


    Kellogg, Steve, Paul Bunyan. Reading Rainbow Book, Feb. 2004




    Encourage students to identify landforms and bodies of waters on the Alabama map.

    Have students answer these questions about the Paul Bunyan Tale told aloud by the teacher to provide additional time to reteach the main points of the lesson.

    Did the teacher read from a book?  NO

    Was the story entertaining? Hopefully, students say YES.

    The tall tale is essentially an oral form of entertainment.

    Does the story have a literal meaning? NO

    Did this story sound as if it was made up? YES

    Intervention Activity:

    Students should use an Alabama map. Guide students as they find bodies of water and landforms on the map.  Students may trace, highlight, or circle bodies of water and landforms (found on the Alabama map) that will be used in a creative story.  

    Use landforms and bodies of waters of Alabama and rewrite the Paul Bunyan tale, substituting landforms and bodies of water from the Alabama map.  

    Students may work independently, with partners, or cooperative groups.

    Intervention Activity:

    Students should write a new tall tale using landforms and bodies of water of Alabama. Use prompts to assist students with creating a tall tale.

    Examples of story starters come from the book entitled, 100 Things You Need to Know About Alabama.

    Paul Bunyan was traveling through scenic Alabama when suddenly he tripped and fell which caused a large gash in the ground.

    That gash became the Russell Cave at the Russell Cave National Monument site.

    Paul Bunyan walked through the forest, tearing down so many trees as he brushed through, now the land is known as gullies visible in the hills of Walker County, Alabama.  

    The picture on page 139 of the book entitled 100 Things Things You Need to Know About Alabama, shows a sad boy.  Students could continue their tall tale with this picture in mind.  Students could make up a tall tale that would help the sad boy restore his land and home during a time of depression.

    Paul Bunyan would get up each morning and exercise. Each time he lifted his arms, he would make an entrance in the Russell Cave.

    Each time Paul would stomp his feet, it would make  Wetumpka Impact Craters.

    Give students the opportunity to come up with their own tale or use the ones suggested.

    After 30 minutes, students should be ready to make presentations. Give more time if needed by extending to another day.

    Students should write a paragraph (at least five sentences) summarizing the Paul Bunyan Tall Tale.  

    Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

    Presentation of Material Environment
    Time Demands Materials
    Attention Using Groups and Peers
    Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior
    Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.