About This Lesson Plan


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Hands-On Lessons

Spinning a Yarn

Let your students' imaginations run wild as they explore the realm of tall tales, "spin their own yarns," and create a decorative yarn ball craft.


Students will:

  • Identify the features of the tall tale genre
  • Understand the meaning and usage of the phrase "spin a yarn"
  • Compose a tall tale incorporating the hallmark features of the genre
  • Create a yarn ball craft to accompany their writing

Common Core Standards
L.2.5., L.3.5., L.4.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

W.2.3. Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.

W.3.3., W.4.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

SL.4.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

W.4.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

L.2.3., L.3.3., L.4.3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.

Elmer's®  School Glue, Elmer's® Disappearing Purple Glue Sticks, colorful construction paper, writing paper, pencils, 100% cotton yarn, 5-inch balloons, small bowls, warm water, newspaper to protect tables, mixing spoon, hole punch, scissors, and "Tall Tale Story Starters" student page.


Content Overview: Tall tales are a specific type of fiction that feature a blend of realistic elements and exaggerations.

  • A tall tale is a story that contains unbelievable elements, but is told in a way that makes it seem like the story is true.
  • Some tall tales are set in familiar places or historically accurate time periods, which adds to the feeling of the story being true.
  • Tall tales are common in American folk literature from a simple "fish story" to the great stories of the Wild West.
  • "Spinning a yarn" is an idiom that means to tell a tale.

If students are not using computers to compose their tall tales, cut sheets of lined writing paper in half vertically to create sheets that are approximately 4¼" by 11". To prepare for the yarn ball craft, cut four 6-foot (more or less) lengths of yarn for each student and determine a suitable drying space for the wet yarn balls such as trays lined with wax paper or a hanging space that can survive glue drips. Inflate a balloon to the size of a grapefruit for each student. Distribute the Tall Tale Story Starters printable.

Tall tale, fiction, exaggeration, spinning a yarn, idiom


Introduction (15 minutes)
Introduce the concept of a tall tale by reading a classic like the story of Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, or Pecos Bill. After the story, ask students to consider which parts of the tale were realistic and which parts seemed like an exaggeration or something that couldn't really happen. Explain that a tall tale is a story that contains unbelievable elements, but is told in a way that makes it seem like the story is true. Some tall tales are set in familiar places or historically accurate time periods, which adds to the feeling of the story being true. Tall tales are common in American folk literature from a simple "fish story" to the great stories of the Wild West.

Composing a Tall Tale (40 minutes)
Display the printable Tall Tale Story Starters on the whiteboard as inspiration for a tall tale the students will compose. Allow students to use computers to write their stories or pass out pencils and writing paper that has been cut in half vertically in order to create sheets that are approximately 4¼" by 11". Encourage students to select one of the tall tale story starters as the beginning of their tales or to write their own attention-grabbing sentences to start their stories. As students write, remind them to include as many "juicy" descriptive words as possible to bring their stories to life. If students need more room to write, have them use an Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Stick to attach additional sheets of paper to the bottom of the first sheet. Once their story has taken shape, invite students to add a title to the top of their stories as well as their own names as the accomplished authors!

When the stories are finished, have students use Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Sticks to mount their tall tale on a sheet (or multiple sheets depending on the length of the story) of colorful construction paper. Using a hole punch, have students punch a hole in the top of their stories and tie on a 6-inch piece of yarn that will later be used to attach the tales to their yarn ball.

Creating a Yarn Ball (30 minutes)
Once the tall tales are ready, gather the class and ask students if they have ever heard the phrase "spin a yarn." What do they think that might mean? Provide students with an example sentence such as, "Grandpa is always spinning yarns about his childhood." Then ask them to consider if Grandpa is actually spinning wool into yarn or if something else is going on. What words might they use to replace "spinning yarns" in the example sentence? Explain that this is an example of an idiom (an expression that doesn't mean what the words literally express) and it means to tell a tale. An example of "spinning a yarn" is telling a tall tale like the ones the students have just written!

To accompany the "yarns" the students have just composed, the students will create decorative yarn balls by wrapping yarn, soaked in a water and glue mixture, around a small balloon and then allowing it to dry before popping and removing the balloon. Prepare for this sometimes-messy craft by covering tables with newspaper or simply being prepared to wipe up drips. To begin this craft, create a glue mixture by combining one part Elmer's School Glue with four parts warm water. Next, show students how to dip a length of yarn into the water and glue mixture and wrap it in a crisscross fashion around the balloon while skimming off the excess liquid by running the yarn through one's fingers. An alternative approach to this process is for students to wrap the yarn around their hands, dip it in the glue mixture, and then squeeze out the excess liquid before starting to wrap it around the balloon. Show students how to tuck under the end of each piece of yarn as they finish wrapping it.

Give each student a balloon, four lengths of yarn (cut to approximately 6 feet prior to the lesson), and a small dish of the water and glue mixture and invite them to create their own unique yarn ball.

Once students have wrapped all four lengths of yarn, remind them to check for ends that need to be tucked under other strings before bringing their yarn balls to the designated drying area. Allow yarn balls to dry overnight. Depending on humidity levels and the amount of liquid in the yarn, the yarn balls may take up to two days to fully dry.

When the yarn balls feel completely dry and stiff, have students pop the balloon inside using a pushpin or sharp pencil point. Next, tie the tall tale to the bottom of the yarn ball and add a hanging string to the top.

(Elmer's 1st Day® Connection: Take a picture of each student and his or her tall tale, then email or provide these to parents to include on the Elmer's 1st Day website.)

Wrap-up (15 minutes)
Hang the tall tales around the classroom and allow students to walk around and read their classmates' amazing "yarns!"


Whiteboard Extension Activities

  • Fish Stories: Have any of your students ever been fishing? If so what was it like? What did they catch? Explain to students that a common form of tall tale is a "fish story" that might be told by a fisherman who wants to exaggerate a bit about the struggle he had in catching the fish or about the size or fierceness of the fish he caught. Display images of various fish and invite students to brainstorm ways one might exaggerate the features of the fish. In a fun public speaking activity, have students compose a "fish story" in their minds and then tell it to a friend.
  • Fact Versus Fiction: Many tall tales are based on actual people, including the tales of Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, and Daniel Boone. Create a chart on the whiteboard with one side labeled "facts" and the other labeled "fiction." As a class, select a person to study and then divide the class into small groups to read either fictional or factual accounts of that person. As teams discover interesting nuggets of fact or fiction about this person, invite them to add it to the board, being sure to note their source.

Extension Activities

  • Spin a Class "Yarn": Gather students into a circle and unwind a ball of yarn so that each student is holding a part of the yarn. Next, holding the ball of yarn, say the first line of a tall tale, such as, "It was well known in these parts that Betty June could swim across a whole lake on a single breath . . ." and then pass the ball to the next person in the circle. As each student winds his or her length of yarn around the ball, he or she should add a line to the story. Repeat until everyone has had a chance to help tell the class's tall tale and the yarn has been once again wrapped around the ball.
  • Tall Tale Gallery: If possible, hang the students' tall tales in a public space in the school such as a library or foyer. If this is not possible, simply turn your classroom into a temporary gallery. Invite students to create "gallery opening" announcements to distribute to other classes and to their friends and family members.

Literature Extension

  • Giants of American Tall Tales: Invite pairs of students to select and read about a legendary figure of American tall tales such as Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Pecos Bill, or Joe Magarac. Next, have one student lay on a sheet of butcher paper while the other traces his or her outline. Then have students fill in the outline with drawings and brief blurbs about the incredible feats this character is said to have achieved. Hang these "giants" in a hallway for all to admire!

Technology Extension
Visit http://thefirstday.com and download the Elmer's 1st Day app to capture and share the first day of school and beyond. You can create slideshows, personalize photos, share "first day" albums, and more.

In this home-connection activity, students will interview a relative to ask about tall tales that might exist within the lore of their families. If students don't uncover a familial tall tale, invite them to choose a favorite relative and write a fun tall tale exaggerating one of his or her most remarkable qualities.

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