On the opening page of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves, the old lady leans back to swallow a pile of leaves falling from the sky. After that, this wacky, imaginative, cumulative tale just gets sillier and sillier.
Each time the old lady swallows something new, the cumulative text repeats the past things she has swallowed in reverse sequence and ends with foreshadowing: “Perhaps she’ll sneeze!” Through the story, the old lady swallows a shirt, a pumpkin, a pole, some pants, a rope, and some hay.
Then, as predicted from the start, the old lady sneezes. All the things she has swallowed fly out of her mouth accompanied by a big “ACHOO!” On the last page, readers find out why the old lady swallowed all those strange things – they come together to make an autumn scarecrow.
About the Author
Lucille Colandro has delighted children by keeping the old lady busy swallowing a variety of strange objects. Colandro’s series celebrates the seasons, holidays, and even the first day of school.
About the Illustrator
Jared Lee is the award-winning illustrator of over 80 books for young readers. He is best known for his “Black Lagoon” series.
Teaching the Book
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves is a humorous variation on the popular cumulative story/song, “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” The book provides a perfect opportunity to teach cumulative story structure, nonsense rhyming, and sequence of events. Activities will engage students in creative language play and cumulative story writing.
Genre Focus: Humorous Cumulative Story
Comprehension Focus: Sequence of Events
Language Focus: Rhyming
Get Ready to Read
Some children will already be familiar with the traditional story, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” All students will enjoy hearing a reading of it or a song version. Read the story, and encourage students to chime in with the cumulative parts. Then ask: How is this story different from most stories? What is special about the way the author wrote it?
Guide students to describe how the story repeats past things the old lady swallowed each time she swallows a new thing. Explain that this is called a cumulative story because it retells each part of the story that has already happened.
Preview and Predict
Ask students to look at the cover of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves. Have them guess what other things this old lady might swallow in the story.
Ask students to watch for the following pairs of rhyming words as they read the book. Encourage them to look for clues in the text and illustrations for the meaning of any words they don’t know. Use theThere Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves printable and distribute copies to students.
- leaves / sneeze
- hurt / shirt
- pumpkin / bumpkin
- pole / roll
- pants / dance
- mope / rope
- say / hay
Words to Know: Riddles and Rhymes
Begin by having students match the vocabulary cards that rhyme. Then ask them the following riddles based on the Word List. The riddles include a rhyming clue and a meaning clue. Have students volunteer the answers or hold up the vocabulary cards that answer each riddle.
- They rhyme with sneeze and fall from trees. (leaves)
- It rhymes with shirt and means to feel pain. (hurt)
- It rhymes with pumpkin and is an awkward country person. (bumpkin)
- It rhymes with pole and means to move along quickly. (roll)
- It rhymes with pants and means to move to music. (dance)
- It rhymes with rope and means to act gloomy. (mope)
- It rhymes with say and is food for horses. (hay)
As You Read
Reading the Book
Model a fluent reading of the book, emphasizing the rhyming in the cumulative text that creates humor and also cues students to remember the story’s sequence of events.
Reread the book, this time encouraging students to fill in the sequence of items that the old lady swallows. You might want to assign one student to each item, and have students fill in their part of the sequence each time it is read. The group can chorally read, “Perhaps she’ll sneeze!”
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about the following question as they read and to be ready to answer it when they’ve finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students write it in their reading journals. Why is the old lady eating all these strange things?
Sequence of Events
Explain to students that when events in a story happen in a certain order, they follow a sequence. Keeping track of what happens first, next, and last helps readers understand a story. Use the graphic organizer on theThere Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves printable to model for students how to track the sequence of events in a cumulative story. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students. Then model for students how to identify the sequence of events in the story.
What happened first in the story? Right at the beginning, the old lady swallowed some leaves. I’ll write leaves for number 1, because it’s first. What happened next? Next she swallowed a shirt, so I’ll write shirt for number 2. You help me fill in the rest of the sequence in the story. Have students volunteer the sequence of events in the rest of the story and complete the organizer.
(Answers: 1. leaves, 2. shirt, 3. pumpkin, 4. pole, 5. pants, 6. rope, 7. hay)
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
1. Cumulative Story
Why did the old lady swallow each of the things in the story? Why did she swallow the shirt? the pumpkin? the pole? the pants? the rope? (She swallowed the shirt to fill it with leaves, etc.)
2. Sequence of Events
What did the old lady swallow first, next, and last? Draw pictures of all the things in the correct sequence. (leaves, shirt, pumpkin, pole, pants, rope, hay)
What rhyming word would describe what the old lady would do if she swallowed a snake? a pump? a top? (shake, jump, hop)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
What is your favorite illustration in the book? Explain what you like about it.
2. Text to World
What might the old lady swallow if the story was set in the winter or summer? What could the things turn into at the end of the story?
3. Text to Text
Could an old lady really eat all the things in the story? Why did the author have her do that?
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell them there is no one right answer. Why is the old lady eating all these strange things?
An Old Lady Story
Make copies of the There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves Big Activity printable and distribute to students. Read the directions to students and answer questions to clarify the activity. Complete the activity by having students share their Old Lady stories. Encourage them to make a recording of themselves telling their story to share with their families.
Ask partners to count the number of animals in each of the following illustrations: when the old lady swallows leaves, a shirt, a pumpkin, a pole, pants, a rope, and hay.
Eating and the Seasons
Have students choose a season and make a list of their favorite foods from that season. For example, fall foods include apples, winter foods include soup, spring foods include salad, summer foods include tomatoes and watermelon.
Ask students what a scarecrow is. Prompt them to think about its name to figure out what a scarecrow does. Explain that farmers used scarecrows to scare away crows or other birds from seeds or growing plants.
There are many recordings of “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” the most well known being Burl Ives’s traditional rendition. Locate a recording of the song in a library or online and play it for students. Encourage them to sing along, particularly to the cumulative verses.
Reading and Writing Connection
The “Old Lady” story gives students an opportunity to play around with rhyming words, no matter how silly. Write this frame on the whiteboard or chart paper:
“There was an old lady who swallowed a ________. She _______________ when she swallowed the ____________.
With students, make a list of animals or things the old lady could swallow. Then list words that rhyme; for example: pig and jig, pie and try, shoe and clue, bat and fat. Then have students fill in the frame three or four times with their own nonsense rhymes.
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