Unit Plan: Writing Pourquoi Tales By: Justin Ashworth

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Unit Plan: Writing Pourquoi Tales

By: Justin Ashworth

Throughout elementary school children are exposed to many types of folktales. Many of the tales they encounter are the type called “pourquoi” (pourkwah) tales. These are tales that explain why or how something occurs. Many of these tales are about animals: why a specific animal looks or acts in a certain way. People around the world and throughout history have told these stories and they are an important part of literature.

This learning experience combined the research of an animal’s characteristics with the creation of an original pourquoi tale based on some of those facts. This is done following an introduction to pourquoi tales that includes listening to many explanations of this type of story. An analysis of each example with discussions about the factual basis and explanation of certain characteristics will clarify the concept of pourquoi tales for the children. A research guide and a story writing guide will help the children get to their end product which is an original pourquoi tale based on the facts they found. The final project may take various forms: a story with or without illustrations, a booklet, or an audiotape.

This learning experience is a good choice to carry out as a cooperative venture between the library media specialist and the classroom teacher. It can be used at various grade levels and can be integrated into various classroom subjects. It can also be specifically used with third graders as an introduction to multicultural folk tales, with fourth graders as part of their study of the Iroquois Indians, and with fifth graders while studying Native Americans of the United States. Examples of the stories chosen to illustrate these tales will vary with the curricular area it is linked to.

Writing these stories can help children see how folktales are a part of all cultures and time and how they are a part of this connection.


The purposes of this learning experience is to understand how to use the

encyclopedia to gain information about an animal and to understand that people all over the world use folktales to explain why things happen.

The experience supports learning standards as the children do the following:
English/ Language Arts

  • Listen to a variety of folktales.

  • Extract factual information from a reference source.

  • Understand the difference between fact and fiction.

  • Demonstrate an understanding of pourquoi tales.

  • Write a tale which is based on facts about an animal.

Social Studies

  • Identify the country or region the animal is from and use it as the setting for the folktale they write.

  • Understand that folktales have been told around the world throughout history and are a part of each country’s culture.


  • Choose appropriate factual material from an encyclopedia.

  • Understand the concept of an animal’s habitat.

The main connection of this learning experience is between language arts and social studies. Finding the factual (scientific) information will give the children a basis for the tale they will write. Their writing and the sharing of their tales will help them to understand the reason for such tales, and the historical and cultural importance of folktales around the world.

Before beginning the learning experience there are certain skills that must be in place. The children must be able to listen to the folktales that are chosen so that they become familiar with the concept of “pourquoi tales”. They must understand the difference between fact and fiction, because these tales will be based on a true fact about their chosen animal, but the explanation for the fact will be made up by them. There should be some prior experience with encyclopedia usage by the children. Students need to understand how to read an article and choose the appropriate facts to fill out their research guide. They should be familiar with the writing process.

What the students do:

  • Listen to a variety of pourquoi tales from many different countries or regions.

  • Summarize or retell tales an analyze them to be sure the children understand what is factual and what is fictional in the stories.

  • Look through their volume of the animal encyclopedia and choose and animal (or use other reference sources, print or non-print- Amazing Animals of the World by Grolier is especially suited to elementary animal research)

  • Find facts about their animal and fill out the research guide. These facts will be the basis for their own tale.

  • Make up a tale that explains how one of these facts came to be, such as why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears or why the chipmunk has stripes.

  • Write the tale; revise and rewrite using the writing process.

  • Draw a picture of the animal if desired. (Working with the art teacher at this point would be good- factual information and animal habitat could be emphasized).

  • Share the tale with other, either by reading their tale or by having the library media specialist or classroom teacher read it.

What the library media specialist and/or classroom teacher does:

  • Prepare guidesheets for the lesson.

  • Cooperatively plan the lessons and time frame (library media specialties and classroom teacher)

  • Select appropriate folktales as examples.

  • Introduce children to pourquoi tales by having them listen to and analyze a variety of tales.
  • Explain that pourquoi means “why” and that pourquoi tales or “why tales” are used to explain how animals or humans act or look a certain way. This will need to be repeated with many examples so that children are sure of what the French term means.

  • Explain that these stories are a part of a country’s cultural heritage.

  • Tell children that they will be using the information about an animal as the basis for their own pourquoi tale.

  • Explain the rubric that will be used for grading and keep it available to the children so they are aware of it.

  • Review encyclopedia format, pointing out fact boxes, pictures and captions as well as the article, so that information on the children’s animal research guidesheets can be filled out. Remind children that each one has a different column of the encyclopedia and therefore no two people will have the same animal. Give children a few minutes to choose an animal and then have them begin their research. Be sure to let children know if the animals must be from a certain area, for example if part of a Native American unit, animals would have to be from the United States.

  • As children finish their research, check their research guides.

  • Review what a pourquoi tale is by discussing and reading another one. Talk about the setting/habitat (where the animal is from), characters, title, what facts it is based on, and what is explained in it.

  • Give the story guidesheets to students.

  • Supervise the writing process.

  • Read and correct their stories according to the rubric.

  • Read aloud or supervise reading/taping of the stories. If time permits have the children practice the stories enough so that they could tell them to another class. This would add to the experience, especially since these are the types of stories that were told around the world and throughout history.

  • Instructional modifications may include encouraging students who experience difficulties with research to use the fact boxes in the encyclopedia and the captions under the pictures for locating facts.

  • Students may also need more examples to help them understand the concept of what a pourquoi tale is like.

  • Some students may need assistance identifying characteristics of their animals that are fun or interesting for them to explain. Students can help other students with this task.

  • Physical modifications include having students who are having difficulty focusing on their work move to an area of the library with fewer distractions.


  • For the students:

One volume of the animal encyclopedia each (or other reference sources)


Research and story guides

Lined paper

Drawing paper and crayons, optional

books, tapes and videos of multicultural tales that explain certain characteristics of specific animals such as:
The Boy Who Lived With the Bears and other Iroquois Tales (audiocassette or book)

by Joseph Bruchac

Tigers and Opossums (tales from Mexico) by Garcia Kobeh

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: a West African Tale by Verna Aardema

“Why the Bear is Stumpy-Tailed” in Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Norway by

Virginia Haviland

Why the Crab has no Head: an African Tale retold by Barbara Knutsona

The Loon’s Necklace (a Native American Teal) by William Toye

The 24 volume animal encyclopedia Amazing Animals of the World, (Groliers) or other print or non-print reference material that can be used to find information about a variety of animals


  • Writing samples (using assessment rubric)


  • Group discussions following each example of pourquoi tale.

  • Observation of student behavior while researching.

  • Completion of animal research and story guide.

  • Individual storytelling of completed tales.

  • Observation of student response to other children’s stories.


  • Planning:

Several hours locating and reviewing appropriate pourquoi tales to be used as examples for the students.

Thirty minutes to make guidesheets.

Twenty minutes for initial planning with teacher to integrate this into an appropriate

unit in the classroom.

Time to work with art teacher if the drawing is going to take place as part of an art


  • Implementation

Two thirty minute periods to read, listen to and discuss a variety of pourquoi tales and

explain the experience to the children

One thirty minute period for children to do encyclopedia research.

One thirty minute period for children to write their tales.

Two thirty minute periods for children to revise stories and draw pictures or make


One thirty minute period for children to share their stories.

  • Assessment

Time during each session to observe, check guidesheets, and watch for necessary


Approximately five minutes per child to read and correct stories.

Fifteen minutes to discuss final results with classroom teachers.

7. Extensions
This learning experience is most successful when done as a partnership between the

library media specialist and the classroom teacher.

  • When this is done with the classroom teacher, it can be integrated into a classroom unit, such as countries around the world, animals, or Native Americans.

  • When this is done with the classroom teacher the students who need extra time will not be hindered by their scheduled library class time.

  • It supports the learning standards better if students receive more guidance with their writing. Again, this will be improved when it is done with the classroom teacher.

  • More links can be made between language arts and social studies when the learning experience is part of an overall unit in the classroom. Emphasis can be made on the multicultural aspect and a map can be used to show the areas where various tales originated. More science links can be made by focusing on the characteristics of the animals and comparisons of them, as well as discussing possible scientific reason for these characteristics.

  • Technology can also be integrated into this unit by using online reference databases, word processing, and electronic publishing tools.

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