Lesson Plan

William Ashby McCloy, Paul and Babe, date unknown, tempera

Lesson plan developed by Jeanell Dailey, Taylor Prairie Elementary School, Cottage Grove, Wisconsin

Grade Level


Summary of Activity

Using William Ashby McCloy’s painting as a base, students will learn how exaggeration is a key component of American Tall Tales. The students will use the concept of exaggeration to write similes and metaphors, then create, paint, and write their own contemporary tall tale.

Learning Objectives

  • While observing the painting, students will infer the thoughts of Paul and Babe based on their facial expressions and identify evidence of exaggeration.
  • The students will recognize exaggeration (hyperboles) while listening to a read-aloud about Paul Bunyan.
  • Students will use the hyperboles from the story to create similes and metaphors.
  • Students will create a contemporary tall tale character and use similes and metaphors to describe their attributes or behaviors.
  • Using tempera, students will paint a picture of their tall tale character with at least one common object in the picture to demonstrate exaggeration.
  • The students will share the painting and story (orally or printed) with their classmates.

Guiding Question

Can students identify the key components of American Tall Tales by observing a painting and apply that knowledge to a contemporary theme?

Curriculum Connections

Language Arts, Social Studies


Read-aloud books about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (see Resources at the end of this lesson), chart paper, markers, writing paper, pencils, 12 x 18 white construction paper, tempera paints, paint brushes           


Tell students that we are going to be using a painting by William Ashby McCloy to deepen our understanding of American Tall Tales. We will learn about Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox, and make our own modern tall tale characters and stories.


While looking at the painting:

1.  Ask students what they notice about the painting. Ask them to look at the facial expressions on Paul and Babe and to think about what they might mean. Ask them to consider such questions as, When do people usually wink or raise their eyebrows? Do you think Babe believes what Paul is saying? Then ask, Could this painting depict something that is real?  Why or why not?

2.  Paul and Babe are characters in old American Tall Tales. Explain that one of the main characteristics of tall tales is exaggeration—everything is bigger and better and problems can be solved in more amazing ways than in real life. The exaggeration makes the tales fun. For people who worked hard jobs as loggers and lumberjacks, the fantastic stories inspired pride in their work and an awe-inspiring hero to follow. Sometimes children use exaggeration when they tell about their experiences. Ask students, Can you think of any examples? What do you think are some of the differences between exaggeration and lying? What do you think is the connection between Paul’s winking eye and the exaggeration in the tales?

3.  Read aloud a story about Paul and Babe. Tell students when they hear an exaggeration, they should wink or raise their eyebrows (practice winking and raising eyebrow with a partner).

4.  After reading, share and record favorite exaggerations on chart paper. Tell students there is a special name for this in writing: they are called hyperboles. Write "hyperboles" above the list.

5.  Tell students we are going to use some of these hyperboles to write special kinds of comparing sentences called similes and metaphors.

A simile is a comparison between two things that usually do not go together, using the word "like" or "as."

  • My friend is as tall as a giraffe.
  • My teacher’s hair was as messy as my sister’s room.
  • My brother grumbles like a bear in the morning.
  • A metaphor is also a way to compare two things that do not go together, but do not use the words "like" or "as."
  • My brother is a bear in the morning.
  • My sister is a grumpy troll.
  • My friend is a lifesaver.

6. Ask students to work with a partner to choose one of the hyperboles and turn it into a simile or metaphor. As each pair shares their work with the class, ask the rest of the class to wink if it was a simile or raise their eyebrow if it is a metaphor.

7.  Tell students that they are going to create their own tall tale character, reminding them that tall tale characters do things and solve problems in more amazing ways than in real life. Ask students to think about hard jobs, chores, or problems that a tall tale hero could help with, or different occupations they might find interesting. Ask them to think about what the tall tale character might look like, whether she or he has features that will help with a job or problem, and a good name for the character. The students may want to do a quick sketch of the character to help them visualize what they will write about. Their short story should include:

  • beginning, middle, end
  • at least two hyperboles
  • at least two similes
  • at least two metaphors

8.  As students finish their drafts, ask them to find a partner who has also completed their draft. The partners will edit each others' stories to make sure the above criteria are included and to check conventions: capitalization, punctuation, complete sentences, correct use of quotation marks (if used), and spelling. The stories should be typed or re-written if they are to be displayed. If they are being shared orally there is no need to rewrite or type.

9.  When they are finished with their stories, students may begin working on their painting. Tell students that they will use tempera paint, the same kind of paint McCloy used in his painting of Paul Bunyan and Babe. Tempera can give paintings a rich, bold color, like the larger-than-life characters in tall tales. Tell students that they should sketch the character first and include at least one common object in the picture so the audience can tell how big or small the character is.

10.  The paintings should be hung for a gallery walk when dried. Written elements of their tall tale should be hung underneath the painting.  If students are sharing orally, ask them to begin with the phrase "I'd like you to meet…"  The audience should wink when they hear a simile and raise their eyebrow when they hear a metaphor.

11.  In closing, ask students to look at McCloy's painting again and to share a simile or metaphor about Paul or Babe. As they share, ask the other students to wink if they hear a simile and raise their eyebrow when they hear a metaphor.

Common Core Standards

  • 5.RL.1. Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and drawing inferences from the text.
  • 5.RL.3.  Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
  • 5.RL.5.  Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
  • 5.W.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • 5.W.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience
  • 5.W.5. With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
  • 5.W.10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • 5.S&L.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and, texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • 5.S&L.3. Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension, gather additional information, or deepen understanding of a topic or issue.
  • 5.S&L.4. Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audibly in coherent sentences.
  • 5.L.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • 5.L.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
  • 5.L5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Wisconsin Visual Arts Standards

  • A.4.2 Learn basic vocabulary related to their study of art
  • A.4.6 Know that art is a basic way of thinking and communicating about the world
  • B.4.3 Know that works of art and designed objects relate to specific cultures, times, and places
  • B.4.4 Know that art is influenced by artists, designers, and cultures
  • B.4.6 Know basic ways to describe, analyze, interpret, and judge art images and objects from various cultures, artists, and designers
  • C.4.6 Use sketching to develop ideas for their artwork
  • C.4.7 Develop basic skills to produce quality art

William Ashby McCloy (American, 1913-2000), Paul and Babe, date unknown, tempera, 14 x 10¼ inches. Madison Art Association Purchase Award. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

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