Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media
  Lesson 1  Lesson 3  Lesson 4  Activities

Lesson 2

Tell Me a Folktale


Notes to the Teacher:

This lesson will probably take three days to complete. 

During the Roosevelt administration, Richard Chase was employed, along with other writers, in the Federal Writers' Project. He collected stories from oral interviews taken from members of the Council Harmon family of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and from three families in Wise County, Virginia. Chase’s versions of the tales are collations of these collected oral tales.

Pages in AppLit that are relevant to this lesson (see also Complete List of AppLit pages on Folklore):

The following books are excellent resources for teachers:

Chase, Richard. Grandfather Tales. Illus. Berkeley Williams, Jr. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1948.

Chase, Richard. The Jack Tales. Illus. Berkeley Williams, Jr. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.

Higgs, Robert J., Ambrose Manning, and Jim Wayne Miller, eds. Appalachia Inside Out: Conflict and Change. 2 vols. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1995.

The following article provides several folktales transcribed as they were told:

Perdue, Charles. "Old Jack and the New Deal." Appalachian Journal (Winter 1987): 108-152.

AppLit's Fiction and Poems section also reprints tales transcribed directly from the oral tradition.

Teachers can also find a great deal of information on the Internet. "A Uniquely American Hero: Jack and His Place in the Folktale Tradition" by Susan Tillotson Light offers an interesting survey of folktales and Jack Tales in general. It also provides a list of works cited and works consulted.


1. Prepare the board ahead of time with the following heading: What is a Folktale? All information should remain on the board until the end of the lesson.

2. Ask students to provide a definition for the term folktale. Enlist the aid of a willing student to write the responses on the board.

3. Conduct an open discussion of the definitions supplied by students. Encourage students to reveal their sources.

4. Provide students with the following definition:

5. Discuss/Explain the three aspects of the above definition.

6. Prepare and Distribute Handout 1 "Characteristics of Folktales" using the information provided below. You should place the characteristics to the left of the page and divide the remaining page into two columns (a total of three columns) so that there will be room to analyze two tales.  Students can write the name of the tale above the second and third columns. Advise students to write notes on the back of the Handout, if necessary, since they will be using this handout with a later assignment. Discuss and provide (or ask for examples of) the characteristics.


Notes to the Teacher:

Explain to students that the following Appalachian Values were identified by Loyal Jones, an insider, in response to similar, though negative, values identified by Jack E. Weller, an outsider. In 1965 Jack E. Weller wrote a book based on his thirteen years as a preacher residing in West Virginia. His book is considered by most Appalachian writers and scholars to be vicious and discriminatory.

Jones, Loyal.  "Appalachian Values." Voices From the Hills. Ed. Robert J. Higgs and Ambrose Manning. NY: 1975.  507-517.

Weller, Jack. Yesterday's People:  Life in Contemporary Appalachia. Whitesburg, KY: Kentucky UP, 1965.

7. Prepare and Distribute Handout 2 "Appalachian Values" using the information provided below. Or you may simply write these values on the board for students to copy. 


8. Encourage students to provide examples from their own experiences which support or contradict these characteristics. Allow for open discussion of the reason(s) why students believe any of these are or are no  longer accurate. Allow students to delete values they no longer believe describe Appalachians and add new values that they feel better describe Appalachians.  

Suggested responses: 

Prepare and Distribute Handout 3 "Appalachian Values: Modified" as modified by the class, for use with later assignments. You should place the values to the left of the page and divide the remaining page into two columns (a total of three columns) so that there will be room to analyze two tales. Students can write the name of the tale above the second and third columns.

9. Ask for volunteers to retell a familiar Appalachian folktale. (Limit to two tales.) Ask students before they begin if they read or heard the stories, where, when, etc. If no student can recall an Appalachian folktale, provide two summaries for them. While the stories are being retold, ask students to listen carefully, writing down specific examples of Characteristics of Folktales and Appalachian Values: Modified. (Students should use Handout 1 and Handout 3: Modified for this assignment.)

Suggested Responses:  

10. Ask students to refer to the notes they made on the two folktale summaries. Allow for open discussion and debate by students. Encourage students to supply specific examples from the folktales.

Suggested Responses: 

11. Direct students to AppLit's Annotated Index of Appalachian Folktales, by Tina Hanlon. Ask students to choose one tale from the list of Jack Tales, click on that tale, and choose at least two variants of the same tale. Be sure they choose from the different written (not oral) versions of Jack Tales rather than the Compare With versions.  In addition, exclude from their choices "Jack and the Doctor's Daughter" since this tale will be used in Lesson 4 in film version. For homework, have students read and analyze (using a clean copy of Handout 3: Modified) the two versions of the folktale. Students should be able to locate these tales in their school or local library.

Suggested Responses:  

12. Allow an entire class period for discussion of Handout 3: Modified.

13. Prepare and Distribute Handout 4 "Appalachian Folktale Variants" with the following information. Advise students to follow the writing process. Allow for in-class time for revision and editing.


Directions: Use Handout 3: Modified and any additional notes you may have.

1. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast one or several aspects of the two folktale versions (Appalachian Values, Use of Humor, or a combination of both). Work in Folktale Characteristics as you judge them to be indicated.

2. Final paper should be typed or word-processed. Include internal citations and Works Cited page.

Write an essay that includes the following:

Suggestions for structuring your paper:


Body Paragraphs (at least three):


Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media: Intro
Complete list of AppLit pages on Folklore

The Page Created:  11/08/2001
This Page's Last Update: 7/13/05