Teaching Four "Jack" Books

by Anne Newlun

In 1988-89 Anne Newlun was a kindergarten teacher at Norton Elementary School in Norton, VA. Newlun's activities below are adapted with permission from Journey Through Fantasy Literature: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Vol. I. Ed. Roberta T. Herrin. Developed during a Teachers Institute sponsored by East Tennessee State University and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1988–89. For questions or comments on this page, or to submit additional ideas or examples from your classes, contact Tina L. Hanlon.

These activities could be adapted for other folktale picture books besides the ones listed below (newer books are listed at this link and the bibliographies for specific tales linked below). For example, Tom Birdseye's Look Out Jack! The Giant is Back! (Illus. Will Hillenbrand. New York: Holiday House, 2001) is written as a comic sequel to "Jack and the Beanstalk." Paul Brett Johnson's Jack Outwits the Giant is a featured youth book in the Roanoke Valley Reads program in Fall 2013.

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My kindergarten students love learning the Jack Tales, and of course, being a teacher, I learn from my students, too. One interesting thing I found out was that even though regional customs are the same, the language is local. For example, here in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, most of the kids eat "crumble pie," but that's not what they call it! Word study is just one of the activities that you can do with the Jack Tales. Following is a list of some brief activities to use with four of my students' favorite "Jack" books.


Jack and the Beanstalk (retold in many picture books)
Jack and the Wonder Beans by James Still
Jack and the Bean Tree by Gail Haley
Jack and the Fire Dragon by Gail Haley

Click on titles above to find annotated references to these books and other versions of the same tales.


1.  With the books about beanstalks or bean trees, compare and contrast illustrations, events, characters and ending.

2.  After reading Jack and the Fire Dragon, ask students to make a list of what they might find in an underground hell. Some things might be trash, pollution, meanness, shots, heart attacks, hunger, devils, mean dragons.

3.  I encouraged my students to write a story about what kinds of things they would have to do to prove their bravery and truth of heart. What wishes would they make, if the magic ring in Jack and the Fire Dragon were in their possession? How might they help Jack if they were the girls, or help the girls if they were Jack? (See Noteworthy Girls in Jack Tales.)

For more discussion questions on other folktales, see Study Guides for the Jack Tale Players and Folktale Activities.


1.  It is easy for students to illustrate the picturesque speech in these Jack Tale books. Here are some examples of such speech which describe the giant:

2.  Have students design a seed packet for Jack's wonder (magic) beans.

3. After reading Jack and the Fire Dragon, I designed Dragonteasers (swords) for protection. I traced these on poster board and then allowed each student to paint and decorate one.

4.  Children are fascinated with dragons. Let them draw a dragon with felt pens on styrofoam trays. They can be painted with tempera paints.

5. Another method of illustration can be used to create Fire Dragaman. First, instruct students to use crayons and color a piece of paper one color (green, blue, red, etc.). Then color with a black crayon over the first color. Finally, use a sharp instrument to draw Fire Dragaman.


Encourage students to figure out an alternate ending for each of the stories whereby all characters are winners. First, decide on a version to use. Then make a chart listing each character; then list the needs of each character and ways to achieve his or her needs. For example, Jack, his mother, the giant and his wife, all need food. Instead of the giant and his wife eating people, they should try to add other foods to their diets.

My kindergarten students responded to this activity using Jack and the Wonder Beans. Here are some of the answers they gave to solve Jack's problems and the giant's problems:

Solutions for Jack          Solutions for the Giant
Eat beans on the vine
Go to church and ask for food
Get on welfare
Sold Milky White herself
Trade with the Giant
Show Jack how to plant
Be a friend to the giant
  Eat beans
Eat animals, not people
Play outside and be happy
Have some kids
Share wealth with Jack
Trust Jack

Once students have solved Jack's problem, decide on an ending. They can write the ending and then perform a skit to illustrate it, or draw pictures.


Once upon a time Jack went to sell his cow because she had gone dry. He traded for some magic beans because no one had any money. His mother wasn't too happy, but after talking, Jack and his mother thought something magic might grow if they planted the beans in good soil and watered them regularly. Sure enough, the next day a huge beanstalk had grown to the sky. Jack climbed the stalk and when he knocked on the door, the giant's wife said, "Come in dear; you're just in time for dinner." Jack ate with the giant and his wife who were so happy to have company (especially since the company was a kid). After dinner the giant got out his gold money. He couldn't count too high, so Jack helped him count it. Since Jack was so efficient, the giant gave him some of the money. Jack said everyone back home was so poor that they had barely any food to eat. So the giant and his wife climbed down the beanstalk with food, money and seeds to plant. The people worked with the giant and his wife and soon their tended gardens grew. They bought farm animals. And for the rest of Jack's life, he and his mother spent their vacations visiting the Giant's home and the Giant and his wife visited Jack and his mother, too. They all lived happily ever after.


Students love to make up new chants for the giant. Here are a few:

       Fee, fie, foe, fum,
I smell the blood of a friendly chum.
Be he happy or be he sad
I'll hug his neck, and he'll be glad.
                  Fee, fie, foe, fum,
I smell the works of a happy kid.
Be he mean or be he good
I'll be his friend as I know I should.

       Fee, fie, foe, fum,
I smell the blood of an English chum.
Be he alive or be he dead.
If he ain't nice, I'll cut off his head.
       Fee, fie, foe, fum,
I can hear you, but I can't see.
Come out, come out, wherever you are
Stick your head in a jelly jar.

See also 

Study Guides for Jack Tale Players

Creative Activities for Three Appalachian Folktales, including jump rope chants

Bibliography of Appalachian Folktales

Standards of Learning Covered by Study of "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet" Dramatizations

Lesson Plan for Granny Will Your Dog Bite and Other Mountain Rhymes

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

Index of Student Writing and Illustration in AppLit Pages

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This page's last update: 8/19/13