Lesson Plan: How to Write a Tall Tale

By Trent Lorcher

Teach students how to write a tall tale. Writing tall tales are fun, like that 2,345,657-page dissertation I wrote last week.

What Is a Tall Tale?

About that 2,345,657-page dissertation I wrote last week: I knew writing tall tales would be tough, but I had no idea it would take me a half Tall Tale, or How Tall My Tale Was hour. I needed to understand the characteristics of tall tales so I could write them quicker.

I therefore traveled 2 million miles on foot (that took a week to do) to speak with the how-to-write-a-tall-tale master. His fortress was guarded by an 8,000 lb. hamster who made me answer the following question: "What is a tall tale?"

"That's why I'm here," I replied. "I came to ask the master what the characteristics of a tall tale are." The hamster swiped at me, missed and knocked a mountain over. I ran by and gained an audience with the master.

Here's what he taught me:


  • A tall tale involves exaggeration, often used for humorous purposes. Mark Twain used exaggeration effectively in many of his stories--"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," "The Invalid's Story," and "Punch Bros. Punch," for example. Other writers who effectively use exaggeration, albeit not in a tall tale necessarily, include Charles Dickens (think Uriah Heep or Francis Micawber), and Garrison Keillor (Gary Keillor being a fabulous tale that comes to mind).
  • First Person Narration: Tall tales are normally written in first person--that is, the narrator is an active participant in the tale. This lends the tale more "authenticity."
  • Some tall tales involve legendary figures. Paul Bunyan is the most famous American character.
  • Some legendary figures are real people. There are more tall tales involving American baseball player Babe Ruth than could fill a book.

Lesson Plan: How to Write One

Teaching tall tales is simple. Instruct students to do the following:

  1. Choose an incident.
  2. List facts about the incident.
  3. Exaggerate the facts. For example, you could write about last Friday's football game that your school won 21-10. I meant the football game we won 213-6. Don't forget that star running back Timmy Tidewater felt sorry for the other team and scored a touchdown for them in the 4th quarter. Todd Wallenbacjerstynomerslimkadin passed for 8,000 yards, saved orphans from a burning building at halftime, and sold popcorn between the third and fourth quarters.
  4. Make sure it's written in the first person.
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