The Little Red Hen is a familiar story, and one that all kids ought to know.
In the story, the Little Red Hen plants wheat, harvests it, and bakes bread to feed her family. At every stage, she asks for help, saying “Who will help me plant the wheat?” and so on. Each time, the other animals refuse, in these immortal words:
“Not I,” said the cat, “Not I,” said the dog, “Not I,” said the pig.
“Then I’ll do it myself,” says the Little Red Hen. In the end, the Little Red Hen asks “Who will help me eat the bread?” and the other animals clamor to help with that, but the hen refuses. “I’ll do it myself,” she says. Exactly which animals are involved varies; sometimes there is a duck instead of a pig. It depends who is telling the story.
Paul Galdone has done a nice picture book version, and reading it aloud is a good place to start.
The very repetitive nature of the story makes it a great choice for choral reading, especially if your students can’t read yet. On the second reading of the book, show the pages or put the repeated phrases on sentence strips in your pocket chart, and encourage students to join in lustily on the whole “‘Not I,’ said the cat…” part.
The secret to successful choral reading (again, especially if it is being done mostly from memory by not-yet-readers) is rhythm. Get a good rhythm going with the words:
“Not I,” said the cat,
“Not I,” said the dog,
“Not I,” said the pig.
“Then I’ll do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen.
Clapping along is optional. Assigning a student to use a pointer as the class reads is also optional, but a good task for the readers in the group. Giving this exciting job to a students who can reads reinforces the idea that being able to read is a very grown-up thing and a skill to be prized. If your group doesn’t include any readers yet, then you might still assign a child to point to the word “I” every time it comes up, or you might do the pointing yourself.
If you are using the story with kids who have begun reading and writing, have them write “I’ll do it myself” on a picture of something they can do themselves. This makes a very inspiring and celebratory bulletin board.
Once the story has been read, enjoyed, and understood, we like to have a retelling. “The Little Red Hen” is great for acting out. Have kids make masks of their favorite animals with paper plates and punch holes at the sides to add yarn ties. Let students act the story out in small groups, or have volunteers mime the story as you read it.
Teacher’s Friend does a set of Little Red Hen Fairy Tale Masks You can see the whole set below, and above you will see a teacher from Turnbow Elementary kindly modeling the hen. This type of mask is better for young students who might not like having their faces covered, and also quicker and handier for classroom use. If you want to make a project of this, let students make their own with craft sticks and paper plates.
- Here is a PDF file of a wheat-to-bread sequencing card set from KinderNet.
- Here is a collection of “Little Red Hen” printables from Enchanted Learning, including a story map, word search, spelling lists, and more.
- Here are nice PDF lessons from August House for PreK through 1st grade.
- Here you can find the story told in English and Gullah by Aunt Pearlie-Sue, with read-along pages. This would make a nice computer center.
- For the youngest students, the story has the lesson that the hen could do the things herself but her friends should have helped her. A combination of being proud of things you can do yourself and thinking of ways to help others is a good character lesson for this story. The value of hard work is another.
- For older students, bring in the question of what alternatives the animals might have had, including the hen. That is, the lazy unhelpful animals could have chosen to help the hen, but perhaps she could have negotiated better with the other animals. She made a general plea for help, but she could have said, “If you will help me, Cat, I will share the bread with you.” Instead, she actually called out “Who will help me eat the bread?” with no intention of sharing it. Was she being vindictive? This could make a great mock-court simulation, or a conflict-resolution role-play.
- For still older students, the story can be an interesting kickoff to discussions of economics. Hear Malvina Reynolds singing her version of the story on YouTube. It ends with “‘Them that works not shall not eat. That’s my credo,’ the little bird said, and that’s why they called her ‘red’.” Discuss with students the use of the term “red” as a political label. With what historical period would they associate the term? Would they agree with the political point being made? Challenge students to find political or economics messages in the other fairy tales you’ve studied.
- Life science is a sensible connection for this story. Make a Pick’n'Put center for distinguishing between plants and animals, or a Sequencing Center for the life cycles of the various plants and animals in the story. Click on the tag at left called “Centers” to find instructions for these centers.
- Bake some bread! Here is an explanation of the science involved from Newton’s Apple. Here is a link to the War Eagle Mill in Rogers, Arkansas, with recipes and lots of background information. A visit to the mill is part of the Little Red Hen’s story, and we are fortunate to have an actual working mill in the area. You may have a local bakery, or kitchen workers at the school who would allow a visit to the kitchen to enjoy the scent of some fresh bread. Field trip, anyone? Baking always gives good opportunities to practice kitchen safety, math (measuring and fractions, mostly), and following directions.