“The Three Billy Goats Gruff”is a Norwegian folk tale. Three goats want to visit a distant field to get some enticing green grass, but must cross over a bridge with a troll living under it. They go one at a time, from the youngest to the oldest. The troll threatens the first two goats, but each persuades him to wait for an older, fatter brother goat. At last, the troll comes up to eat the biggest Billy Goat Gruff, who knocks the troll off the bridge with his horns.
You can read the story online here.
There are some recordings of the story online:
- Fun Pages for Kids offers a really fun recording of the story, with music and everything. This would be fun for your students to listen to while drawing pictures or acting the story out with manipulatives.
- Jackie Torrance tells the story at a library website.
- StoryNory has a reading of the traditional version.
We like to read a different version of the story aloud (or listen to a recording) each day that we’re studying the story.
Then we like to have the kids retell the story, and masks are a great addition to a dramatic retelling. How fortunate that Teacher’s Friend has come out with Fairy Tale Masks for the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Sparklebox has some to download, print, and cut out. We find that by the time you count cardstock, ink, laminating, and sticks to mount them on, the ready-made ones are less expensive, but downloading is quick if you’ve got a sudden inspiration.It’s also nice to make an art project of it — let students start with paper plates and draw their own masks. Cut eye holes and a craft stick to hold.
There are only four characters in this story, so you may want to let several groups perform their version of the story in front of the class. Depending on the age of your students, you can pass out the masks and have them improvise, or have the class retell the story and let the kids with masks mime the story as they hear it.
You can challenge students to write out the story as a screenplay, or use someone else’s version. I’ve collected a few for you:
- Here is a script for a brief play version of the story.
- Here is a reader’s theater version that adds a moral to the story. A little warning so you won’t be startled — this site has some lively drumming!
- Here is a Readers Theater adaptation of Paul Galdone’s version.
Here are patterns for finger puppets for the story. There are also good ready-made finger puppets available for the story. These can be used like masks in the course of a whole-class retelling, or put in a center.
The Toymaker also has some cool paper models of the goats and the troll which you can print out, cut out, and have students use for acting out the story at their desks.
After dramatizing the story, older students may like to do a written retelling. Here’s a retelling form that gives a little more guidance.
As you pick and chose from these options (and probably some of your own favorites that I haven’t mentioned) you will be giving students opportunities to read, listen, and watch, and to respond with drawing, charting, writing, drama, and oral retelling. You probably also included some discussion of the characters, sequencing, setting, and the story itself.
While doing these things, we like to integrate some lessons from other parts of the curriculum. Since our state frameworks include fairy and folk tales up to seventh grade, I’m offering you ideas at all different grade levels.
- Have you noticed how many R consonant blends are in this story? Gruff, bridge, troll, hungry, three, trip, trap, trot, cross, stream, brother, grass, green and depending on the retelling you might also find creak, grind, great, travel, graze, brave, fragrant, sprang, breakfast, pray, tramp, crushed, and groan. I feel a pocket chart sort or maybe a pick-n-put center coming on!
- This is also an excellent story for studying comparatives.
- SEDL offers a problem-solving lesson plan in which kids imagine that they have been hired by the billy goats’ parents to come up with an invention that will allow them to get safely across the bridge. There’s a link in the file to a PDF assessment page for the engineering project.
- Bridge design and construction is a great science lesson to go with this story. Discovery has the classic soda straw bridge design lesson plan. The Exploratorium has a great, science-filled lesson on bridge-building for younger students. Newton’s Apple has a fascinating video with teacher’s guide on the physics of bridge design. Bridge to Classroom looks at bridges and earthquakes, not a problem the goats had, but it has interesting information on types of bridges and safety measures used in engineering bridges.
Use our short video of bridges to introduce the subject:
- The goats’ goal is to get fat. Some modern tellings of this story leave that part out, but you could bring in the health connection. Discovery has an elementary school lesson on the purpose of fat storage in animals. Reach Out Michigan has a middle school lesson on body fat. Again from Discovery, a high school lesson considers the link between culture and obesity.
- Check the music section below for a suggestion on how to bring amplitude and frequency in.
- The most obvious math connection, to me, is size. Compare the three billy goats, using whatever math point you’re trying to get across at the time: measurement, ratios… There are lots of possible approaches.
- Another natural connection for young students is time. The goats in some versions of the story have a schedule, and they go out to get their grassy breakfast every day. Have students tell you about their schedules, or write and chart them out. A pie chart showing what proportions of their time they spend in school, play, study, outside lessons, chores, sleep, etc. gives a chance to work on fractions, too.
- Math Stories offers a math reproducible to go with the story, with a variety of word problems. The questions do not have much to do with the story, frankly, but sometimes you just want a worksheet, don’t you?
- Joseph MacDonnell has a nice lesson on the geometry of bridges.
- Portland studio has a beautiful and unusual illustration of the story. It almost seems that the bridge itself is the main character in this illustration. Challenge students to make pictures that show the goats or the troll as the central figures, and compare.
- Challenge older students to find and photograph local bridges for a class collection. Sort them according to type and make a bulletin board showing the results. Use Joseph MacDonnell’s page (linked in the Math section above) as a resource.
- This is a great story for working on pitch and loud/soft distinctions. I find when I do physical science workshops that many people expect the size of the instrument to affect amplitude (loudness) as well as frequency (pitch). In this story, it does (the bigger goat has a louder voice), but why not set up an experiment to check that hypothesis? Drums of different sizes could be used, or a bass fiddle and a violin if you have access to them. No instruments in the classroom? Make some shakers with different sizes of containers and popcorn or rice.
- Have the kids use various rhythm instruments to accompany the story with “trip, trap” sounds. I like lummi sticks, rhythm sticks, and sand blocks especially well for this, but the goats could also have big and little bells.
- Many tellings of this story end with “Snip, snap,snout. This tale’s told out.” Have the kids chant this, clapping to the rhythm.
- Use Google SketchUp to design bridges for the goats, or for the troll. Consider dividing the class and having half develop a bridge for the goats and half design the perfect bridge from the troll’s point of view. Compare the results.
- SketchUp is extremely versatile, and it’s free. If you find it difficult, though, an alternative is AutoCAD Freestyle. This software is amazingly easy, and you can use it for everything from seating charts to — well, designing bridges.