The Big Turnip Lesson Plans


The story of the big turnip has various different characters, depending who is telling it, but the basic plot is always the same: there is a big turnip in the ground, too big for one person or animal to pull up. The first to try to pull it calls upon others for help until at last there are enough helpers to pull up the turnip.

The humor of the story lies in the fact that the first person trying to pull the turnip is the largest and the last one is the smallest. It may be a bear first trying to pull the turnip, and then various smaller animals, down to the last victorious mouse. It may be a man first, working down through all the members of the household to the smallest.

There are versions of the story with different vegetables, too.

There are lots of picture books telling this story. It is most often attributed to Alexei Tolstoy, and described as a Russian folktale. In Tolstoy’s story, the characters are an old man, an old woman, a child, a dog, a cat, and a mouse.

One of our favorites is The Enormous Turnip illustrated by Scott Goto.

A BBC Readaloud version of the story will be good for your computer center.

This is a great story for young children to act out. As you read the story the second time, have students come up and take the parts of the man, woman, child, dog, cat, and mouse, pulling on an imaginary turnip. With young children, give everyone a chance to act it out.

Once the story is clear to everyone, try out some cross-curricular connections:


  • A readers theater script from a classroom can be used as it is, or it may inspire your class to write one. We like the play script from Oxford Press. For older students, there is a short play about what happened after the turnip was harvested
  • An onlineĀ comprehension quiz could make a good computer center.
  • A printable worksheet has blanks to fill in.
  • The story of the turnip is variously titled “The Big Turnip,” “The Giant Turnip,” “The Enormous Turnip,” and so on. Take the opportunity to discuss adjectives, synonyms, or variety in word choice — whichever is on your syllabus.


  • This is a math story! There are so many math issues involved that every class can probably think of an application. Have small children draw pictures of the characters and put them in size order. Other math connections to discuss include ratio, average, and measurement.
  • How much force might each of the characters have provided? Think about ways to measure strength or force, calculate the contributions of each character, and use the calculations in the science questions below.
  • As a starting point, estimate the weight of each creature or person in the story. Practice research by determining the average weight of a man, woman, child, dog, cat, and mouse. Take it a step further by researching the weights of a variety of animals, and have each student choose six to put inĀ order by weight.
  • Graph the number of students who have ever eaten a turnip. You could also cook a turnip and give everyone a taste, and then graph the numbers who like it.


  • Is it possible that a small additional amount of force could lead to success in a feat of strength? Divide the class into groups and have them figure out ways to test the hypothesis. Let each group present their results.
  • Turnips are root vegetables. Have students list all the vegetables they can think of and sort them according to which part of the plant is eaten.
  • This story is a good one to incorporate into studies about plants.

Character Education

  • This story often ends with the smallest creature (typically a mouse) bragging that he has pulled the turnip from the ground with his great strength, but we like it as a story about cooperation. Many modern retellings of the tale focus on this aspect of the story. Have students brainstorm tasks that are too hard for one person, but easy enough for a group to accomplish cooperatively.

Physical Education

  • Play Tug o’ War with a jump rope, adding individuals on each side one by one as in the story.
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  1. Great cross-curricular ideas. Thankyou. I have also used the Enormous Turnip to teach math concepts-ordinal position, the words First, Second etc. As well as the math concepts Before, After and Next (Which character first pulled the turnip ? Who was last ? etc.

  2. Under the English lessons there is a link for older students to a short play.
    Be sure to read it-there is some questionable content is that version.

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