The Three Little Pigs is a classic story which all students ought to know. It can also make a great lead-in for lessons from economics, science, social studies, and art.
As you may recall, this is the story of three little pigs who set out into the world to find their fortunes. The first two pigs make themselves quick and shoddy houses, and are eaten by the wolf or (more often in modern retellings) run off to take shelter with their siblings. The third pig builds a strong brick house. The wolf, unable to blow down the third house, climbs up and jumps down the chimney, into the fireplace where the pigs have built a fire.
Sometimes there are further tricky adventures, but there is always the classic exchange between the wolf and the pigs:
“Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”
“Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!”
“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in!”
The success of the story in circle time depends entirely on the quality of your performance of this section.
There are lots of tellings of this story online.
- A simple read aloud of the story told by Joseph Jacobs gives you the classic tale.
- The Rosetta Project has a 1931 picture book of the story. It is possible to download the whole book, but you can also read it page by page online, with multiple translations.
- The classic L. Leslie Brooke version is available for online reading.
- The University of Pittsburgh has a collection of similar folktales, including the Three Little Pigs, a Brer Rabbit story, and an Italian variant with geese rather than pigs.
- Roald Dahl retold the story in typically witty verse. He brings Red Riding Hood into the tale — and don’t expect a happy ending for everyone. It’s Roald Dahl, after all.
- The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences presents the classic cartoon song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronell. The site gives words and music for a singalong.
This story has also inspired a lot of picture books. Some of our favorites:
- Three Little Pigs and The Big Bad Wolf by Glen Rounds– the traditional story, not the cleaned-up modern version
- Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which gives the wolf’s point of view
- The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, another alternative viewpoint
- Susan Lowell’s Southwestern-flavored The Three Little Javelinas, in English and Spanish
- David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs, which looks at text in an entirely new way
- The Three Little Pigs by Steven Kellogg, with his own sly take on the traditional story
- Margaret Zemach’s character-building tale, The Three Little Pigs: An Old Story
- The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale, which looks at three famous architects and their approaches to homes
- Mary Engelbreit included this story in her Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.
Read any or all of these, and pull out your Venn diagrams. Learning Resources Venn Diagram and T-chart Desk Mats are a nice approach for this kind of work — you get a set of thirty for less than a dollar apiece, and students can use them over and over.
- For younger grades, this story is a treasure trove of short vowel sounds. We especially like it for short u (huff and puff) and i (chinny chin chin, big, and pig).
- For older students, point of view is a natural lesson here, considering the wealth of versions of the story from the wolf’s point of view. The Guardian’s video, below, updates and adds to the concept:
- Three Little Pigs Fairy Tale Masks come with an easy-to-read play script. Let students work with this in small groups, or create a class performance.
- An attractive read along
- The Three Little Pigs is translated into Spanish for a readers theater script of Los Tres Cochinitos
- One of the obvious science connections is the engineering questions inherent in the little pigs’ housebuilding. SEDL has a clear and simple set up for a pigs’ house experiment.
- Another science question brought up by the story is this: “Are wolves really big and bad?” Read an essay on the subject. Check out fun facts about wolves.
- Hotchalk has an interesting idea about using two versions of the story to clarify the idea of voting on judicial matters.
- Walt Disney made his classic cartoon version of the story during the Great Depression, with the intention of showing that a can-do attitude and hard work could “keep the wolf from the door.” Scholastic has a good study of the Great Depression.
- EconEd considers a cost benefit analysis for the three little pigs. Older students might examine the British Petroleum “Three Little Pigs” inspired cost benefit analysis memo published by The Daily Beast. In the wake of the oil spill and its terrible costs, the 2002 memo seems fairly shocking. Yet all businesses — and perhaps all people — make cost benefit choices every day. This could make an excellent writing prompt.
- It’s easy to find good photographs for a study of the Depression, because of the WPA photographers, but it could also be interesting to ask the students to bring in their own family photos from that era. Here are a couple of images from my state:
Talk about the pictures and what they show about the time period. Pictures of a family dressed up for a photo session are bound to be different from pictures taken to document the hard times being experienced. An interesting discussion topic would be how we pick and choose visual images to make points. How did Disney portray the characters visually in his cartoon? How do the photos people have chosen to represent the Depression affect our mental images of the time, and those of the people who lived through it?
- Invite a community member who lived through the depression to visit the class and talk about their Depression-era memories. Compare that kind of storytelling with the telling of fairy tales and folktales.
- The Disney song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” is a well-known kids’ song, popular in many languages. Donald Fraser arranged it in the style of Richard Strauss for his album Heigh-Ho! Mozart – Favorite Disney Tunes In The Style Of Great Classical Composers. Listen to it along with well-known Strauss works such as Der Rosenkavalier and identify the elements that make Fraser’s piece “in the style of” Strauss.
- The Great Depression connection is also a good starting point for a discussion of how we use folktales to make points about character. Many folk and fairy tales have an obvious moral. Do modern books and movies sometimes also have morals?
- Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, writes that the Three Little Pigs show something about the pleasure principle. The first two pigs, like the grasshopper in The Ant and the Grasshopper, think only of what they want to do at the moment. The third pig realizes that hedonistic pleasure-seeking must be put aside for future good. Compare the two stories.
- Sometimes the moral of the story is expressed as “Always do your best.” Discuss how life might be different if we always do our best, versus how it might be if we do the least we have to.
- With both the Big Bad Wolf and pigs, this story can be a fertile field for discussions of stereotyping.
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