In The Blind Men and the Elephant, by American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887), six blind men meet an elephant for the first time and each man touches a different part of the elephant and makes predictions about what the elephant is like.
The sequence and activities suggested below could be spread over two or three lessons depending on the amount of detail you wish to go into. Begin and end each subsequent lesson with a retelling of the story.
- To learn elephant and story-related vocabulary
- To listen and respond to instructions
- To learn adjectives to describe objects
- To listen and understand the general meaning of a story and make predictions
- To learn an elephant rhyme to practise rhythm and rhyme
- To help children understand the importance of using all evidence and listening to other people before coming to a conclusion
- To ask simple yes/no questions using adjectives
- A sheet of white A4 paper for each child for the picture dictation
- Objects for the feely box or bag
Stage 1: Picture dictation
Tell children you are going to tell them a story but first they are going to draw a picture of an animal and they must guess what it is.
- Explain that you are going to dictate some instructions to draw the animal. Use mime to help convey the meaning of unfamiliar words.
- Draw a semi-circle on the board and two small eyes on the left side. It is best to practise this activity a few times yourself before doing it with the children to ensure that you give them clear instructions.
- Now dictate the following instructions at least twice:
- Copy the semi-circle and eyes on to the middle of your paper.
- Draw four legs.
- Draw two big ears.
- Draw a long, thin tail.
- Draw a long trunk.
- Draw two tusks.
- Repeat the instructions again, adding each feature to your drawing on the board. Say the words pointing to the eyes, ears, legs, body, tail, trunk and tusks and invite pupils to repeat.
- When the drawings are competed ask pupils to show them to each other and then to colour them. Check everyone has an elephant!
Stage 2: Vocabulary check
Check understanding of the vocabulary by asking pupils to come to the board and point to different parts of the elephant.
Ask pupils to label their elephants and then display their drawings. If appropriate, ask children to show you where elephants come from (Africa and Asia) by pointing to a world map. Tell pupils that later you are going to tell them a story about an elephant from India.
Stage 3: Feely bag or box
Play this game to teach or revise adjectives. You need a cardboard box with a hole cut out for pupils to put their hands in, or a bag. Ask children to close their eyes or use a blindfold but don't use this if they feel uncomfortable. When they put their hand in the box they have to describe what they feel.
Here are some ideas for the feely bag/box and the adjectives that can be elicited. An effective way to help children learn the adjectives is by comparing objects and learning opposites, e.g. rough and smooth, long and short, etc.
- a pencil with a sharp point at one end and a rubber at the other: sharp, short, thin, smooth
- an orange: round, rough, big, large
- an apple: round, smooth, hard
- a table tennis ball: round, light, smooth, small
- a tennis ball: round, soft
- sand paper: rough, light
- a piece of string: thin, long, wiggly
- a piece of wood: hard
- a piece of cotton wool: soft, light
Stage 4: Reading the story
Read the story below aloud to the children, acting it out using your elephant drawing on the board as your main visual support.
- Cover your eyes on the word blind and 'feel' the parts of the elephant. When you get to each of the features, read, for example, 'It felt hard, big and wide. An elephant is like a …?' and invite suggestions from pupils. It doesn't matter if they say these words in their mother tongue – the importance is to get them predicting and thinking.
- Translate the words they say in English. Hopefully, a child will say 'wall' – point to a wall in your classroom and draw one on the board. Repeat 'An elephant is like a wall' and encourage children to repeat.
- Continue telling the story in this way. At the end of the story, you should have your elephant surrounded by drawings of a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan and a rope.
- Read the story again, inviting as much participation as possible using the drawings on your board as prompts to activate vocabulary and encourage participation.
- Invite children to act out the story.
Six Blind Men and the Elephant
Once upon a time there were six blind men. They lived in a town in India. They thought they were very clever. One day an elephant came into the town. The blind men did not know what an elephant looked like but they could smell it and they could hear it. 'What is this animal like?' they said. Each man touched a different part of the elephant.
The first man touched the elephant's body. It felt hard, big and wide. 'An elephant is like a wall,' he said.
The second man touched one of the elephant's tusks. It felt smooth and hard and sharp. 'An elephant is like a spear,' he said.
The third man touched the elephant's trunk. It felt long and thin and wiggly. 'An elephant is like a snake,' he said.
The fourth man touched one of the legs. It felt thick and rough and hard and round. 'An elephant is like a tree,' he said.
The fifth man touched one of the elephant's ears. It felt thin and it moved. 'An elephant is like a fan,' he said.
The sixth man touched the elephant's tail. It felt long and thin and strong. 'An elephant is like a rope,' he said.
The men argued. It's like a wall! No, it isn't! It's like a spear! No it isn't! It's like a snake! They did not agree. The king had been watching and listening to the men. 'You are not very clever. You only touched part of the elephant. You did not feel the whole animal. An elephant is not like a wall or a spear or a snake, or a tree or a fan or a rope.'
The men left the town still arguing. A little girl heard them and said 'Each of you is right but you are all wrong … but I know what you are talking about!'
Stage 5: Elephant rhyme
Introduce the following rhyme. If appropriate, children can walk around slowly swinging from side to side, head down and one arm hanging down as a trunk.
The elephant is big and strong
Its ears are large, its trunk is long.
It walks around with heavy steps,
Two tusks, one tail and four thick legs.
Stage 6: Guessing game
In the children's mother tongue, first discuss the importance of using all evidence and listening to other people before coming to a conclusion.
- Before the game, pre-teach or revise yes/no question forms and adjectives as appropriate.
- Play the guessing game. The teacher thinks of an item and the class needs to guess it! You could choose an item from your feely box or bag if you wish or introduce or recycle other vocabulary.
- They have ten chances to ask yes/no questions.
- They should first ask strategic questions, e.g. Is it hard? Is it soft? Is it made of wood? Has it got a tail? Is it like a snake?
- Once they have gathered evidence, they can ask specific questions such as Is it a dog? Is it a pencil?
Our senses at school project. Make a poster for the classroom listing all the things in the school that children can see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
Researching elephants project. If appropriate, children could use the internet or reference books to research the differences between African and Asian elephants and produce a classroom display or small project. The National Geographic Kids website may be useful: