Anthropomorphism Day 1: Fables and Folktales

Anthropomorphism has been popular since Aesop's time as a way to make human traits universal and easier to digest. Stories like the Uncle Remus stories have further this with racial and ethnic identities.

This 90 minute lesson is the first day of the Intro to Anthropomorphism Unit. It covers the Toirtoise and the Hare, Br’er Rabbit, Chapter 3 of The Grapes of Wrath, and the definition of anthropomorphism.


Students will be able to define and identify allegory, fable, moral and anthropomorphism by reading and annotating “The Tortoise & the Hare,” “Mr. Rabbit Meets His Match,” and Grapes of Wrath Chapter 3, co-creating a definition after each.


Required materials are normal text, recommended but not required materials are italicized

Essential Question(s):

How do stories connect the traits of animals and humans to get at deeper ideas?

What makes a fable?

Inquiry Exercise:

(15 Minutes)
Opening journal entry: What is a fable? How is this different from a myth, a folktale, or just a story?

Small group discussion of their answers. Key in on moral, key in on animals, key in on universality. Hopefully tie to human nature.

  • What is the purpose of a fable?
  • Why do fables use animals to tell their story?
  • Do you connect to fables?

Introduction to New Material:

(5 Minutes)
Today we’re going to be looking at 4 texts. We’ll be starting with one of Aesop’s fables, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” We’ve already begun discussing what a fable is and what it does. We’re going to be looking at how fables create the meaning they do and how we connect to them. In other words, what makes a fable effective.

We’ll be introducing two key terms today that will relate to the short pieces we read: anthropomorphism and allegory. I know that first one seems daunting, so let me break it down for you really quickly: the prefix, anthro, relates to humans or people; the root, morph, you probably recognize as a way of saying to change. The second one is a literary term you may have run across. You’ll have the opportunity at the end of class to look up actual definitions, but for now, we’ll be building our own definitions in the same way we constructed our class norms at the beginning of the year.

Kindly collect this unit’s annotation guide and a copy of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” You’ll notice the annotation guide has two new symbols on it: a smiley face and two side by side triangles. The smiley face will be used when you find something you think relates to human nature, while the two triangles (I like to think of them as fangs) will be used when you find something related to animal nature.

Guided Practice:

(15-20 Minutes)
Students will read, briefly the tortoise and the hare, annotating as we go. Annotations will be matched on the dot projector with a brief discussion of what annotations were made by the teacher and what annotations were made by students and why. The story will then be read a second time (since it’s so short) to see if we missed anything or see anything new.

(10-15 Minutes)
Alright, now that we have the story annotated, we’re going to split into small groups to come up with our definitions.
Groups will be divided by a poll of prior knowledge of the term, trying to make sure every group has someone who thinks they know what anthropomorphism and allegory mean. Groups will be provided large sheets with which to list ideas and create a word web, with a space for a rough definition at the bottom. This practice should be established withe the class prior to this, otherwise, it will take an entire class to introduce them to co-definition. If it’s been established beforehand, it shouldn’t be hard to let them work in groups before coming back together and sharing their definitions to come up with a class definition.

(15 Minutes)
I’m going to leave this definition up on the projector/board. Turn the page to “Mr. Rabbit Meets His Match.” In your group, I want you to work together to read this story and and figure out what happens, how it’s different or the same from the previous one. We’ll come back together to discuss what we find and how it relates to our two terms after. Do the same annotation we did before.

After students have completed annotating and reading, which may take time due to the language, we’ll talk about how they felt about the piece, some historical racial connotations will be provided, and, once a group points out the tortoise cheated, we’ll show the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “Tortoise Beats Hare” (10 minutes) to make sure everyone gets it.

Is this a fable? Are these allegories? What human traits to the animals show? Are they positive or negative or both? How do you know? Does this change our definition of anthropomorphism?

Independent Practice:

(20 Minutes)
We’ve worked as a class and in groups on these two stories, and you got to watch a cartoon. Pretty good day. We’re going to shift gears just a bit and read my favorite chapter of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I want you to read it and annotate it on your own, just like we did as a class and in groups. If you really need to work with a partner, you can work with your tablemate.

When you are done, pull out your journal and rewrite, in your own words, definitions of fable, allegory, anthropomorphism, and moral. I’d also like a sentence or two about how they connect to each other.


(5 Minutes)

We’ll be spending this week, and some of the upcoming weeks, examining allegory, anthropomorphism, fable and myth, building on what we did today. If you didn’t finish annotating Chapter 3 of the Grapes of Wrath, please do for homework. I will post photos of our class definitions to the Terms page on our website if you need them. Check in with your tablemates before you leave, as you’re responsible for helping your community members and you know our expectations of support. Support is a pre-established class norm that makes tablemates responsible for assisting assigned partners, informing them of missed information, and working together to make up for deficiencies.

This week, we’ll be writing a story using anthropomorphism and allegory to address something important to you. On Friday, whether or not the story is done, we’ll be recording interviews. You’ll have the chance to interview a classmate about their story, record it, and have them explain how their story uses allegory and anthropomorphism to address their issue or event. If you haven’t finished it by then, you will finish your story over the weekend and record a reading of it, possibly with your classmates voicing different characters. The recording will need to be a minimum of 2 minutes long per person and we’ll attach the Q&A to the end.

Tomorrow, we’ll have a special guest coming in to help us for the day. Think about what we talked about today and be ready to ask our guest questions in relation to those topics.

Continue to Anthropomorphism Day 2: Myth, Morality and Origin
Return to Intro to Anthropomorphism Unit