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Classroom Material

Legends of Dunn County

Legends of Dunn County | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Elementary

Duration: One class period

EnlargeLithographic print: Paul Bunyan walking with an axe on shoulder and whistling. The ox walks beside carrying several miniature people on his back.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox

Folklore legends Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are depicted several different ways throughout history. View the original source document: WHI 55609

Fourth-grade students in the Menomonie Area School District learn to identify the characteristics of a legend, then go into their communities to research, gather, and record materials of a particular oral tradition.

They focus on legends with a local basis, putting the legends into written form and gathering them into a portfolio. This lesson focuses on helping students understand the concept and meaning of legends.


Students will:

  • Recognize the characteristics of legends and the ways they differ from other oral traditions
  • Develop skills in gathering and recording materials form the oral tradition of legends
  • Acquaint themselves with local history
  • Practice working in teams in the synthesizing of data into a written legends
  • Apply criteria in selection process


  1. Invite a storyteller to introduce to students the concept of legend. Before the class meets, teachers and storytellers should review the lesson and unit, to determine the range of the storyteller's role.
  2. With the class, the storyteller identifies legends as commonly known stories that have some basis in verifiable facts, such as places, events, persons, or animals.
  3. The storyteller presents examples of legends, such as the Ballad of Big John, the Huron Carol story, Jean de Brebeuf of 1643, and others.
  4. Ask students to name the different places that they can look for legends, in either historical or verbal accounts. Historical accounts include newspapers, diaries, family documents, church histories, and magazines. Verbal accounts include elders, neighbors, parents, relatives, and librarians.
  5. Discuss with students the different ways they can write a legend, in terms of style: prose, poetry, first person, third person, and ask if they can give examples of different styles.
  6. Explore ways to verify the legend, asking if the legend is possible.
  7. Discuss ways to refute the legend, asking if the legend is plausible.
  8. Ask if there are ways to determine the origin of the legend, to see if it is adopted from another place.
  9. Lead a discussion about looking for legends. Students should conclude that verification depends largely on who does the verifying, that one person's legend is another person's truth, and that local history and everyday life are part of history.
  10. Students, either as individuals or in small groups, will go out into the community, seek out legends, and write them in brief accounts. Each student or group will share them orally with the class. In a class discussion, students will identify which legends share similar characteristics and might be combined.
  11. Students will write the legends in a final form and gather them into a class portfolio.


Students select one legend for videotaping. In Menomonie Area School District, students worked with local videographers over the course of ten sessions to create a videotape of their legend. This culminate in a public screening and reception at the Mabel Tainter Theater. Students placed copies of both the portfolio and tape into their local elementary school library, the local university, and the public library.


Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings.
WW Norton and Company, 1981.

Ryden, Kent C. Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place.
Iowa City: The University of Iowa Press, 1993.


  • Verify
  • Refute
  • Origin


This teacher-submitted, elementary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs. Author: Ellwyn Hendrickson, Arts Coming Together, Inc., Menomonie