“The Apple in the Tree” : Storytelling that builds phonics and listening skills!

%22Elefante%22 by Idea go

“Elefante” courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As teachers of young learners, we know that phonics is an important part of our curriculum.  How can we teach phonics in a way that gets children excited to learn?

 The following activity is one of our favorites!  Here’s how it’s done:

1.  Begin by showing your students the following words illustrated with colorful pictures. These six vocabulary words are part of our Magic Time series (Magic Time One, Spring ABC’s).  If you teach Magic Time, use the picture cards for that lesson. If not, make your own picture cards, placing the upper and lower case letters above the picture that begins with that sound. Attach them to your whiteboard or blackboard. You can also use items such as stuffed animals, puppets, plastic fruit, etc.  The Internet also has pictures available.

Aa   apple

Bb   bear

Cc   cat

Dd   dog

Ee   elephant

Ff    fish

2.  For each picture card, teach the letter name (optional), the letter sound, and the word that begins with it.  For example:  “A / a / apple,” and so on.  Continue until students are familiar with the six words and the sounds they begin with.  Students can also make apple shapes, or explore the movements these animals make.

3.  Draw a simple apple tree on the board, with one big apple high up on a branch of the tree.

4.  Next, read the following story to your students.  As the six words above are introduced in the story, point to their pictures on the board.  You may want to tell the story more than once as you say the words slowly and clearly.

The Apple in the Tree

by Kathy Kampa and Chuck Vilina

copyright © 2013 by Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina

Once upon a time, there was a very hungry elephant.  She was looking for something to eat.  Suddenly, she saw an apple tree with a big red apple on it.  She reached for the apple with her trunk.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

Along came a bear.  “Climb up on my back,” said the elephant, “and you can get the apple.”  So the bear climbed up on the elephant’s back, and reached for the apple.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

Along came a dog.  “Climb up on my back,” said the bear, “and you can get the apple.”  So the dog climbed up on the bear’s back, and reached for the apple.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

Along came a cat.  “Climb up on my back,” said the dog, “and you can get the apple.”  So the cat climbed up on the dog’s back, and reached for the apple.  Oh, no!  It was too high up in the tree.

The elephant, the bear, the dog, and the cat looked at the apple.  It was such a big, red apple!  Oh, how they wanted to eat that apple!

Suddenly, a little fish jumped out of the water — up, up, up!  It grabbed the apple in its mouth, and went back under the water. “Thank you,” said the fish.  “I just LOVE apples!”


Children love this story.  And NOW they’ll have an opportunity to MOVE to it.  Do you notice the underlined words in the story?  They are the six target words, used this many times:

apple:              14 times

bear:                  5 times

cat:                    3 times

dog:                   5 times

elephant:           4 times

fish:                   2 times

This brings us to the next step in the activity:

5.  Prepare one small picture card for each child, using the six target words above.  You can even let children draw their favorite picture (from the above group) on a piece of paper and use that.  However, the cards should be evenly mixed if possible.  For example, if you have six students, each one should get a different letter picture card.  If you have more than six students, add more cards, so that more than one student will have the same word card.

6.  Have your students place their chairs in a circle, facing out.  If space is a problem, the chairs can be put in two rows with their backs to each other.  Students sit quietly in their chairs.  At this time, give each student a picture card (unless they drew their own, in which case they should be holding them).

7.  Explain to students that you are going to tell the story again.  When a student hears the word on their picture card, they GET UP QUICKLY and run around the circle of chairs, then sit back down in their own chair.  They must do this EVERY TIME they hear their word.

8.  NOW – tell the story SLOWLY.  Watch as your children jump up out of their seats and run around the circle.  As you can see from the words above, the “apple” holders have to run around the circle 14 times!  The “fish” holders only run around 2 times.

Of course, to make it more fair, mix up the cards after the story, hand them out again, and tell the story again!  This gives each child more chances to run around the circle.

This activity has many Multiple Intelligence strategies rolled into one:  It’s Word Smart (using written and spoken words), Picture Smart (using pictures), Body Smart (moving quickly in a circle), People Smart (listening and responding together), Self Smart (drawing their own picture cards), and Nature Smart (showing the relationship between the animals according to size).

Most importantly, it builds strong listening skills as it reinforces letter sounds.

You can follow up this activity with an art project:  students can draw a funny picture with all the animals standing on top of each other, with the fish jumping up to grab the apple!

You can also write similar stories using other letters from the alphabet.  Be creative!  In fact, your students may help you write the story!

Let us know how your students enjoy this activity!  Happy Teaching!

Kathy and Chuck

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