Spin a Story

Tell a family story: each person contributes a part.

  • Target Age: 4-6
  • Skills/Subjects:
    • Creative Expression (Storytelling, Art, Music)
    • Language and Literacy Development
  • Related Episodes:
    • #201: The Sad Dad
    • #212: Oh Yes, It Can
    • #218: Why the Baboon's Balloon Went Ka-boom!
    • #309: Two Coats, One Goat, and One Boat
    • #610: The Goat in the Coat


  • Popsicle sticks or rulers or unsharpened pencils
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Markers or crayons
  • Several pieces of drawing paper taped together to form a long strip


A familiarity with story structure is an important element in building an early foundation for literacy that allows children to flourish as readers and writers. Cumulative story structures are easy to recognize and fun to play with. In "add-on" stories, characters one by one join in a pursuit or joint effort. An example is the story of Henny Penny and Chicken Licken. In "chain reaction" stories, a sequence of events occurs, each a direct result of the previous one. An example of this is "The House That Jack Built."

1. After viewing, singing, and reading several cumulative stories (see Talk About It suggestions), try creating some original tales as a collaborative family effort. You could start by spinning your own family version of an "add-on" story that already exists in many variations, among others "The Enormous Potato" by A. Davis and "The Gigantic Turnip" by Aleksei Tolstoy. In your tale, your own family members can star as the cast of characters. You might start the story like this:
"Once upon a time, mom was working in her garden when she saw an enormous weed. 'That weed has got to go,' she said. So she grabbed the weed and started to pull. She pulled and pulled, but the weed would not come up. 'Hmm,' said Mom. 'I think I need some help.' So she called for (Rebecca)."
Pass the storytelling on to the family member just named. If your children have read or listened to one or more versions of "The Giant Turnip," they will know just how to proceed. After completing the story, your children may want to create stick puppets of the characters and dramatize the story as a puppet play.

2. You can also collaborate as a family to create a "chain reaction" story. Reading books such as "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" by Verna Aardema or "The Rain Came Down" by David Shannon are a good preparation for this activity. Start the story with an initiating event, for example:
"One morning the phone rang. Carlos jumped up to answer it. Unfortunately, when Carlos jumped up..."
The next person takes over the story. He or she might continue,
".... he tripped on the cat. The cat yowled and jumped and bumped into the fish bowl."
Then it is the next person's turn to continue the story. You can cue children who are uncertain how to continue by saying, "Because of what just happened in the story, what do you think might happen next?" When the story is completed, you and your family can work together to draw a story mural on a long strip of paper, showing the sequence of events in the story. Help children write words below each picture.

Talk about It 

The Between the Lions episodes, "Oh Yes, It Can" and "The Sad Dad" are "add-on" cumulative stories. Encourage your child to retell these stories and make connections to other stories and songs with a similar structure. Sing some familiar "add-on" songs with your child such as "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and "One Finger, One Thumb Keep Moving." Go to the library and borrow some add-on stories such as "The Enormous Potato" by A. Davis, "The Gigantic Turnip" by Aleksei Tolstoy, "Henny-penny" by Jane Wattenberg, and "Chicken Little" by Sally Hobson.

Encourage your child to retell the Between the Lions episodes "Why the Baboon's Balloon Went Ka-boom!" and "Two Coats, One Goat, and One Boat." These episodes tell "chain events" cumulative stories. Some "chain event" songs you can sing with your child are "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," "I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly," and "Hush Little Baby." Chain event books your child may enjoy include "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Laura Joffe Numeroff , "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" by Verna Aardema, and "The Rain Came Down" by David Shannon

Related Books

  • Chicken Little by Sally Hobson
  • The Enormous Potato by A. Davis
  • Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema

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