Clever Farmer

This story is in an unusual form.
I wrote it as a worksheet with most of the verbs in the infinitive for my 6th class, 11-year-olds in their second year of learning English as a foreign language.
The teaching activity is described below the tale.

Once upon a time, there be a farmer – have wife. Wife be pretty, but not too clever – and she talk, talk, talk. She – can’t stop talking. One day in spring, he find gold.

He think, “Wife will tell everybody. If king hears about gold, will take it.”

But he have clever idea. Dig hole – bury gold. Go to town – buy loaves of bread, a fish, a rabbit. All morning do the work he have to do.
When finish, go home.

“Wife, I want mushrooms, let’s look in forest.”
“In April, husband?!? Mushrooms don’t grow in April, they grow in autumn.”
“Yes, in April, wife – think it is our lucky day!”

So take baskets, go into forest.
Not find mushrooms.

But, “Husband, look, loaves of bread hanging on that tree!”
“Yes, that’s a bread tree, wife. I tell you it is our lucky day!”
“Husband, I not know about bread trees before. Oh, husband, how lucky we are, it is our lucky day.” She put bread into her basket.

“Wife, you find bread tree – I’ll see what I can catch with my basket in the field.”
He pull basket through long grass – in basket he catch a fish!
“Husband, a fish in the field! I not know fish live in fields. I think they live in water!”
“Not when it is a lucky day, wife. Then you can catch fish everywhere!”

He put fish to his ear. “Wife, fish just tell me catch rabbit in river.”
“I not know …”

Go to river, husband tie rope to handle of basket, throw it into water.
Pull it out – there be a big rabbit in it!
“Husband, I not know rabbits live in water. I think they live in fields!”
“Not when it is a lucky day, wife. Then you can catch rabbits everywhere!”
“Oh, husband, how lucky we are – wonder what we will find next.”

He put rabbit to ear.
“Wife, rabbit tell me to dig hole.”
Dig hole – “Wife, look – gold!”
“Oh, husband, how lucky we are – this is our lucky day!”

He tell her she mustn’t tell anyone. “Me, husband? Tell? No, never!”
Two days later – everyone know about gold. Her neighbours know, even the king know.

King come with soldiers, think wife be better person to ask.
“All gold in land is mine. When you find it? Where you find it?”

Husband move behind wife’s back – let her do talking.

Wife be very frightened.
“Oh, we find it two days ago when we be looking for mushrooms.”
“Mushrooms, in April? You go looking for mushrooms in April?”
“Yes, I tell my husband that, but he say it be our lucky day. And it be – because we find a bread tree!”
“A bread tree?”
“Yes, and lovely loaves of bread they be, too. And then my husband catch a fish in the grass.”

“Fish, in grass?”
“Yes, it be a lucky day! Fish tell him to catch rabbit in river.”
“Fish speak to husband?”

“Yes! We go to river – then husband catch rabbit in river!”
“Rabbit, in river?”

“Yes, it be a lucky day! Then rabbit tell him to dig hole in ground!”
“Rabbit, speak?”
“Yes, and then we find the gold!”
And woman smile at king.

While wife be talking, husband stand behind her back, he look at king, tap his finger against his head.
King turn to husband.
“You poor man, with a wife as mad as that. I feel sorry for you.”

King put his hand in his pocket, pull out a purse of gold, give it to the farmer.
“But I understand – the Queen is just the same.”

Teaching activity

The simple past tense had just been introduced by the textbook (although they have been hearing it from me in stories for over a year). That is why most of the verbs are in the infinitive.
I told the class the story and the next day brought in the above worksheet. (Download a pdf version)

The first activity was partner work with the worksheet: telling the story together, making their own lively version with full sentences and using the past tense.
Then we wrote the bare bones of the story on the blackboard (see the skeleton below). This was to show them that it was very easy to remember the story without having the paper in front of them.


  • farmer – wife
  • found gold – “wife talks – king!”
  • idea: bought bread, fish, rabbit
  • “wife – mushrooms” “Husband – April” “Lucky day!”
  • bread tree
  • fish in grass
  • rabbit in river
  • gold
  • king: “Gold?”
  • wife: “Yes – lucky day, mushrooms”
  • king: “In April?”
  • wife. “Lucky day. Bread tree – fish in grass – rabbit in river. Then found gold”
  • farmer tapped head
  • king: “Understand – Queen is just the same!”

This skeleton was then cleaned off the board, I numbered the kids off to put them with a new partner – and then they told the story together, with neither the paper nor the skeleton before their eyes.
Just telling!

Written work

The lesson with the partner-telling only happened this morning (12th Nov. 2004, when I first uploaded this page) so we have not done any written follow-up yet. But we shall.
Homework is to write out the first part of the story up to: “Yes, in April, wife – think it is our lucky day!”

Next week I shall use these texts to correct mistakes and consolidate their understanding of the past tense, especially the questions and negatives.
Then the rest of the story will be split up into sections and each section written by a small group in the lesson. They can also make a picture to go with their part of the story.
The texts and pictures can then be displayed on the wall.

A note on political correctness

Of all the foolish-spouse folk tales I tell, this is the only one in which he is cleverer than her.
(I also tell the English tale “The Three Sillies”, but there it is the girl, her mother and her father who are all sillier than the man who wants to marry the girl.)
So invariably my listeners hear this tale set against many others of foolish husbands like the story of Woman’s Work.

Of course, if for any reason you prefer to tell the story the other way round, there are lots of variants of The Clever Farmer which do just that.
There are seven versions of this tale, aka The Wife Who Could Not Keep a Secret (Aarne-Thompson type 1381), at Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts.

The teaching activity is © Richard Martin, 2004.
Permission for non-commercial classroom use with citation is granted.

Here is a detailed article on my storytelling methodology: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling

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For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling