Old Woman and her Pig

The last line of a favourite traditional chain tale from England 

Listen to the complete tale

This short video clip was taken during a performance at the 2009 ZauberWort storytelling festival in Nuremberg.

A teaching activity: Last-Line Race

When I tell this story in school or in teacher-training workshops, I often use it to practise fast speaking.

After telling the tale, I write, with the students prompting me, the first sentence of the final run on the blackboard:
The cat started to catch the rat.
rat → gnaw → rope
rope → hang → butcher
butcher → kill → ox
ox → drink → water
water → quench → fire
fire → burn → stick
stick → beat → dog
dog → bite → pig
So piggy did jump over the stile.
And the old woman did get home before midnight.

Students are partnered off. They establish who is A and who is B.
I point out that each part of the last line (with the exception of the final two sentences) has two verbs: started to plus infinitive.
Together, I lead them through a choral rendition of the last line, pointing to the nouns and the verbs as we go.
I also point out that there is a logical thread to the characters and their actions: e.g. butcher → kill → ox → water → drink. Because of this, it is easy to remember where one is in the thread and so one does not need to read it on the blackboard or a piece of paper. Moreover, if we do read it, that will slow down the telling, which will not help us win the Last-Line Race.
Then I clean the blackboard!

Now I explain that all the A partners will tell their partner the last line, beginning with
The cat started to … and ending with
And the old woman did get home before midnight.

As soon as someone has finished, they must put up their hand.

I show them my official Olympic timekeeper’s watch, give them On your marks, get set, GO! and attempt to time as best I can.

When the A’s have finished, the B’s have a go.
I usually repeat this once or twice as they tend to get a lot faster.

If desired, the fastest A and fastest B can come out for the Great Olympic Last-Line Final in front of the class.

Language note:

I usually point out that the final two sentences use did + infinitive to emphasise the verb.
Students can be encouraged to show this by clapping their hands on the did.

The teaching activity is © Richard Martin, 1994.
Permission for non-commercial classroom use with citation is granted.


About the tale and a note on political correctness

The story is numbered AaTh 2030 in Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson’s international index of tale-types The Types of the Folktale.
To see how wide-spread it is, go to this page on Distributed Proofreaders which has versions in 26 different languages.

This version, the one I remember from my own English childhood, is found in the collection by Joseph Jacobs English Fairy Tales(1890). As you see, it involves beating, killing and hanging.
In teacher-training workshops for primary schools in Germany and Singapore I have discussed the acceptability or otherwise of using this traditional version with young children. The clear consensus of opinion was that they did not feel this was a problem in such an obviously stylised traditional tale.
But if you feel uncomfortable about it, there are other versions around which do not involve such contentious actions.

The tale is also on one of my earliest recordings, the audio cassette The Wife’s Letter and other Tales.

This recording is part of a CD issued with Primary English (June 2006), where the story skeleton and teaching activity described above were also published.
Both are reproduced here with kind permission of Oldenbourg Schulbuchverlag GmhH.


If you like listening to this story, you’ll love the CD:
Jack goes Hunting and other Tales

Disclaimer
The video clips here are all amateur quality, shot in various theatres.
Their intention is just to show the range of my storytelling and give a flavour of a live performance.
Permission is granted for use in non-commercial educational contexts.
The videos are © Richard Martin.
Professionally recorded CDs and DVDs are available here.

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Permission to tell outlines my views on copyright

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