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Back to School #5: The Fortune Tellers, by Lloyd Alexander and Trina Schardt Hyman

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students think about what the new school year will bring.  Do events happen to them, or do they control their own fates?  Can any of us really see the future?  This is the first challenging piece of literature I use with new Grade 4 students.  It forces them to think critically and carefully to fully understand the text.  With exquisite illustrations, The Fortune Tellers demands high level thinking.  This is one lesson you want to be sure to teach during “Back to School” season for Upper Elementary Students.  Don’t forget your crystal ball!

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:

4 and above.  Younger children interpret stories literally, and this lesson requires a good bit of deeper thinking.


For students to understand that they control their own futures, and their success and progress in the new school year.

Suggested Time:

45-50 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will write three predictions about the new school year.  Every prediction much contain an “if” clause.  For example, “I will make a new friend if I take turns, share, and use kind words.”

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask students if they know what a fortune teller is.  What does a fortune teller claim to do?  Can anyone really see the future?   What do you think?

Explain that today the students will hear a story about a fortune teller.  The illustrations are exquisite.  Look carefully at the bright colors and patterns.  The illustrator, Trina Schardt Hyman, was inspired by African villages and culture.

Also, tell the students that this story is tricky!  It makes you think, because the author does not explain the entire story in words.  You must use the words, think hard, and figure out what the author is trying to say.  This story is real literature and a “step up” from stories you have heard in Grade 3.

2. Main:

Teach The Fortune Tellers by Lloyd Alexander.  Clarify unfamiliar words such as “benefactor,” “demise,” and “codger.”   Work slowly through the text, because the children are going to have to do a lot of reading between the lines.

Ask follow-up questions such as:

  1. The old fortune teller seemed very confident in his predictions. Why?
  2. Was there anything in the old fortune teller’s predictions that was unique to the carpenter?
  3. Could anyone become rich if she earned enough money?
  4. Could anyone become famous if he were well known?
  5. Could anyone marry the love of his or her life if they meet the right person and that person agrees?
  6. What do you think of the old fortune teller’s fortune telling skill?
  7. Why did the old fortune teller always use an “IF” clause? He usually said, “Yes, such and such will happen IF YOU  . . . . “  Why is the “If” statement so important?
  8. When the carpenter put on the fortune teller’s hat and gazed into the crystal ball, he didn’t see anything. What does this tell you about fortune tellers?
  9. What did the carpenter decide to tell the cloth merchant’s wife when she asked about her future? Why?
  10. The young carpenter decided that it might not be too hard to tell fortunes. Why did it seem easy to him?
  11. Do you think that the old fortune teller truly saw the carpenter’s future? After all, the carpenter did become wealthy, famous, and did marry the love of his life.  Was his destiny foretold?
  12. We know what happened to the old fortune teller. What does his disappearance tell us about his ability to actually foretell the future?

Ask the children which of them thinks that he/she could be a good fortune teller.  Choose a child to come forward.  Wrap up the child’s head in a scarf and give him a volley ball or soccer ball to gaze into.

Ask the children which of them thinks that he or she would like to ask questions of the fortune teller?  Ask one of those students to come forward and have a seat in front of the fortune teller.

Have the two children role-play being the fortune teller and carpenter, then give other kids a chance.  Usually my students jump at the chance to be the fortune teller and predict the future.  Make sure that the fortune teller uses “If” statements.  Take a few pictures of the kids dressed up as fortune tellers – they love it!

Pass out the student assignment sheet.  Ask each child to make three predictions about what this school year will bring.  What will happen to them?  Make sure that each prediction uses an “if” statement.  Here are a few examples:

  1. My spelling will improve if I practice my words every day.
  2. I will learn a lot if I do all my homework.
  3. I will stay healthy if I eat a balanced diet.

3. Conclusion:

Draw the children back together and have a few of them share their predictions.  Collect the work and keep it until the end of the year.  Tell the kids that at the end of the year, we will check and see whether their predictions have come true!

  1. The Fortune Tellers by Lloyd Alexander.
  2. Two scarves.
  3. Two “crystal balls” in the form of a borrowed volleyball or soccer ball.
  4. A tablecloth to drape over the table in the fortune teller’s studio (optional).
  5. Copies of the student assignment sheet.
  6. Pencils
  7. Camera to take photos of the kids in the fortune teller role play

I have used this lesson for many years, and it is an all-time favorite of both teachers and children.  There is a lot of thinking going on, it’s good fun, there is a short writing assignment, and it also makes a perfect end-of-year farewell lesson.  The last time I checked, The Fortune Tellers was out of print in hardcover, so plan, purchase a used copy, and make sure that your kids get to a chance to engage with this unique text.

The lesson is much more fun if you bring the scarves and “crystal balls.”  It’s usually not too much trouble to come up with a few odds and ends to use, and it makes the story come alive for the children.

Recommended books for this lesson:
  1. The Fortune Tellers by Lloyd Alexander.

Key Terms:

Fortune Tellers, Crystal Balls, Fate, Future, Destiny, Success, Villages, Africa, Carpenters

Fortune Tellers, Student Assignment Sheet