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Healthy Body, Balanced Lifestyle #3: Mabela the Clever Learns Wisdom, by Margaret Read MacDonald

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Lesson Overview:

Switching gears a bit, this lesson does not focus on physical health, but on learning wisdom and making healthy choices through listening, thinking, and observing the world around you.   I am a huge fan of Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald’s work, and her Mabela the Clever text is my favorite.  If your students have a hard time listening, this is the lesson for them!

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Every student will be able to summarize the wisdom of the Limba people as taught in the text.  (AASL  4.1.4, “Seek information for personal learning in a variety of formats and genres.”)

Suggested Time:

35-40 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will be able to summarize the teachings of the Limba people of Sierra Leone as presented in the story Mabela the Clever.  This will be done by completing a capture sheet to help them remember the main ideas from the text.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask the students to tell you two things that they have learned recently about making healthy choices.  Ask the students what they do to keep their mind or spirits healthy.  Ask them if they know what it means to be a listener or a thinker.  Is being a good listener or thinking part of being healthy?  Try to steer the conversation towards the idea that healthy minds and healthy bodies are both important.

Tell the kids that today they will get to hear another folktale.  This one is not as funny as the gecko’s story, but it is just as important!  This story is about a little mouse named Mabela.  There is also a cat in the story.  What do we know about cats and mice?  Are they usually friends?  What is the typical relationship between a cat and a mouse?  Keep that idea as we read this story together and see what happens.

2. Main:

Teach Mabela the Clever by Margaret Read MacDonald.  The story is easy to understand, but the children may be like Mabela and become swept up in the promises of the cat!

  • On the page where the cat lines the mice up in a straight line, ask the children if they think this is a good idea.
  • On the page where the cat “Fo Fengs” the mice, ask the children what they think “Fo Feng” means. They should be able to tell you from the illustration and context.
  • On the page where Mabela begins to listen, ask the children what they think is in the red bag on the cat’s back.

After the story wraps up, ask the children why Limba parents are still telling the story to their children today.  What wisdom have we learned that was true for Mabela and could also be true for us?  Be sure that the children can summarize the four teachings of the story which are:

“When you are out and about, keep your ears open and listen.”

“When you are out and about, keep your eyes open and look around you.”

“When you are speaking, pay attention to what you are saying.”

“If you have to move, most fast!”

Source:  MacDonald, Margaret Read, and Tim Coffey. Mabela the Clever. Albert Whitman, 2001.

Pass out the student assignment sheets and make sure that every student can correctly write these teachings on his/her paper.  For those who have extra time, encourage them to draw a scene from the Mabela story at the bottom of the page.

3. Conclusion:

Emphasize that when we think about making healthy choices, we must think about our minds as well as our bodies.  Learning to listen, considering your words, and observing your surroundings is very important.  Mabela learned these lessons as a little mouse, and we can learn them as well.  This week, show your teacher and your parents how well you listen!

  1. A copy of Mabela the Clever by Margaret Read MacDonald.
  2. Copies of the student handout (attached).
  3. Globe or map to show where Sierra Leone is.

As I wrote in the lesson plan for Go To Sleep, Gecko!, if you are not familiar with Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald’s work, spend some time getting to know her books.  Dr. MacDonald earned a degree in anthropology before she became a children’s librarian.  Through later studies, including her doctorate in folklore, she has become the world’s expert on gathering traditional tales and retelling them for today’s audiences.  Order a few of her stories and you will be delighted at how versatile they are, how much the children enjoy them, and how easy they are to incorporate into your teaching.

Recommended books for this lesson:

Mabela the Clever by Margaret Read MacDonald.

Key Terms:

Cats, Mice, Sierra Leone, Folktales, Wisdom, Thinker


Mabela the Clever, Student Handout