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"The Talking Goat" Lesson

A goat stands on a rock overlooking the Myagdi river valley in Nepal.

Students will analyze the meanings and patterns of a folk tale.

Supporting resources


The Talking Goat

This folk tale features a rich villager and his talking goat, with a life lesson of how adversity and satisfaction go hand in hand

About the Story

The African folk tale "The Talking Goat" was told to Peace Corps Volunteer John Acree, who provided it to Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program. Acree served in Liberia from 1983 to 1985. He notes:

During a village meeting in rural Liberia, the chief of the village told the tale of the "The Talking Goat." He was trying to explain to villagers that, although they had waited a long time for a health clinic to be built, they would soon be rewarded. They must be patient.

About the Setting
Liberia, a country slightly larger than the state of Tennessee, is located along the Atlantic Ocean in the tropics of West Africa between Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire. Liberia is home to a number of indigenous tribes. According to 1999 World Bank statistics, less than half of Liberians over the age of 15 can read and write, and close to 55 percent of Liberians live in remote villages far from the modern conveniences and public services. Liberia was involved in a bitter civil war in the 1990s. Today, a new government is working hard to reestablish order.

About Folk Tales
Folk tales begin as simple stories passed down from one person to the next by word of mouth. Indigenous storytellers in cultures everywhere preserve such oral tales. Stories and folk tales began as an attempt to explain and understand the natural and spiritual world. One can imagine groups of people sitting around a campfire on a starry night weaving stories that not only entertained but also helped make sense of their world. These stories were passed on from one generation to the next, with changes or embellishments created by each storyteller. Gradually folk tales began to appear in written form. They exist today in every culture.

The telling of stories is a cultural universal, common to traditional and modern societies alike. Folk tales often reflect the values and customs of the culture from which they come. Because folk tale plots are generally concerned with life's universal themes, they often transcend their culture of origin and reveal the commonality of human experience. The structure of folk tales is often similar from culture to culture. They contain colorful people, talking animals, humorous events, suspense, action, and a definite conclusion. The conclusion normally teaches a lesson—often in the form of a moral or admonition. Sometimes a folk tale will end simply with the well-known phrase "and they lived happily ever after."

Folk tales can be divided into separate parts. First, the introduction lets you know the leading characters (including animals), the time and place of the story, and the problem or conflict to be faced. Following the introduction is the development of the tale. Here the action mounts quickly and steadily until it reaches the next stage, the climax. In the climax, the problem or conflict is confronted and resolved. Typically, the hero or heroine faces many obstacles and is sometimes reduced to helplessness before the climax. The last stage is the conclusion, where all is resolved, the just obtain their reward, and a moral is offered. Most folk tales have happy endings.


Day One

  1. Prior to this lesson, photocopy the folk tale in two sections. The first section represents the majority of the story and ends with the chief's words "Looking Tugba in the eyes, the chief announced, 'Bring your goat to the square!'" The second section is the rest of the story.
  2. Provide students with information from the background information. Show them a map of Africa and point out Liberia.
  3. Explain to students the basic elements of a folk tale or go directly into the story.
  4. Tell students that you will be giving them only the first section of the folk tale to begin with. Ask them to think about these questions as they read:
    • How generous should we be?
    • How patient should we be?

5. When they've finished reading the section, have students form groups of four to discuss their thoughts about the questions in #4. Then ask each group to predict how they think the folk tale will end.

6. Now give students the second half of the folk tale and have them read it. When they have finished, ask them to respond in their Reading Journals to the following prompts:

7. Have students react to the ending in a class discussion.

8. For homework, ask students to reread the folk tale and respond in their journals to the following prompts:

Day Two

  1. Have students share their journal responses in a class discussion about the questions the folk tale raises.
  2. Cooperative Learning Strategy: "Carousel brainstorming." Prior to class, post five sheets of chart paper around the room, with ample space between them. Number the questions as they appear on Worksheet #7 (find link above) and write the questions and their numbers at the top of each sheet of chart paper. Tape a felt-tipped pen next to each sheet of paper.
  3. Ask students to number off from one to five. Have them move to the chart paper on which their number is written.
  4. Have students discuss the question on their group's sheet. Give the groups five minutes for discussion. Before the discussion begins, ask each group to select a recorder who will write the group's responses on the chart paper using the felt-tipped marker.
  5. Call time after five minutes. Then give recorders time, with their group members' help, to summarize in writing their group's responses.
  6. Now, ask each group of students to move to the next piece of chart paper. The process repeats, with five minutes for discussion and recording, until you once again call time. Groups again move to the next sheet of paper. Continue the process until all groups have discussed and responded to all questions—and the groups have arrived at their original question.
  7. Each group should select a reporter to provide a summary of what the group thinks are the most interesting responses to their question, and to read the responses aloud. At the end of the summaries, ask the class why these are questions with no easy answers.
  8. Conduct a class discussion on each of the five questions. For homework, ask students to respond in their Reading Journals to the following prompt:
    • As I think about the carousel brainstorming activity we just completed, here are some things that I came to realize about the folk tale's meaning that I hadn't thought of before:

Day Three

  1. Have students open their journals to the page where they responded to the question above. Ask them to do a "silent journal walk," i.e., to circulate in the room and read their classmates' journal responses. Provide about 10 minutes, then have students add to their own journal responses based on what they've read.
  2. Then tell students that you will show them a strategy they can use in many subject areas to help them find patterns and relationships in texts. Research (Marzano et al., 2001, pp. 16; 23–26) has shown that helping students learn to recognize the patterns in a text and identify analogies leads to higher levels of thinking and increased academic achievement. If this is the first time you are using this "pattern recognition" strategy with your students, plan to spend at least 15 minutes explaining and modeling the example provided in the worksheet opposite.
  3. Begin by explaining that folk tales and stories often have an abstract pattern underlying their structure. Being able to uncover the abstract pattern can increase students' ability to think about and analyze the story at higher levels. Explain that there is an abstract pattern in "The Talking Goat" that has nothing to do with Tugba or goats. Tell the students that you will provide them with an example of this. Give each student a copy of Worksheet #8 (find link above) and guide them through the example given.
  4. As you are completing the rows in Column 2, it is often useful to provide students with the first few examples of the pattern, and then give them an opportunity to come up with the next one or two until the whole pattern is revealed. Remind students that each part of the pattern cannot mention Tugba, the talking goat, the village chief, or any other literal details of the story. Remind them that they are trying to uncover the abstract pattern in the folk tale.
  5. Ask students if they can think of any other story or film that contains this pattern. If students can think of examples for even part of the pattern, this is the first step toward learning how to employ this strategy. If students get stuck, you can mention Cinderella and ask students to identify the similarities between the Cinderella story and the folk tale "The Talking Goat."
  6. To ensure that students understand the difference between the literal story and the abstract pattern, work through the left-hand column of the chart on Worksheet #8 (find link above). Use Worksheet #9 (find link above) for your own reference. Explain that this column is meant to be used to record the literal elements of the folk tale "The Talking Goat" that correspond to the abstract pattern.
  7. Note: Because abstracting allows students to see how two seemingly different things are connected, it is an effective tool for strengthening their thinking and analogical reasoning skills. Becoming skilled in the process of abstracting can help students create metaphors and analogies between the known and unknown in any content area. (For further information about the process of abstracting the patterns from a text see Marzano et al.,Dimensions of Learning, ASCD, 1997, p. 130.)
  8. Have students practice finding analogies between "The Talking Goat" and another folk tale or fairy tale, likeCinderella. To do this, have the students work with a partner to complete column 3 of Worksheet #9 (find link above) by writing down the literal elements of the folk tale or fairy tale you (or they) select that correspond to the abstract pattern in "The Talking Goat."
  9. Response to Literature. Have students use the abstract pattern in "The Talking Goat" to write a folk tale of their own creation. Students can use Worksheet #9 (find link above) as a graphic organizer to begin to brainstorm the literal elements of their own folk tale. Before students begin working on their folk tales, review with them the information on folk tales above in Background Information. Remind students of the structural elements of folk tales: an introduction, a development, a climax, a conclusion, and a moral. As students are brainstorming the plot of their own folk tale, have them compare their initial notes with a partner prior to writing.
  10. Conclude the lesson by asking students to respond in their journals to the following prompt: What has reading and discussing the folk tale "The Talking Goat" taught me about the world, myself, and others? 

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • Folk tales occur in all cultures and teach important life lessons.
  • Folk tales contain universal themes that transcend their culture of origin.
  • In folk tales and in life, people deal with setbacks and adversity in many different ways.

Essential Questions

  • What life lessons can we learn from folk tales?
  • When facing adversity, how patient should one be?
  • What does this folk tale teach me about the world, myself, and others?


National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association
Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
Standard 2: Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience.
Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

National Council for the Social Studies
Theme 1: Culture. Social studies programs should provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity so that the learner can explain how information and experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.


Group discussions, oral presentations, journal entries, extended writing assignments.