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Title: The Hudson River

In this lesson, students will learn about legends through the story of Rip Van Winkle. They will understand what a legend is, and why Rip Van Winkle is a legend. They will read an age and grade appropriate version of the short story, and they will write their own legend as a culminating activity.

Grade level: 5-6

Subjects covered: English Language Arts and Social Studies

Students will be able to:
  • define the term "legend"
  • describe Washington Irving's life and career
  • identify the characteristics of a poem that make it a legend
  • and incorporate their understanding of legends into their own short story.
Time Allotment: 2-3 class periods


Media Components:
Rip Van Winkle, available at
This poem about Rip Van Winkle is more grade appropriate than the original short story.

Washington Irving's Sunnyside (
"A visit to Sunnyside is an enchanted adventure in a romantic landscape and a much-loved riverside home that has been charming visitors for generations. Hear about Washington Irving's storied past and how he came to be America's first internationally famous author, best remembered now for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and other short stories."

Washington Irving @ The Literature Network (
The Literature Network provides a brief but informative biography of Washington Irving.

Washington Irving @ The Columbia Encyclopedia (
The Columbia Encyclopedia site provides information on the life and work of Washington Irving.

Washington Irving @ The Classic Library (
The Classical Library Web site has a longer biography of Irving, and it is presented in a more user-friendly format.

Materials for Each Student:
Copy of Rip Van Winkle, available here

Language Arts Literacy Standards from the NJ Core Content Curriculum Standards, available online at:;c=3

3.1.D.1 Read aloud in selected texts reflecting understanding of the text and engaging the listener.

3.1.G.10 Respond critically to text ideas and the author's craft by using textual evidence to support interpretations.

3.2.A.2 Write multi-paragraph compositions that have clear topic development, logical organization, effective use of detail, and variety in sentence structure.

3.2.A.6 Compose, revise, edit, and publish writing using appropriate word processing software.

3.2.B.2 Write various types of prose, such as short stories, biographies, autobiographies, or memoirs that contain narrative elements.

3.2.C.1 Use Standard English conventions in all writing, such as sentence structure, grammar and usage, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.

3.2.C.2 Use a variety of sentence types correctly, including combinations of independent and dependent clauses, prepositional and adverbial phrases, and varied sentence openings to develop a lively and effective personal style.

3.2.D.4 Write personal narratives, short stories, memoirs, poetry and persuasive and expository text that relate clear, coherent events or situations through the use of specific details.

3.2.D.13 Develop the use of a personal style and voice effectively to support the purpose and engage the audience of a piece of writing.

Prep for Teacher:

Print one copy of Rip Van Winkle for each student in your class.
Preview the Web sites your students will be using during the lesson.

Introductory Activity:

1. Tell your students that they are going to learn about legends. Ask them if they know what a legend is, and/or if they can provide examples. (A legend is a story that is presented as if it is true, even if parts of it may seem implausible. It is passed down through generations, either by word or mouth or in literature. Legends often include superhuman or supernatural elements.)

2. Ask your students to identify and describe some of the legends particular to their families or cultures. (Some legends include Paul Bunyan, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Wandering Jew, Robin Hood, and Slue-Foot Sue.)

3. Tell your students that they will be reading a poem about the legend of Rip Van Winkle, which is based on a short story written by Washington Irving in 1819. Individually, or in groups, direct your students to the Internet to find the following information (see Media Component Section for recommended sites):
  • When was Washington Irving born?
  • When did Washington Irving die?
  • Where did Washington Irving live?
  • For what is Washington Irving best known?
After the students have had time to review the Web resources, tell teachers to check in on what they've discovered. Provide a short paragraph with the necessary relevant info on Washington Irving.

Learning Activity:

1. Write the definition and characteristics of a legend on the board for your students to reference throughout the class period. A legend is a story that is presented as if it is true, even if parts of it may seem implausible. It is passed down through generations, either by word or mouth or in literature. Characteristics of a legend are:
  • It is told as if it were true.
  • Some parts of the story may not seem probable, but the reader is meant to overlook that.
  • It is set in historical time.
  • It may make reference to real people.
  • It may contain superhuman or supernatural elements.
2. Distribute copies of the poem to your students.

3. Tell them to listen carefully for hints/clues that the story of Rip Van Winkle is a legend.

4. Go around the room and have one student read each stanza of the poem aloud until the entire poem has been read by your class.

5. Ask your students what they read and heard that indicates to them that Rip Van Winkle is a legend, giving them time to skim the poem again, if necessary. Possible answers include:
  • The story is written as if it were true.
  • It does not seem possible to fall asleep for twenty years, but it could happen.
  • Rip recalls the "strange and old" stories told by old men in the village of the "phantom crew" in the mountains.
  • Rip encounters the "phantom crew" of the mountains.
  • The story takes place in the past, just after the Revolutionary War.
  • George Washington is mentioned in the story.
Culminating Activity

1. Tell your students to reread the definition and characteristics of a legend from the blackboard.

2. Tell the class that they will write their own legends, adhering to the following parameters:
  • The story cannot be proven.
  • The events that occur in the story must be believable.
  • The story must take place in the past.
  • The story must be written as if it were true.
3. Allow the students to begin the assignment in class so that they can ask questions, but have them complete the assignment at home and turn it in on the day of your choosing.

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