There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly

It’s National Reading Month in the USA! My students and I love reading books together, especially picture books. I’ve shared several posts about how we use children’s literature in our classes in the past; here’s a quick list if you missed any:

These books are all great, but today I’d like to focus on one of our all time favorites (I know, I say that every time), There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. This is one of my favorite books to use, especially with beginning proficiency students, and it is always a hit–whether with elementary, middle school, high school, or adults. There’s just something about this book that tickles everyone’s funny bone and even the most stoic of students are smiling and chuckling by the end. There are several different ways we interact with this book, and I’ll try to give you a quick run down of them all.

Trash Can Old Lady

I first saw this activity on The Thoughtful Spot Day Care blog in a 2012 post. It is a great whole class review activity using a flip lid trash can as the old lady. The pieces were easy to gather and put together, but it is one of the more expensive activities that I have (hence I use it whole class rather than small group). To make your own trash can old lady, you’ll need a few supplies:

Remove the mop from the handle and glue it on top of the trash can. Be careful not to impede the movement of the lid any more than absolutely necessary. Trim the “hair” the way you like it (I trimmed the front to form bangs). Then glue the hat on top to cover up the mess of the glue and “hair.” Finally, attach a couple of eyes to the moving part of the flip lid. Your old lady is now ready for action, and all that remains is to gather toy versions of each animal (the fly is the hardest). It’s been a few years since I made mine, but here are some links to help you out:

After reading the story (or watching the Scholastic movie version), students work together to retell the story, taking turns “feeding” the old lady the animals by pushing them into her flip lid mouth.

While this activity represents one of the larger investments I’ve made in a single activity, it is one I don’t use very often. While my older students do truly enjoy this book, this particular activity is not one that I think they’d enjoy, so I keep it for my lower elementary students only.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Rosenblad Davids, Facebook, December, 2021

Cheaper Version

I have seen cheaper versions of this activity around the internet. One of my favorite is probably this one from Laly Mom, using a baby wipe container, milk jug lids, and stickers. I shared the link with another teacher on Facebook last year and, in an effort to recreate it now that you no longer purchase baby wipes in hard-sided containers, she in turn asked a crafty parent at her school if she could make her an old lady that was portable. The mother went home and crocheted the old lady you see pictured around what I think is a disinfectant wipe container (but I’m not 100% on that). My only wish is this talented parent had created a pattern (yes, she did this completely off the top of her head) so I could convince someone to make me a few!

Syrup Bottle Old Lady

As with the previous activity, this one did not originate with me. I first saw it in a 2013 post on Housing A Forest. It’s a very clever, and fun, way for students to practice spelling, and it is also very cheap to make–so cheap that every student could have his/her own old lady, but I still only give them one per group. To make this activity you’ll need three things: old Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottles (other versions could be used, but these are made to look like a woman, so they’re extra fun) that have been washed very well, pipe cleaners cut into short pieces, and letter beads.

Other than cleaning the syrup bottles (I tossed mine in the dishwasher), and cutting the pipe cleaners, there’s no prep work for this activity. You simply pass out one syrup bottle per group along with a supply of pipe cleaners and letter beads. Students then string the beads on the pipe cleaner to spell out the names of the various animals and “feed” them to the old woman by placing them in the top of the bottle. Since there are only seven animals this doesn’t take long. I then challenged my students to also spell out the words that rhymed with each animal and “feed” them to the old woman as well. The students often ask me if they can spell other words and soon the poor old woman is eating names, vocabulary words, and a plethora of other things. It’s great vocabulary and spelling practice for all students, and excellent letter recognition practice for my students coming from non-Latin based alphabets.

I’ve also made some activities of my own to practice vocabulary, rhyming words, and sequencing.

Vocabulary Sort Cards

Since I primarily use this book with beginning level students, I wanted to have some focus on vocabulary. Besides the seven animals, I chose six other words (pictured to the left) for a total of fourteen vocabulary words. We talk about the words, find them in the book, and use our sort cards to match the words to pictures representing each one.

Rhyming Sort Cards

One of the things that I really like about this book is how not all of the rhyming words have the same spelling pattern. My older learners are especially adept at knowing which words rhyme based on the spelling, rather than the sound. There are some words in this set that allow them to match them in this manner (i.e.: dog-hog), but there are others that force them to focus on the sound instead (i.e.: fly-die). It’s great practice in phonics/reading and not just pattern matching.

Sequencing Sentences

Putting sentences in order to retell a story is not a new activity for my students (hence the previous blog post on the subject). On this particular set of sentences, I provide students with a picture to help them. As I’ve shared in past posts, I’ve had quite a few older learners who were not yet literate in any language and reading was a big struggle for them. The pictures, and adapted sentences

using similar words as the book, helped them to independently sequence the sentences to retell the story. These strips, along with the vocabulary and rhyming sort cards, were also good references for them as they fed our syrup bottle old lady in the previous activity.

Digital Version

While teaching digitally I still wanted to be able to use this book and activities. I was never able to find a digital way to complete the first couple activities, but I did create drag-and-drop versions of the vocabulary, rhyming, and sequencing activities. In the vocabulary activity, students drag and drop the twelve vocabulary words to match them to their pictures. In the sequencing activity, students drag and drop the animal names next to their pictures (more vocabulary practice) and then drag and drop ordinal words to indicate which order the woman swallowed them in (yet more vocabulary). Finally, in the rhyming activity, students create houses by dragging the blue roofs over the pink houses to match the words that rhyme.

Both sets of activities, paper and digital, are available separately or as a bundle for a 25% discount. The paper version of the activities is also included in my Children’s Literature Super Bundle, which includes 23 different activities for various children’s literature.

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly is truly a classic and will always be a favorite of mine! If you’re still thinking over which books to enjoy with your students for National Reading Month, I highly encourage you to include this one. Happy teaching, everyone!