Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Beatrix Potter's Naughty Animal Tales

Created September 10, 2010


The Lesson


Beatrix Potter's Naughty Animal Tales

A baby rabbit

Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Beatrix Potter's charming animal stories are as popular today as when they were published in the early 1900s, owing largely to Potter's beautiful artwork and the simplicity of her characters and themes. By studying Beatrix Potter's childhood and her artwork, students gain insight into the unusual, solitary world of Victorian childhood and can compare/contrast it with their own world to understand why Potter wrote such simple stories and why she wrote about animals rather than people. Students can also learn the difference between an author and an illustrator and practice some of the same artistic techniques used by Potter to create masterpieces of their own.

Guiding Questions

  • What was Beatrix Potter's childhood like, and how does it compare to or contrast with the students' lives?
  • Where did Beatrix Potter get the inspiration for her animal stories?
  • What techniques did Beatrix Potter use to create her illustrations for her books?
  • What personality traits do Beatrix Potter's naughty animals possess?
  • What kinds of trouble do they get into and what kinds of resolutions do they find for their problems?
  • What lessons are taught in the outcomes of the naughty animal stories?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

  • Discuss Beatrix Potter's childhood, artwork, pets, and stories
  • Discuss aspects of Victorian childhood and compare them to their own experiences
  • Locate England on a map or globe and identify important political, social, and cultural events and figures in Victorian England
  • Recognize the various story elements of selected stories including their settings, characters, bad deeds, consequences, and outcomes
  • Apply Potter's themes to their own lives by writing about a time when they committed a bad deed and learned something from it
  • Write and illustrate a simple naughty animal story using the story elements discussed in this lesson

Preparation Instructions

Below you will find the lists of links to follow in order to reach each major source of information used in this lesson:

  • World of Peter Rabbit website
  • Download and copy the stories for the students ahead of time. You might want to include all of them in one packet. Also have copies of the story chart, provided in .pdf format.**If you teach in a laptop school, you can have students read the biographical information on Beatrix Potter and her stories directly from the websites.
  • Hang up a map of the world or display a globe for locating Potter's homeland of England. You might also want to display a map of England. A good website for online maps is Atlapedia Online.

Additional background on Beatrix Potter’s life and work as an author-illustrator can be found in these resources:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Introduction to Victorian England and Victorian Childhood

Using a classroom world map or globe, help students locate England. Explain that England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland comprise the country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Use a Map of the United Kingdom, located on Atlapedia Online to identify the entity of England, pointing out that it is not an individual country.

As a class, brainstorm music, foods, writers, sports, and books that come from the UK, and write them down. Some suggestions are: the Beatles, fish and chips, William Shakespeare, rugby, cricket, Harry Potter books, King Arthur, Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, and Beatrix Potter's books.

Introduce students to basic political, social, and cultural aspects of Victorian England using a timeline of figures and events such as A Timeline of British History  accessed through Victorian Web.

Once you have gone over the timeline as a class, break the students into small groups and give each group a printout of the timeline along with an envelope with all of the timeline descriptions printed on slips of paper. Ask them to organize the slips according to each item's place on the timeline. To save time, the timeline descriptions are included in a printable chart, available in .pdf format.

Next, go over information relating to qualities of the gentleman  and various female roles of Victorian women on Victorian Web, and discuss these as a class. The students might need your help defining some terms.

Ask the students to summarize their observations, and display their responses on the board or on a large sheet of paper. A point of interest you might include is the qualities for women were focused more on how they looked than how they were and what they did, while the qualities for men were focused on how men acted and behaved.

Using the following web pages, create a list of information to pass out to students about childhood during the Victorian period. Break the class into small groups or pairs and have them go over the information contained in The Children of Victorian Parents.

Have the groups answer the following questions:

  1. How did the lives of well-to-do children differ from the lives of poor children during the Victorian period?
  2. What were some reasons why so many poor children did not survive childhood?
  3. What kinds of low-quality foods were given to poor children? What kinds of food did well-to-do children enjoy, especially at parties?
  4. At what age could a child leave his or her family and work full-time?
  5. Describe factory worker jobs for children and chimney-sweeping jobs for children.
  6. What kind of activities did poor children engage in during their free time? What kinds of activities did more well-to-do children engage in?
  7. Who were some of the people who would look after well-to-do children? Did anyone look after poor children?

After the groups have answered the questions, have each group write a sentence or two summing up the lives of lower- and upper-class children in Victorian times.

Activity 2. An Introduction to Beatrix Potter's Life and Art

Part One

Briefly review the aspects of Victorian culture and childhood introduced in Lesson One, and introduce Beatrix Potter as the topic for the next few days' activities.

Using a handout that condenses the information or a printout from the About Beatrix Potter links on the World of Peter Rabbit website, read as a class about Beatrix Potter's Victorian childhood and ask students to answer the following questions:

  1. What was unusual about Beatrix Potter's relationship with her parents?
  2. Who took care of Beatrix Potter as a child and educated her?
  3. What was Beatrix's brother's name?
  4. What kinds of activities did Beatrix and her brother enjoy on their vacations?
  5. Why did Beatrix and her brother keep so many pets?
  6. What pets did they keep?
  7. Based on what you have learned about Beatrix Potter's childhood, what reason can you give why she might have written her stories about animals rather than people?

After reviewing the background material on the Victorian period and discussing Beatrix Potter's childhood by going over these questions with the class, ask the students to write a personal response comparing Victorian childhood, and specifically Potter's life, to their own. What do they think it would be like to see their parents very rarely? To have animals for best friends?

Part Two

Next, read about Beatrix Potter's artwork within the About Beatrix Potter section titled “Botanist, Artist and Storyteller” on the World of Peter Rabbit website. There are other excellent online resources teachers can use to relate information about Potter’s artwork, (e.g. The Illustrator’s Project: Helen Beatrix Potter from The Elizabeth Nesbitt Room, University of Pittsburgh, and Beatrix Potter Collection from the Victorian and Albert Museum.) See Preparations and Resources for additional resources.

Emphasize that Beatrix Potter is an "illustrator" who learned to draw by observing and sketching her environment and that she most often did pencil sketches and watercolor drawings. Take your students outside or on a field trip to a park and allow them to sketch plants, animals, and insects. Students might use their sketches later as illustrations for their own animal stories, just as Potter sometimes based her stories on drawings she had completed.

**When you return to class, you might want to give students the opportunity to use watercolors to enhance their sketches, as Beatrix Potter did. See the Extending the Lesson section of this lesson plan for ideas about setting up learning centers for this part of the lesson.

**If possible, when reading about Potter's artwork, view some examples of her drawings of plants, animals, and insects. This exercise will work best if you have a computer and a digital projector, but if your students use laptops they can view the pictures on their own. Your other option is to download and print out several images on a color printer and have them transferred, in color, to overhead transparency sheets.

Activity 3. Elements of Beatrix Potter's Naughty Animal Tales

Read the following stories available as ebooks from Project Gutenberg as a class and fill out the story chart, available in .pdf format, together:

Then, have the students read the following stories on their own or in small groups and ask them to complete the story chart for these stories:

After the students have finished their story charts, discuss common traits of the naughty animal characters as a class and ask the students what they think the moral of each story is.

Finally, ask the students to write about a time when they were naughty but learned a lesson from what they did wrong. Ask them to describe what they did and why they did it, what the consequences were, and what they learned from the experience.

Activity 4. Writing and Illustrating a Story

Have students write and illustrate their own naughty animal story! Give students a story-planning chart, provided in .pdf format, so that they can outline the important elements of their stories before beginning to write. You might want to prearrange booklets for each student. Remind students to plan where their illustrations will go in their stories.

**This is an excellent activity to do on a computer or laptop, as students can type their stories and arrange both text and pictures created in Paint or other programs.

Extending The Lesson

  • Use your school library or the Internet to research different aspects of Victorian childhood, and have students create a comparison/contrast collage—then and now—using images copied from books and Internet resources and images from magazines. Students can also draw scenes from Victorian childhood and their own childhood. This would be an excellent small group activity.
  • Watch excerpts of Disney's Mary Poppins or read aloud to students from the book to illustrate aspects of Victorian family life.
  • Create learning centers to support the students' study of Beatrix Potter and her work. You might set up an art center where students can experiment with watercolors, a science center where students conduct insect/plant observations and complete scientific drawings, and a listening center with headphones/audio tapes of other Potter stories.
  • Coordinate with your school's art teacher to create a mural of Potter's life/tales. You might break the students into groups that are each responsible for illustrating a part of her life or choosing important figures from her works.


Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

5-7 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Fables, Fairy tales and Folklore
  • Compare and contrast
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Literary analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions