Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi": Mixing Fact and Fiction


The Lesson


Portrait of Rudyard Kipling.

Portrait of Rudyard Kipling.

Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia, via EDSITEment reviewed Internet Public Library.

During the Victorian Era, British author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was both respected as a journalist and lauded as "The Poet of the [British] Empire." In his fiction, though, he blended the best of both skills and was ultimately awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 "in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas, and remarkable talent for narration which characterizes [his] creations." "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," a short story from The Jungle Book (1894), is an engaging example of Kipling's ability to mix scientific and historical fact with imaginative characterizations to create a believable and entertaining tale.

In this lesson, students will use interactive materials to learn about Rudyard Kipling's life and times, read an illustrated version of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," and learn how Kipling effectively uses personification by mixing fact and fiction.

Guiding Questions

  • How does Rudyard Kipling mix fact and fiction to create the believable, engaging narrative "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"?

Learning Objectives

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

  • Identify key events in Rudyard Kipling's life and describe their effect on "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."
  • Identify the geographical and social context in which "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" was created.
  • Demonstrate comprehension of plot events and character motivations.
  • Describe the author's purpose and evaluate the techniques used to achieve it.
  • Identify and differentiate between facts and examples of personification.

Preparation Instructions

  • The Jungle Book including "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" with Drake’s original illustrations is available as an e-text through ebooks@Adelaide from The University of Adelaide Library

  • Review, if necessary, Lesson Two of this two-part lesson plan: Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi": Mixing Words and Pictures.

  • Review and bookmark (or print, if needed) online background information about Rudyard Kipling, available from the Nobel E-Museum, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets.
    Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in 1865. After receiving his education in England, he returned to India and worked as a journalist, composing and publishing short stories and poetry in his spare time. By 1889, his work had become so popular in Great Britain that he was considered the literary heir of Charles Dickens, though the body of Kipling's works reflected the conflicts and tensions inherent in colonialist instead of domestic social and political policies. Though he received many honors and awards before his death in 1936, he refused all but the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature, which he was the first Englishman to receive.
  • An online Introduction to Victorian England is available from The University of Wisconsin Department of English. Additional resources to learn about aspects of the Victorian Age can be found at Victorian Web. General highlights of the era include:
    The Victorian Era in England began in 1819 when Queen Victoria was born, and ended with her death in 1901 (she was crowned in 1837). Queen Victoria's was an age of invention, industrial expansion, and the indomitable imperialism that gave rise to the quotation, "The sun never sets on the British Empire." It was also a time of cultural flowering: along with Rudyard Kipling, the era welcomed such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, the Bronte sisters, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
  • Victorian Web also contains background on the life and works of Rudyard Kipling.
  • Review as necessary the definitions used in the lessons.  Reference EDSITEment's Literary Glossary.
    • Setting: the time and place in which the events of the story happen
    • Fact: a piece of information that can be proved
    • Fiction: people, places, things, or events that are invented or "made-up"
    • Personification: giving an animal or object human qualities
  • Review and bookmark the other online resources used in this lesson:
  • Mongoose resource 
  • King Cobra resource 

  • Cobra vs. Mongoose video

  • Description of the Common tailorbird is available through Bhopal Birds

  • PBS: The Story of India for photographs and background on this country which is the setting of the story

  • Print and duplicate the Fact or Personification? chart for student use in Activity 4.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi's World

To begin the lesson, share with your students the story's author and title. Tell them it comes from a collection of short stories called The Jungle Book and have them predict what the story might be about.

As necessary, have your students define a story's setting as the time and place in which the events of a story happen. Then read aloud with your students or have your students read the opening paragraph of the story:

This is the story of the great war that Rikki-tikki-tavi fought single-handed, through the bathrooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee cantonment. Darzee, the tailor-bird, helped him, and Chuchundra, the muskrat, who never comes out into the middle of the floor, but always creeps round by the wall, gave him advice; but Rikki-tikki did the real fighting. He was a mongoose, rather like a little cat in his fur and his tail, but quite like a weasel in his head and his habits.

Have your students identify where the story takes place: the big bungalow in Segowlee (Sagauli) cantonment. Tell your students (or ask them, if they have the appropriate historical background knowledge) that Segowlee cantonment was a British military base in northern India (Bihar province). Have them locate northern India on National Geographic XPeditions's clickable online map or a classroom globe, and explain that Segowlee is located between the cities of Varanasi and Calcutta.

Explain to your students that while the author does not directly state in what year the story takes place, he does tell the reader indirectly when the events happen. Since Segowlee antonment was a British military base in northern India, the story must take place during a time when the British had military stations in India, when India was a British colony. Have your students explore The Timeline of British India available via the EDSITEment reviewed resource The Victorian Web to discover the name of the first British queen who was also the formal Empress of India (Queen Victoria) and the year in which she received the title (1876).

Note: You may also wish to tell your students that, like the United States of America, India is no longer a British colony. India became independent in 1947.

Next, tell your students that The Jungle Book was published in 1894 and have them note the story's publication in the correct place on the timeline. Inform them the name of the time period was the Victorian Era, and have them summarize the setting of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" as it is described in the opening paragraph: a house in northern India during the Victorian Era.

Then have your students read the biography of Rudyard Kipling, available from the Nobel E-Museum, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets, and answer the following questions:

  • What nationality was Rudyard Kipling? [Rudyard Kipling was British.]
  • Where was Rudyard Kipling born? [Rudyard Kipling was born in India.]
  • Why might Rudyard Kipling have chosen to set many of his stories in India? [Having lived part of his life in India, Kipling was likely familiar with its animals, people, and places.]
  • Next, have your students name the animals Kipling describes in the first paragraph (mongoose, muskrat, tailor-bird) and tell them that the animals in the story are animals native to India. Then tell your students that, before reading, they are going to explore a resource on India to become more familiar with the land and animals of the country where the story takes place.
Activity 2. A Closer Look

Have your students read the story "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." It is available online in The Jungle Book (chapter 9.) with Drake’s original illustrations is available as an e-text through ebooks@Adelaide from The University of Adelaide Library.

When they finish, discuss with them the questions below.

1. How does Rikki-Tikki-Tavi help Teddy's family?

Have your students summarize the events of the story individually or in groups by writing, putting story events in chronological order on a timeline, or retelling or acting out the story.

2. Why does Rikki-Tikki-Tavi help Teddy's family? How do you know? Explain which sentences in the story led you to draw your conclusion.

Your students should understand that Rikki-Tikki-Tavi helps Teddy and his family both because the family is kind to him and because, as a mongoose, he instinctively kills snakes. Guide your students to find sentences in the story that show that Rikki-Tikki-Tavi stays with the family because they treat him well and that killing snakes, for which the family is so grateful, comes naturally to him.

3. You have probably heard the phrase, "Actions speak louder than words." Read the following paragraph from "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi":

He spent all that day roaming over the house. He nearly drowned himself in the bath-tubs, put his nose into the ink on a writing-table, and burned it on the end of the big man's cigar, for he climbed up in the big man's lap to see how writing was done. At nightfall he ran into Teddy's nursery to watch how kerosene lamps were lighted, and when Teddy went to bed Rikki-tikki climbed up too; but he was a restless companion, because he had to get up and attend to every noise all through the night, and find out what made it.

What do Rikki-Tikki-Tavi's actions tell the reader about his character? What adjectives best describe Rikki-Tikki-Tavi? Why?

Your students should conclude that because Rikki-Tikki-Tavi spends the day fearlessly exploring his new surroundings, he is curious or bold. Encourage them to find another sentence in the story that supports their conclusion, such as, "It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity."

4. An author usually does not tell the reader that a character is wise, content, or brave. Instead, the author has the character's words and actions show the character's qualities. Read the following paragraph from "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi":

That night at dinner, walking to and fro among the glasses on the table, [Rikki-Tikki] might have stuffed himself with nice things. But he remembered Nag and Nagaina, and though it was very pleasant to be patted and petted by Teddy's mother, and to sit on Teddy's shoulder, his eyes would get red from time to time, and he would go off into his long war cry of "Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!"

What conclusions can you draw about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi from his words and actions?

Your students should understand that while Rikki-Tikki-Tavi enjoys the attention from Teddy's family, he does not lose sight of his goal. Your students might describe Rikki-Tikki-Tavi as determined, responsible, or self-disciplined.

5. Find another place in the story where a character's words or actions show the character's qualities.

You may wish to have your students work together as a class or in small groups to answer this question. If the students work together as a class, you might instruct them to find passages that describe a certain character; if they work in small groups, you might assign a different character to each group.

To extend this activity, you might have each student draw a picture of his or her favorite character in the story and write a paragraph that describes the character, using evidence from the text to support his or her opinion. Have students compare and contrast the conclusions drawn by students who selected the same character, and guide them to understand that one reason why literature is so interesting is because readers can interpret a text differently.

Activity 3. Fact, Fiction, and Personification

Review with your students that a fact is a piece of information that is true and can be proven. For example, it is a fact that the United States of America and Canada share a border. Fiction, on the other hand, is invented, or made-up, information. Stories about characters that do not exist (such as flying elephants) and events that never happened (such as an alien invasion of Earth) are examples of fiction. As a group, have your students make a list of sources of nonfiction and fiction information. For nonfiction, students might list newspapers, magazines, or encyclopedias; for fiction, they might suggest certain novels, comic books, or movies.

Next, tell your students or have them find in the Nobel eMuseum's biography that Rudyard Kipling did both factual writing (as a journalist) and fictional writing (as a poet, short story author, and novelist). Then read the Nobel committee's award description, available through a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed Academy of American Poets, with your students and guide them to understand that the committee members particularly admired Kipling's ability to use facts in his works of fiction. Review with your students that "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" is a fictional story, because even though there are such things as cobras and mongooses, the story characters and events are made up. Then invite them to separate the facts from the fiction in Kipling's story.

First, have your students read a National Geographic entry on mongooses. Then have them look back through the text to find the examples Kipling included of actual mongoose characteristics and behavior, and record two or more in the appropriate box on the Fact or Personification? chart (PDF). Have them repeat the exercise for the cobra and tailor-bird. If you wish, have students complete the exercise in a large group, or individually or in small groups with a large-group presentation at the end.

Suggested Answers
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (mongoose)
    Lives in India, has a pink nose and eyes, has a fluffy tail, hunts snakes, lives in a burrow, eats meat, has a rocking gait when about to attack, makes a ticking sound when aggressive
  • Nag and Nagaina (cobras)
    Live in India, hunt birds, have a hood with a unique mark, can "freeze" prey with their gaze, are poisonous, will bite humans, lay eggs
  • Darzee and His Wife (tailor-birds)
    Live in India, build a nest by sewing leaves together with plant stalks or spider webs, build nests in shrubs, lay eggs, known for singing loudly

Discuss with students the following question: Kipling includes many facts about the animals' appearances and behavior. Do the facts make the story more believable or less believable? Why?

Your students should conclude that the facts make the story more believable. Because Kipling frequently correctly describes the animals' appearances and behavior, their actions, though fictional, seem "real" or "true."

Next, have your students describe the fictional elements in the story they noticed - have them explain what they know was "made up." Share each of the passages below, then ask your students to explain why the passage is an example of fiction.

  • "That's Nag or Nagaina," [Rikki-Tikki-Tavi] said to himself; "and he is crawling into the bath-room sluice. You're right, Chuchundra; I should have talked to Chua."

    Animals do not have conversations like human beings do. A mongoose could not have a conversation with a muskrat. To assess students' understanding, you may wish to have your students find one or more other passages in which an animal talks like a human being.

  • Nagaina lifted up her head and hissed, "You warned Rikki-tikki when I would have killed him. Indeed and truly, you've chosen a bad place to be lame in." And she moved toward Darzee's wife, slipping along over the dust.

    Animals do not try to have their revenge on other animals; vengeance is a human invention. A snake would hunt a bird for food, but it would not seek to kill the bird for revenge. To assess students' understanding, you may wish to have your students find one or more other passages in which an animal thinks or acts like a human being.

Tell your students that giving human qualities to non-human characters (such as animals) is called personification. You may wish to underline the word "person" in personification and emphasize that to personify something is to give it human traits. Explain to your students that to have an animal think or talk like a human being, as exampled in the passages above, is to personify it. Then share with them the following example:

  • Chuchundra sat down and cried till the tears rolled off his whiskers. "I am a very poor man," he sobbed. "I never had spirit enough to run out into the middle of the room."

    This is the baldest example of personification in the text: though Chuchundra is a muskrat, when he talks, he refers to himself as "a man."

Next, have your students return to the text to find examples of Kipling's use of personification for Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Nag and Nagaina, and have them record two or more on the Fact or Personification? chart (PDF). If you wish, have them complete the exercise in a large group, or individually or in small groups with a large-group presentation at the end.

Suggested Answers
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (mongoose)
    Talks with other animals, thinks of a plan to draw Nagaina away from the family at the table, worries that he will not be able to defeat Nag
  • Nag and Nagaina (cobras)
    Talk with other animals, think of a plan to rid the house of human beings, seek revenge against the birds and the human beings
  • Darzee and His Wife (tailor-birds)
    Talk with other animals, make up a victory song about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, help Rikki-Tikki-Tavi defeat the cobras


When your students finish, discuss with them the following questions:

  1. You've seen how using facts in a fictional story makes this story seem more believable. Now think about how personification affects this story: does it make the story more or less interesting? How might the story have been different if the animals did not talk and think like people?
    Your students should conclude that the use of personification makes the story more interesting. Because the characters talk and think like people, the reader can understand and empathize with the characters' motivations. Had Kipling not included the characters' speech and thoughts, the story still would have been interesting, but the reader would not have felt the level of intensity or suspense because he or she would not have been able to understand or empathize with the characters and their struggles.
  2. People have enjoyed Rudyard Kipling's works for more than 100 years. In fact, during Kipling's lifetime, people admired his poetry so much that he came to be called "The Poet of the British Empire." Think back over "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." Why did you enjoy Kipling's story?
    Have your students discuss the different things they enjoyed about "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." For example, some students might have liked learning new facts about the animals or setting, others might have appreciated the songs in the story, and still others might have found the characters or plot especially entertaining. You might also want to share your thoughts on the story during their discussion, both to model literature appreciation and to engage your students as a community of readers.

Extending The Lesson

  • Travel Back in Time! EDSITEment resource the Victorian Web affords your students the opportunity to meet the luminaries of the Victorian Era (such as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Ludwig von Beethoven, and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky), learn about the Victorians' daily life, try Victorian games and recipes, test their knowledge of the era, and even discover a 19th-century robot!
  • What Next? If your students enjoyed "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," they might also enjoy the following works

Additional stories from The Jungle Book with Drake’s original illustrations can be accessed as an e-text through ebooks@Adelaide from The University of Adelaide Library.  Meet Rudyard Kipling's other famous characters, such as Mowgli, a boy raised by animals in a jungle, Baloo the friendly bear, and Shere Khan, the cunning tiger in this collection of stories in which "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" is also found.

Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling (Puffin Books, 1995)
Rudyard Kipling himself illustrated this collection of his humorous tales, which includes "How the Camel Got His Hump," "The Beginning of the Armadillos," and "The Butterfly that Stamped."

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell (Random House Children's Books, 1993)
In this classic story, a horse, Black Beauty, recounts the heart-warming and wrenching story of his life.

The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford (Yearling Books, 1990)
Three house pets—a labrador, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat—journey together across Canada to try to find their way home.

You may be interested in the EDSITEment lesson on Beatrix Potter's Naughty Animal Tales.


Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

2-3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > British
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Short Stories
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets

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