School Assemblies > Tales of Ambition and Dreaming Big > Study Guide > The Knee High Man

The Knee High Man learns he can do things the bigger dudes can't

Cast of Characters

The Knee High Man gets a moustache
The Knee High Man - played by volunteers from the audience picked on the spot

Mr. Boar takes a mud bathMr. Boar - Dennis

Ms. Horse tells Mr. Knee High Man how to get biggerMs. Horse - Kimberly

Mr. Bull explains how he got bigMr. Bull - Dennis

Ms. Hooty Owl questions Mr. Knee High Man's logicMs. Hooty Owl - Kimberly

Script by Dennis; sets and costumes by Kimberly; props by Dennis and Kimberly

"The Knee High Man" is one of the stories that toured from 2012-2013. This page is for teachers to use to extend the learning experience after the school assembly. The activities on this page are story specific and are designed as follow-up to the performance. Also see the Study Guide Main Page for activities to prepare your students for the show before the school assembly at your school.

On this page: Cast of Characters| Synopsis | Language Arts | Geography | Fine Arts


The Knee High Man is an African-American story from Alabama. The main character is awfully short and tired of being bullied and teased. So he sets out to ask his friends, a boar, a horse and a bull how he can grow bigger. He follows their advice, but it doesn't help any. At last he asks an owl who sees no reason for him to be any bigger in the body, he just needs to be bigger in the brain. When the Knee-High Man learns to be satisfied and proud of who he is the bullies no longer bother him.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL:K.3, RL:1.2, RL:1.3, RL:1.9, RL:2.2, RL:2.3

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL:1.2, SL:1.3, SL2.2, SL2.3

Language Arts


Review the following words with your class: Aggravated, Boar (a wild pig), Belittled, Berated, Noodle (slange word for head or brain as in "use your noodle"), Swamp

Common Core State Standards:

Language Standards: L.K.5, L.K.6, L.1.5

Related Reading

  • "The Knee-High Man and Other Tales" by Julius Lester, pictures by Ralph Pinto
  • Listen to the The Knee-High Man Act!vated Stories Podcast. Direct download: KneeHi.mp3 or skip straight to the story available on CD Baby. (recorded in July, 2006)

At your local library j398.2 is where you will find more folktales from Alabama, the USA, and around the world.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.10, RL.4.7, RL.6.9


Story Board

Ask your students to tell the story in sequence in pictures.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.2, RL.K.4, RL.1.2, RL.1.3, RL.6.2, RL.6.3

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.5, L.K.6, SL:1.5, SL.2.1, SL.4.5, SL.5.2

What if? Story Prompt

For a twist give the story a new setting. What if the Knee High Man lived at the North Pole or in a jungle? What animal friends would he have then? What advice would they give him?

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.9, RL.1.2, RL.1.3, RL.2.2, RL.2.3, RL.2.9, RL.3.2, RL.3.3

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.4, SL.1.4, SL.2.4, SL.4.2, SL.5.2

Language Standards: L.K.2, L.K.3


The Knee-High Man is an example of a fable, though it is longer than most fables, which tend to be quite short. A fable is a story often featuring animals or other non-human characters, with or without humans as well, that illustrates a moral or truth. The most famous writer of fables, of course, was the Greek Aesop (6th Century BCE) who compiled dozens of them, many of which are still popular today. The French author Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) and the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) also composed fables. Even the great artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) wrote several fables which have survived.

Discuss with your class: What is the moral of The Knee-High Man?

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.1.2, RL.2.2, RL.3.2, RL.4.9, RL.6.2

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.2

Puns and Wordplay

Our script makes use of several puns. A pun is a type of wordplay involving two words (or sets of words) that sound alike, or two different meanings of the same word. Here are the ones we use:

  • "Wee-wee" (pig sound) and "Oui, oui" (French for yes, yes)
  • "Boar" (male pig) and "Bore" (a dull person)
  • "Bit" (a little or a short time) and "Bit" (something a horse wears in its mouth)
  • "Hay" (dried straw) and "Hey" (an exclamation or greeting)
  • "Whee" (sound a horse makes) and "Whee" (expression of excitement)
  • "Neigh" (sound a horse makes) and "Nay" (an old word meaning no or not)
  • "Stirrup" (something a horse wears) and "Stir Up"
  • "Horse Around" (to be silly or have fun)
  • "Lowdown" (information) plays on the Knee-Height Man’s height.
  • "Mean" (intend) and "Mean" (vicious or unkind)
  • "Steer" (type of cow) and "Steer" (to guide, lead or guide yourself)
Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.6.4, RL.7.4, RL.8.4

Language Standards: L.6.4, L.6.6, L.7.4, L.7.5, L.7.6


Explain the difference between "bigger in the body" and "bigger in the 'noodle'". (Bigger in the body means, of course, taller, heavier or stronger; bigger in the noodle means using your head – i.e., understanding that some things – such as physcial size – are not as important as others – such as intellegence, confidence and respect for yourself and others.)

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.1, RL.2.2, RL.2.3, RL.6.2, RL.6.4, RL.6.5, RL.7.4, RL.8.2, RL.8.3, RL.8.4

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.2

Language Standards: L.K.5, L.K.6, L.1.5, L.3.5, L.4.5, L.5.5, L.6.4, L.6.6, L.7.4, L.7.5, L.7.6

Social Studies


African-American Folktales

Many of the stories traditionally told by African-Americans were transplanted from Africa and modified to fit the American landscape and culture. This includes the stories of Anansi the spider, and possibly even the Knee-High Man. Many of these stories, like The Knee-High Man, are fables. The best-known collection of them is the Br'er Rabbit tales about a trickster rabbit. They were collected from plantation slaves by journalist/ folklorist Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908) and were carefully researched. Nonetheless, they have been challenged and criticized by some African-American writers. Others have defended them, including Juluis Lester, who compiled the African-American stories that include The Knee-High Man.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.2.2, RL.3.2, RL.4.9


Have your students find Alabama on a map of the USA.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.3, RL.1.3, RL.6.4


Our script specifies that the story takes place "down in Alabama, way back near the swamp". This could be a great many places in the state, as the Southeastern states have many swamps. A swamp is a stretch of wooded wetlands, usually near a lake or river. Look at a detailed map of Alabama and locate some of its major swamps. In the Southeastern states, a swamp is often called a bayou, a word thought to be of Native American origin, which can also be applied to a river, stream or creek. Swamps have been often drained to create farmland, so it's quite likely that the Knee-High man's farm would be near another swamp.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.3, RL.1.3, RL:6.4

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.5

Fine Arts

Rhyme and Rhythm

We perform this story in a style of narration that uses rhyme and rhythmic words accompanied by clapping and finger snapping. This pays tribute to a style of storytelling that dates back to Africa, with storytellers/ minstrels known as griots. Their storytelling elements were transplanted to the Americas and survived in many forms. Today, the tradition is most apparent in rap/ hip-hop.

Throughout history, many other cultures have used poetry to make stories more memorable, though not necessarily using rhyme. Homer's Odyssey and Iliad were sung or recited in verse, with a great deal of repetition to help listeners keep track of events and characters. The Scandinavian equivalent is the Edda, which has both a Poetic Edda and a Prose Edda version written at times. But it appears that both were based on an older account (the Elder Edda) which was written in poetry. So again poetry wins as a vehicle for memorable storytelling. Just ask fans of Dr. Seuss.

The narrative lines rhyme and are spoken in rhythm. Below are the words to the introduction. Try having the class read it together in unison. What words are stressed? What is the beat?

The Knee High Man - opening number
  • Down in Alabama
  • Way back near the swamp
  • Lived a teeny-tiny man no bigger than a stump
  • His name was Marvin, or Wayne or Stan
  • But everyone called him the Knee High Man
  • He fed the chickens and milked the cows
  • Patched the roof on his teeny-tiny house
  • He worked in the fields and he worked in the barn
  • His littleness was no big deal on the farm
  • But every time he went into town
  • Some of the big guys would put him down
  • Which he already was
  • But these guys baited him, belittled and berated and aggravated him
  • The big bad bullies who stayed in town
  • Finally he said "I've had enough! I'll show them all that I can be tough
  • There must be some way I can grow.
  • I think I'll ask some folks I know."
  • But his only friends were beast and fowl.
  • A boar, a horse, a bull an owl
  • So he walked along all sad and sore
  • until he came to Mr. Boar.
Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL:2.4, RL.4.5, RL.5.7, RL.6.9, RL.6.10

Drawing Perspective

What does the world look like when you are 1 foot tall? What does it look like when you are 10 feet tall? Have your students draw an object or scene illustrating both perspectives.

Common Core State Standards:

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.2, SL.1.5, SL.2.2, SL.2.5


Act It Out

Your students can re-enact the story as they remember it or do short presentations of their renditions as set in different settings with different animal characters.

Common Core State Standards:

Reading Literature Standards: RL.K.2, RL.1.2, RL.2.2, RL.2.6, RL.3.2, RL:6.2

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.6, SL.2.5, SL.3.4, SL.3.5, SL.3.6

Make It

Your students can make pig (or boar) noses from egg cartons, bull horns from plastic hangers, owl glasses from chenille sticks.

Common Core State Standards:

Speaking and Listening Standard: SL.K.5, SL.1.5, SL.2.5