Great Articles about the Storyline Method . . . . . .

    How the Storyline Method came to be

    Integrating Curriculum

    The Topic Web and the Storyline Method

    Answers to Questions about the Storyline Method 

    Why the Storyline Method Makes Sense

    It’s the Principle of the Thing

    Dragons vs. Elephants

Dragons vs. Elephants Storyline                                                               << Previous


The dragon forest frieze was interactive. Velcro was placed on the dragons and throughout the dragon forest so that the students could move their characters around to express their reactions to events.

One morning, a single elephant appeared in my second grade girls’ dragon forest.  Most of the girls, who were each a dragon, delighted in the addition of a new animal.  The next day, two more elephants arrived in the dragon forest, and they ate some of the dragons’ foliage.  My students accepted this, understanding that the elephants needed to eat.  The day after, the elephants’ families joined them, and they consumed even more of the dragons’ foliage.  My students were alarmed by their diminishing food supply.  Suddenly, the elephants weren’t so cute anymore.  Day after day, new elephants arrived in the dragon forest.  They consumed more of the dragons’ foliage, and they moved deeper into the dragon forest.  And so what the students thought would be a fun Storyline about dragons playing in a magical forest turned into a serious examination into what happens when two groups meet and fight for food, land, and power.  

This Storyline had two main goals.  My main goal was to prepare the students for the upcoming social studies unit about the Lenape, Native Americans who lived in the New York region.  I hoped that experiencing and resolving conflicts between the dragons and elephants over diminishing natural resources would provide a foundation for understanding the complicated relationship between the Native Americans and the European settlers.  My second goal was to provide my students with opportunities to examine conflict from different perspectives, as they were asked to consider the incidents as both the dragons and the elephants.  This ability to view different perspectives is a developmental milestone for second graders. 

After creating the frieze and characters, my students made papier mache baby dragon eggs.  While the thought of baby dragons made the girls swoon, they served an important purpose in the Storyline.  In an all-girls school that places an emphasis on community-building and compromise, I anticipated that the students would try to resolve the situations with the elephants as simply, quickly, and amiably as possible.  I knew that I might have to truly incite the dragons in order to create the necessary conflict with which the students could then grapple.  Thus, by having the girls fall in love with their baby dragon eggs and then having the elephants steal them, I created a great deal of tension between the two groups of animals.

Each dragon family made a baby dragon egg.  To show that the eggs were hatching, my associate teacher and I made cracks in them.  A few days later, we added tails emerging from the cracks.  The eggs were later kidnapped by the elephants, forcing the dragons to take action.

Around this time, some of my students developed a fear of the bathroom and of a stairwell in the school due to the recent-release of a Harry Potter movie and ghost stories being told during recess. Our school psychologist, Emma Rhoads, suggested that we address fear and safety by using the dragons. We took a brief detour from the elephant situation and asked the girls, “What might threaten the dragons?” They then brainstormed, “Who or what will protect the dragons?” We showed the students pictures of lucky charms from around the world and asked each one to make a lucky charm that could attach to her dragon.  Finally, the students had to show on a storyboard how their dragons successfully handled a fearful situation.  The prompts were: dragons encounters something threatening, dragon uses lucky charm, and dragon feels safe.


Mimi’s flower necklace lucky charm.

    Super Hero’s sporty lucky charm.

As the resources in the dragon forest continued to dwindle, I posed the question, “Do we need rules in the dragon forest?” The dragons voted “yes” unanimously. Using a democratic process, the dragons decided to impose three rules on the elephants: 1. There could only be 5 elephants in the dragon forest at one time. 2. The elephants could not eat our foliage; we would deliver a package of food once a month.  3. We had to share the land equally; the elephants could not occupy the best parts of the forest and eat the best foliage.

The dragons were frustrated and confused when the elephants did not obey their rules.  The elephants believed that all the natural resources should be shared.  They continued to eat the lush foliage and invited more of their friends and family to join them in the forest.  When the elephants sensed danger in the air, they built a wall to keep the dragons away.  They thought the dragon eggs looked tasty, so they took them to their side.


Sensing danger, the elephants built a wall to keep the dragons away from their food and land.  They also stole the baby dragon eggs.  Speech bubbles, which were changed almost daily, were used to communicate the elephants’ thoughts.

When the elephants did not obey the  dragons’ rules, I posed the question, “What should we do with the elephants?”  After much discussion, the dragons came up with three possibilities: “compromise,” “trick and hopefully drive them away,” and “kill.” They created a list of pros and cons for each option and ultimately voted to trick the elephants into leaving.  They voted against compromising, because they felt that their attempts to accommodate the elephants had been refuted.  They decided not to kill the elephants, fearing retribution from any surviving elephants or other animals. Also, they did not want to risk losing their baby dragon eggs in the battle or gain the reputation as being “killers.”

The community of dragons pulled together and created an elaborate and cunning plan to trick the elephants into leaving.  They sprinkled poison ivy throughout the foliage hoping the bitter taste and itchiness would cause the elephants to leave in search of a new home with scrumptious food.  No lives were lost in the execution of the plan. The elephants left without knowing that the dragons had set them up, and the baby dragons eggs were successfully retrieved and returned to their plush nests.  A few days later, four healthy baby dragons hatched, and the girls were thrilled.

    There were two main challenges to developing this social studies Storyline.  The first challenge was figuring out how to end it in a way that reflected the complexity of history yet remained age-appropriate. With each decision the dragons made, my associate teacher, Lizzy Dickson, and I created incidents or posed questions that kept the students in the gray space between killing off all the elephants and becoming best friends with the elephants. 

    Another challenge was figuring out how to portray the elephants.  Lizzy and I had to create a backstory that required us to ask ourselves questions of historical importance such as: Where did the elephants come from?  Why did they leave their homeland?  What did they hope to gain in the dragon forest?  Can they speak the same language as the dragons?  Are they interpreting the dragons’ rules as the dragons intend?  Do the elephants believe that land and foliage can be owned?  How willing are the elephants to engage in war?  What are they willing to sacrifice?

The baby dragons, Ferb, Carrie, Eloise, and Walter were born after the elephants left the dragon forest.

We ended the Storyline by asking each dragon to write a story to his/her baby dragon recalling the time when the elephants came to the dragon forest.  The students were given specific prompts to help them express how they felt and what they learned from each main event.  They were also asked to include descriptive writing, strong verbs, and similes, as we wanted them to continue practicing writing skills that were introduced earlier in the year. Turtwiggy reflected, “I learned that when two groups of animals meet, it doesn’t always work out.  For example, robbers fight over money, and elephants and dragons fight over land and food.”  Amanda, the three headed dragon, concluded, “I’ve learned that when two different groups of animals meet, there might be a plan that you need to make or a battle you might fight if you feel threatened or if the other group doesn’t obey your rules.”  Sparkle told her baby dragon, “I’ve learned that when two different groups of animals meet, sometimes it doesn’t work out and a group of animals [has] to leave.” 

By the end of this Storyline, I felt that my students had a realistic understanding of what can happen when two groups meet.  They learned that group dynamics can be complicated and difficult to resolve, especially when the parties do not trust each other or share a similar world-view.  As Mary May Maple told her baby dragon, “When two groups of animals meet, it can be tricky to figure out how nice or mean they really are.” 

Erica Poon-McGovern teaches second grade at The Spence School, an independent all-girls school in New York City. Dragons vs. Elephants was inspired by Sarah Creswell’s The Ugly Dragon Storyline.

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