Pourquoi Tales

A WebQuest for 3rd Grade Language Arts

Designed by

Karen Laughlin


Introduction | Task | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion | Credits


Why do rabbits have short tails?  Why do porcupines have quills?  Why do we have day and night?  These and many, many other questions about our world can be answered in pourquoi tales.  "Pourquoi" is the French word for "why?"  They are stories that were used to explain things found in nature, especially long ago before science was able to tell us the things we know today. 

You have heard the Legends of the Indian Paintbrush and Bluebonnet.  Now it is time for you to explore some more pourquois.  Since we are also going to be exploring the Native Americans of Michigan, we are going to be looking mostly at Native American pourquois.

Even though science can explain many things today, pourquoi stories are still very popular.  Why do we like pourquoi stories?  And what makes a good pourquoi?

The Task

Pourquois have been passed down through generations of story tellers over many, many years.  But they had to start somewhere.  Maybe you will start the next pourquoi.  After you become a pourquoi expert, you will be writing and telling your own!

Once you have perfected your tales, we will publish them in a class book and have an oral story telling party.

The Process

  1. Become a Pourquoi Expert:  Before you can write your own pourquoi, you'll need to know what makes a good one.  Start by listening to story teller Gregg Howard tell the story of rabbit's tail. 
How does the story start?
What does the story explain?
How does the story end?

Storyteller Gregg Howard

Now visit Native American Pourquoi Tales to read a few more pourquoi stories.

How do these stories start and end?
What do they explain?
What is the same in all of these stories?

What about these stories do you like?
What makes them good stories?

  1. Wonder:  Think about nature - animals, plants, waters, lands, Earth, skies, weather.  Why is something the way it is?  What do you wonder about?
  2. Dream Up an Answer:  Think about the stories you heard and read about.  Look at your answers from question 1.  Imagine you live long ago with the Native Americans.  Forget what you know about science and technology.  What is a possible explanation for your question?
  3. Plan:  Plan your story in a way that works best for you.  You could make a list of things you want to include.  You could begin with an illustration.  You could make a story map.  Or you might just want to skip right to step number 5 if that works better for you.  All writers plan and write differently.

  1. Draft Your Pourquoi:  Begin writing your story.  Don't worry about getting it all right.  We will be doing lots of revising and editing until we get it just right.  Let your imagination and the pictures in your mind do the writing for your draft.
  1. Revise:  Think about the questions and your answers from question 1 again.  Reread your story.  Does your story begin like a traditional pourquoi?  Does your story explain something in nature?  What does it explain?  Does your story end like a traditional pourquoi?  Do you need more details?  Are there any details that you don't need in the story?  What makes your story interesting?
  2. Peer Edit:  Read your story to a partner.  Get feedback and suggestions from your partner.  What don't they understand?  What do they like?  What could help the story?  Listen to your partner's story.  Give him/her the same feedback and suggestions.  Be honest, but respectful and helpful.  Give specific feedback and reasons.
  3. Revise Again:  Think about your partner's suggestions and feedback.  What changes do you want to make?  You are the writer and the choice is yours.  You may make some, all, or none of the changes your partner suggested.  What will make your story the best it can be?
  1. Edit:  Did you use capital letters and proper punctuation?  Do you have complete sentences?  Do you like the words you used?  Are there synonyms you could use to make the words more interesting?  After you have edited, trade with a partner and edit each other's for one last check of spelling and mechanics.

  1. Final Draft:  Use the computers to type your story in Microsoft Word.  I will print them all for publishing.
  2. Illustrate:  Illustrate your story.  You may have already done this in step 4.  Maybe you want to add onto it.  Maybe you want to change it now that your story is written.  
  3. Share:  Watch and listen to Mr. Howard tell the story of rabbit again.  What does he do when he is telling the story?  What doesn't he do?  What do you like about how  he tells the story?  Practice telling your own story for our sharing party. 


Your work will be graded on the items listed in the following rubric.  Use the rubric to help you do your best work.

Grading Rubric  15 Total Points Possible

1 Point

2 Points

3 Points



Pourquoi contains traditional beginning and ending


Story has a beginning and end, but not the type that are found in pourquois.
Story has either a clear beginning or end, usually found in a pourquoi.
Story has both a beginning and end that is traditionally found in pourquois.

Pourquoi contains an explanation
Story has a plot, but the plot and ending do not explain anything.
Story's plot and ending explain something, but not something found in nature.
Story's plot and ending give an explanation of something found in nature.

Uses effective writing techniques to tell the story

Story is understandable.
Story develops characters and events are in a logical order.
Story develops characters; includes dialogue, descriptions of feelings, actions, or thoughts; and events are in a logical order.

Story is grammatically correct
Story is understandable as written, but contains 4 or more spelling and grammar errors that have been discussed in class grades 1-3.
Story contains 2 or 3 spelling or grammar errors that have been discussed in class grades 1-3.
Story contains 0-1 spelling or grammar errors that have been discussed in class grades 1-3.

Reads or tells story clearly
Story is understandable; does not use voice or body to help tell the story.
Speaks clearly at an understandable pace for most of the story; sometimes uses voice and body to help tell the story.
Speaks clearly at an understandable pace; uses voice and body throughout to help tell the story.


Wow!  Not only have you heard and read some interesting Native American pourquois, you created and told your own!  You used the writing process to work through your story and create a final product that we could all share with each other.

Pourquoi stories have been told by all kinds of people.  They are especially popular in the Native American tradition.  After hearing some traditional tales of Native Americans, how might you describe and explain some of their beliefs?

Credits & References


  • The Legend of the Bluebonnet retold by Tomie dePaola
  • The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush retold by Tomie dePaola




Last updated on January 26, 2014.