Lessons from Anansi the Spider

Students read, discuss, and write about spider — or Anansi — folktales from West Africa, which have been used for generations to teach lessons about human nature and the consequences of good and bad behavior. 



Unit 2

2nd Grade

Unit Summary

In this unit, second graders explore Spider, or Anansi, folktales from West Africa. Folktales have been used for generations to teach important lessons about human nature and the consequences of good and bad behavior in a way that is clear, convincing, and easily relatable. Through reading and learning about Spider, students will be able to debate and analyze what it means to be a good person and the importance of hard work and cooperation. Studying the actions of Spider, a character with whom it is easy to connect and empathize, allows students to begin to develop a sense of moral behavior and understanding of the world around them by learning from the actions of others. It is our hope that this unit, in connection with others in the sequence, will help students begin to develop a strong moral compass and a nuanced understanding of what constitutes right and wrong.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies this unit and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

Unit Launch

To learn more about how to prepare a unit, internalize a lesson, and understand the different components of a Fishtank ELA lesson, visit our Preparing to Teach Fishtank ELA Teacher Tool.

Essential Questions

  • What can folktales teach us about being a good person?
    Potential lessons students can learn from the Spider stories:
    • One who plays tricks himself may be tricked if he is too greedy.
    • You cannot take shortcuts to get what you want.
    • You get what you deserve.
    • It’s better to be smart than to be big.
    • Temporary happiness is not worth long-term pain and embarrassment.
    • Think about others before yourself.

Foundational Skills

Fluency Focus Areas

  • Readers read with expression and volume to match interpretation of the passage.
  • Readers use proper intonation to show interpretation of the passage.

A priority of this unit is modeling how to read a text with the right expression, volume, and intonation to match the interpretation of the passage. All of the stories should be read aloud with an emphasis on using strategies of fluent reading to bring the characters and events to life. When reenacting and retelling a story, students should also use the same expression and intonation to bring the story to life.

Writing Focus Areas

Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Expand simple sentences using question words.

Over the course of the unit, students focus on the power of a single sentence. While students continue to get feedback on using complete sentences, they also use the prompts of when, where, and why to add more details to simple sentences. For students who are still struggling to write complete sentences, we recommend using our guide Sentence-Level Feedback and Support to provide individual and small-group feedback throughout the unit.

Narrative Writing Focus Areas

  • Brainstorm and develop focused narrative with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Zoom in on one moment by adding details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Use adjectives and adverbs to describe characters in more detail.

In Unit 1, students began writing narrative stories with a strong beginning, middle, and end. In this unit, students continue to work on brainstorming and writing stories, specifically trickster tales, that have a strong beginning, middle, and end. Students also are challenged to think about the different ways they can describe a character’s actions, thoughts, and feelings.



appetite ashamed brilliant clever commotion deserve disgrace foolish fool greedy gullible mischievous mourn puny satisfied stalk wisdom wise



To see all the vocabulary for Unit 2, view our 2nd Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Supporting All Students

In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • Folktales are stories that are passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Folktales typically teach a lesson about right and wrong.
  • Trickster tales are a type of folktale. Trickster tales have one character who is clever and devious and who often creates problems for the other characters. The trickster character often goes unpunished.
  • Anansi, or Spider, stories originated in West Africa, where they were told by a storyteller. Enslaved people brought Anansi stories to the Caribbean and the U.S., where they evolved and became a symbol of resistance.
  • Anansi, or Spider, is a complicated character: He can be greedy, selfish, naughty, and gullible, but also clever, helpful, and humble.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 1

Cinderella Around the World


Unit 3

Belonging and Friendship: Pinky and Rex

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