Blind_men_and_elephant.jpg
There were three blind men who went together one day to see an elephant. None of them had ever heard of an elephant before, and they didn’t even know that an elephant is an animal! They were very curious and decided to approach the elephant one at a time.

The first blind man came up to the elephant and fell against its huge side.
He said, “This elephant is very much like a wall!”

The second blind man walked up to the elephant’s head and ran into the tusk. It was sharp, pointy, and smooth.
“An elephant is very much like a spear!” he shouted. “Ow!”

The third blind man approached the elephant from the side and touched its big ear.
“Wow!” he said, “An elephant is very much like a fan! I could use a fan like this on a hot day!”

Well, they argued and argued about what an elephant is, and because they wouldn’t listen to or learn from one another, they never, ever found out the truth!

Objectives

Cognitive: Students will understand that things go better when there is cooperation and teamwork.
Affective: Students will feel happy to work together with others to accomplish a task.
Behavioral: Students will choose to work together with others to accomplish tasks at school and at home.

Class Session 1

Materials needed:
  • Photo, drawing, or picture of an elephant that shows all the parts that were in the story.
  • A fan (a paper folded fan-like is fine)
  • A board
  • A plastic sword
  • Three handkerchiefs or bandanas for blindfolds

Read the story to the students. Show the students a picture, photo, or drawing of an elephant that shows all the parts that were in the story. Mention that this is what an elephant really looks like.
Ask the following questions:
  • Why did the first man think that the elephant was a wall?
  • Why did the second man think that it was a spear?
  • Why did the third think that it was a fan?
  • Why do you think they argued?
  • Did they ever figure out what an elephant was?

Ask students what the men in the story could have done differently so that they could have found out what an elephant was. After listening to their ideas, talk about teamwork and cooperation. Define these words as “working together as a team to make something happen.” Draw a parallel to sports teams working together to achieve a goal or win a game.

Tell the student they are going to act out the story. Show them the props: a fan, a board, and a plastic sword. Ask six children to volunteer to help out. The others sit in a circle around these six children, giving them lots of space. Give the fan, the board, and the plastic sword to three students and have them stand together in the center of the circle. Put blindfolds on the other three students. The teacher narrates as the children act out the story, taking every precaution so that no one gets hurt!

Try adding a new ending to the story: the three blind men hold hands and explore the elephant together and thus discover what an elephant is: an elephant is all these things and even more! “Let’s ride it home!” they say. Remind the children of the words cooperation and teamwork.

Class Session 2

Materials Needed:
  • Large, hand-drawn picture of an elephant
  • Cut-out picture of an elephant’s tail
  • One handkerchief or bandana for a blindfold
  • Safety push pins, tacks or tape

In another session, the teacher can lead a follow-up activity about cooperation and teamwork. Start by asking, “Do you remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? What happened? What could the blind men have done?” Use the words teamwork and cooperation. Then ask them, “Would you like to play a game where you learn about teamwork?”

The game is “Pin the Tail on the Elephant.” Children take turns trying to find the tail and pin it on a big hand drawn elephant while blindfolded. If there is a bulletin board, this can be used to mount the picture of the elephant, and children may use push pins or tacks to pin the tail on. If there is no bulletin board, a wall may be used, and the drawing and tail can be fixed on with tape. An elephant could be hand-drawn on the blackboard as well, and the tail made sticky with tape.

Everyone gets a turn. Tell all the other students that no one is to say anything to a blindfolded student but should let him or her try to pin the tail on without help. Most will be unsuccessful. Make a circle and talk about how it felt. Was it hard to do it without anyone helping them when they couldn’t see? Suggest they try it again, but this time someone will give them directions, such as, “Go to your left, go to your right,” etc. Partner the students, and let them take turns pinning the tail on the elephant with a partner guiding them verbally.

Have another circle time. “How did it go this time? Was it any easier? Did you get the job done with some teamwork? Was it more fun because you could actually do it or come close?” This could lead into a discussion about where they see cooperation at school, at home, in their community.

They could end the activity by drawing pictures of themselves accomplishing something with others. It could be about teacher/student cooperation, or siblings cooperating, or people in a neighborhood helping one another.

End the activity with students displaying and describing their work. Emphasize that the class will be practicing cooperation and teamwork all year long because they are so important.


From: Discovering the Real Me, Book 1. For book orders, click here.

Resources

An animated version of the tale.

Similar stories in various cultures

This parable is part of Jain, Buddhist, Sufi, and Hindu lore. It has even been used to illustrate the wave-particle duality in physics. For details, see the wikipedia entry on the Blind Men and an Elephant.