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Leopard, Goat and Yam

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By Kevin Crossley-Hollandstoryteller, poet and broadcaster

A short traditional-style fable set in Africa and presenting a conundrum: How can a boy ferry a leopard, a goat and a yam across the river safely when he can’t fit them all in his canoe at once? We soon find out his solution in this short tale from distinguished storyteller, poet and broadcaster, Kevin Crossley-Holland.


Shared teaching and learning

Before reading

  • Write the word ‘conundrum’ on the board. Ask the children to work in groups to investigate how many words they can spell from the letters within it. Go through their words then ask them if they understand the word. Discuss its meaning and ask them to find an alternative word, perhaps using a thesaurus. Invite the children to think of a sentence with this word in. Replace the word with any of the alternative words and discuss preferences.
  • Tell the children that they are going to read a story entitled ‘Leopard, Goat and Yam’. What type of story do they think it will be? Tell them that it is about a boy who is faced with the task of taking these items across a river in his canoe. However, he doesn’t have enough room for all of the items in his canoe. If they were the boy, which items would they take first? Does it matter which he takes first? Discuss their ideas and encourage reasoning.
  • Explain that this story is a fable and discuss what that is. Show them the text, asking them what they immediately notice. (It is a short story.)

Shared reading

Share read the story up to ...what did he do? Ask: does it matter which items he takes first? This will help them to understand the conundrum. What would they do? Then read the rest of the story.

Previous learning

To understand the genre, children will need to have a good understanding of the characteristics of fables. They should also have a good grasp of what makes a story and realise that stories can be presented in many ways. Crossley-Holland’s book Short! (OUP, 978 01927 81482) consists of a range of short stories, some of which are very, very short!


Make sure that the children understand what a fable is. Elicit the definition and discuss the various fables the children have read.


  • Look at the range of sentence structures in this story.
  • Re-enact the story with the children in role as the animals, yam and boy.

Group activities

  • Create a poster, using the mnemonic, SPPIT (Speech, Person, Place, Idea, Time) to explain when to begin a new paragraph in writing. Go through the story and state the reason for each new paragraph in the text.
  • Look at the temporal connective phrase used in the line: As soon as my master’s son leaves me alone with you, I’m going to eat you. Identify the places in the text when this line occurs again. Write on the board: When my master’s son leaves me alone with you, I’m going to eat you. Which is more effective – ‘when’ or ‘as soon as’? Discuss the difference in meaning. Elicit that by using ‘as soon as’, the author wants us to understand that they will eat each other at the very moment the boy turns his back.
  • Construct sentences using, ‘as soon as’ and explore the switching around of the main and subordinate clauses, discussing the effect this has.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To devise a performance considering how to adapt the performance for a specific audience;
  • To explore how writers use language for comic and dramatic effects;
  • To experiment with different narrative form and styles to write their own stories;
  • To select words and language drawing on their knowledge of literary features;
  • To adapt sentence construction to different text types, purposes and readers.
  • Look at the use of the comma for embedding clauses. Pay particular attention to the last line: And then, whistling, he went on his way – and leopard, goat, and yam all went with him. Could ‘whistling’ be omitted from this line? Why might the author have included it? People tend to whistle when they are happy. Why should the boy be happy? Which verb could the author have used if he wanted to convey that the boy was disappointed or sad?
  • In a group, devise a ‘conundrum’ sketch which the children can perform for the class. This could be linked to any school-related issues, such as bullying or following rules.

Independent work

  • Use these connectives/phrases in sentences: as soon as, prior to, following, immediately after, in the time leading up to.
  • Plan a conundrum tale using the activity sheet below.


Invite groups to perform their conundrum plays. Elicit from the audience what the conundrum is and what they would do to solve it.