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Johnny Appleseed Thematic Unit

Updated on November 10, 2015
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Yvonne, a retired teacher/librarian, has written many multi-skilled thematic units and book recommendations for elementary school children.


Teaching Unit - Patron Saint of American Apple Orchards

The legend of Johnny Appleseed (aka John Chapman) is filled with fact and fiction. Steven Kellogg's book is a humorous retelling of the story and is perfect to build a thematic teaching unit around. I have included suggested teaching / learning activities, centered around the person and apples, for all the disciplines, including Language Arts, Math, Science, Art, Physical Education and Research / Library and information skills. There are also plenty of links and even some videos of Johnny stories.

Why Study Johnny Appleseed?

The story of John Chapman's life as is one that should be shared with children. His values and beliefs were exemplary. He was a friend to all, even the Indians and learned their languages and their ways. It was well known that he cared for injured and abandoned animals and welcomed them into all of his many campsites. He really did give his apple tree seedlings to settlers who couldn't afford to buy them. It is said that at sixty-eight, he out ran a group of much younger men to reach a neighbors cabin that was on fire.

He was a follower and missionary of the Swedish philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg. The books he carried in his sack were philosophy books and he believed that this world was a reflection of the next.

In March of 1845, John Chapman died in the home of a friend near Fort Wayne,Indiana.

Years later, the people of Ashland, Ohio put up a stone monument to him. The words they engraved are below:

Ashland, Ohio Monument

Johnny Appleseed

Patron saint of American orchards

soldier of peace

he went about doing good

Johnny Appleseed

This retelling of the legend is filled with humor and is a delight to the eye. His illustrations draw the reader to the story because they are filled with color in the true Steven Kellogg style.

Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed

One of my favorite versions to the story.


About Steven Kellogg

Steven Kellogg was born on October 26, 1941.

When Steven was a child, he loved animals and he loved drawing. He would often sit between his sisters, telling stories as he illustrated them while the girls watched. Steven Kellogg gives his grandmother credit for his love for books and for teaching him to pay attention to the little things of life.

When he was young, Steven often tried to persuade his mother to adopt many stray animals. His love for animals is evident in his books and in his life. He actually had a Great Dane named Pinkerton. Rose, a character in the Pinkerton books, is based on the Kelloggs' cat, Secondhand Rose, who was found in the woods.

Steven took his love for animals, his attention to detail, and his interest in drawing with him to the Rhode Island School of Design and then to Italy for a year of study. His first book, the Orchard Rat, was rejected, but the illustrations in that book caught the eye of an editor who gave Steven his first illustrating job, drawing the pictures for George Mendoza's Gwot! Many years later, The Orchard Rat was reborn and published as The Orchard Cat.

Steven Kellogg believes that a good children's book should be " a feast for the eyes, a feast for the ears, and a feast for the heart." He has given us many such feasts!

Juicy and Delicious

Apples grow in bunches on the tree.
Apples grow in bunches on the tree. | Source

Goals and Level


The study of Johnny Appleseed will be undertaken because:

... the students can learn about an American folk hero.

... the students can learn about the changing seasons and plant reproduction by researching apple trees.

Time Frame/Grade Level: 1 week - Third Grade

Pink Blossoms

The lovely blossoms attract many pollinators to the orchard.
The lovely blossoms attract many pollinators to the orchard. | Source
The apples are small and green at first.
The apples are small and green at first. | Source

Pink Blossoms to Apple

The first step in the development of the fruit is the lovely flower. The flowers are pollinated and the petals drop. Soon tiny green fruits form on each branch. The apples grow and ripen.

Language Arts Activities

The student:

... uses books to locate specific information.

... learns to pick out key words in a question.

... identifies the characteristics of a folk tale.

1. After discussing the various things made from apples, (applesauce, apple pie, apple fritters, apple cider and apple butter) the children can write a recipe for one. The recipes can be compiled into a recipe book. Actual recipes for each can be located in the library by individual students.

2. Johnny Appleseed shared in 3 different ways: through his ideas; his things, and with a proverb. On paper apple halves, have the children write a thing, an idea and a proverb that they'd like to share with the world. Other proverbs and famous quotations can be researched by small groups in such books as Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

3. The whole class can discuss the characteristics of a folk tale or tall tale that appear in Johnny Appleseed. These characteristics can be diagrammed in a Web.

The Tree Through the Seasons

Children in the Southern United States don't often see apple trees.

Through the Seasons

Spring brings many blossoms.
Spring brings many blossoms. | Source
Summer brings green leaves and apples.
Summer brings green leaves and apples. | Source
In late Autumn the tree has lost most of its leaves, but is full of apples.
In late Autumn the tree has lost most of its leaves, but is full of apples. | Source
Winter brings frost and snow.
Winter brings frost and snow. | Source

The Seasons of Arnold's Tree

The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree
The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree

An excellent book for younger children detailing the tree during each season. The art activity in which the students color or use collage techniques to illustrate the 4 seasons of the year could be done after the teacher reads this book aloud.


Science, Social Studies and Math


The student:

... traces the life cycle of a fruit tree.

... identifies the seasons.

... explains pollination.

1. The children can take a field trip to an orchard or large nursery to see apple trees growing.

2. Small groups can visit the library to research growing apples, apple species, apple products, and pollination.

3. Each child can plant apple seeds in a small pot. The growth rate and characteristics can be recorded and charted.

Social Studies

The student:

... recognizes and identifies certain periods of history.

... traces John Chapman's path through various states.

1. A group can visit the library to research colonization of the west from 1790-1845 (especially the settlers lifestyles and home-life, such as food, clothing, houses, etc.) Recipes from this time period can be collected and compiled into a recipe book.

2. The history of the state of Ohio, during the late 1790's and early 1800's can be researched by small groups in the library.

3. Students can locate the various places where Johnny lived on a map and trace the route he took.


The student:

...recognizes simple fractions.

... identifies and measures (bushels, quarts, pints)

... graphs data

1. Apple pies or pie pans can be used to study fractions. Pictures of an apple pie which has been divided with dotted lines can be distributed to the class, or to a small group and the children can cut along the dotted lines to make 1/2, 1/4, 1/8. Teacher directed combinations can show 3/4, 3/8, 5/8, etc.

2. Estimation: Display a bushel basket and have the children estimate how many apples it would take to fill the basket. How much would a bushel weigh?

3. Prepare an apple feast. Have different children measure out the various liquid and solid foods.

4. Chart the class member's preference for different types of apples. After tasting different types of apples (Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny) each will color a paper apple "cut out" to correspond with their preferred apple and place it on a class chart. Subtraction and ratio problems can be worked out using the results.

How Do Apples Grow?
How Do Apples Grow?

A great picture book which explains how the fruit grows. This would be a good one to include with a note-taking task card lesson.


Growing Apples Poll

Do apple trees grow where you live?

See results

Green Ones?

What kind are green? How do they taste: Which are the best in pies? Research to find out.

Granny Smith are Green

Granny Smith Apples make excellent pies.
Granny Smith Apples make excellent pies. | Source
Rain Makes Applesauce
Rain Makes Applesauce

This book takes a whimsical twist and is a Caldecott award winner.


Pie and Cobbler Recipes

Pie Filling

4 cups fresh peeled, cored & sliced apples

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

dash of almond extract (if desired)

Blend 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch in medium saucepan. Stir in apples and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Add a dash (1/8 teaspoon) of almond extract if desired. You can also pour the hot mixture into a casserole dish, add biscuit dough and make a cobbler or use the filling in the easy cobbler recipe below.

Easy Fruit Cobbler

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup granulated sugar (we use raw sugar)

2/3 cup milk

1 cup flour (we use unbleached)

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

Sprinkle with spice (we like cinnamon but ginger or nutmeg is good, too)

Make the batter and pour it into a greased baking dish. Pour the filling or canned fruit pie filling over the batter. Bake at 375 degrees F for 35-45 minutes or until the crust is light brown. The crust will rise up to cover the filling.

Provide for All Learning Styles

Visual, Auditory and Tactile Learners

I always had an art center in which the children could express their creative abilities & where the tactile learners felt comfortable. The listening center contained books/tapes or videos which provided a lesson that was geared toward auditory & visual learners.

Poem Version - By Reeve Lindbergh

Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed

Another excellent version of the story with more historical illustrations. The children could compose and illustrate their own short poems after reading this.


Art, Music and Drama


1. The children can use apple halves and red and yellow paint to make apple print place-mats for their apple feast.

2. Women from John Chapman's time period did a lot of weaving. Place-mats can be made by weaving paper strips into an apple shaped piece of construction paper.

3. After the children have researched apple trees through the seasons, paper collages can be made depicting how the tree looked during the different seasons.


1. Square dancing was popular during this time period. The P.E. teacher can teach the children a square dance.

2. A small group can construct puppets and act out the Johnny Appleseed story.

3. After showing or reading different versions of Johnny Appleseed, the children can do a format comparison.

Poetry Place Anthology: More than 600 poems for all occasions!
Poetry Place Anthology: More than 600 poems for all occasions!

This is a great book for parents and teachers. It's filled with delightful poems for every season and occasion. I used poems found here for thematic units in first grade as well as to copy and illustrate for a calligraphy class.

Folks Call Me Appleseed John
Folks Call Me Appleseed John

This version of the folk tale is told as Johnny would have told it. It is a delightfully illustrated story about a chapter of John Chapman's long life. The Notes section in the back of the book give a wealth of information about the life of John Chapman.


Library and Information Activities

Library and Information Skills

The student:

...recognizes main idea, sequence, and characters in stories.

... learns to take notes using key words and phrases.

... is able to convey information in written sentences.

... uses pictures to gain information and to present information.

... learns to use an encyclopedia of the appropriate reading level.

... learns to recall information based on print or non-print materials.

Library and Information Activities

1. Small groups can come to the library to research John Chapman. A question sheet will be provided that will guide them with note-taking.

2. Another group can locate other folktales. After reading them they can web the folktales to compare the characteristics of folk tales.

3. Another group can study other books by Seven Kellogg, comparing the illustration style.

4. A listening station can provide the children with experiences with apple stories and riddles like "The Little Red House" or "Little Brown Babies". Questions dealing with main idea, characters and plot can be asked on the tape after the stories.

Little Red House Story

There was once upon a time a little boy named John who was tired of all his toys and tired of all his picture books and tired of all his play.

"What shall I do?" he asked his mother? And his dear mother who always knew beautiful things for little boys to do, said:

"You shall go on a journey and find a little red house with no doors and with a star inside."

Then John's eyes grew big with wonder. "Which way shall I go?" he asked, "to find a little red house with no doors and a star inside?"

"Down the lane and past the farmer's house and over the hill," said his mother. "Come back as soon as you can and tell me all about your journey.

So John put on his hat and his jacket and started out.

He had not walked very far down the lane when he came to a merry little girl dancing along in the sunshine.

"Do you know where I shall find a little red house with no doors and a star inside?" John asked her.

The little girl laughed. "Ask my father, the farmer," she said. "Perhaps he knows."

So John went on until he came to the great brown barn where the farmer kept barrels of fat potatoes and baskets of yellow squashes and golden pumpkins. The farmer himself stood in the doorway looking out over the green pastures and yellow grain fields.

"Do you know where I shall find a little red house with no doors and a star inside?" John asked the farmer.

The farmer laughed, too. "I've lived a great many years and I never saw one," he chuckled; "but ask Granny who lives at the foot of the hill. She knows how to make molasses taffy and popcorn balls and red mittens. Perhaps she can direct you.

So John went on farther still, until he came to Granny sitting in her pretty garden of herbs and marigolds. She was as wrinkled as a walnut and as smiling as the sunshine.

"Please, dear Granny," said John, "where shall I find a little red house with no doors and a star inside?"

Granny was knitting a red mitten and when she heard the little boy's question, she laughed so cheerily that the wool ball rolled out of her lap and down to the pebbly path.

"I should like to find that little house myself," she chuckled. "It would be warm when the frosty nights come and the starlight would be prettier than a candle. But ask the wind who blows about so much and listens at all the chimneys. Perhaps the wind can direct you.

So John took off his hat politely to Granny and went on up the hill rather sorrowfully. He wondered if his mother, who usually knew everything, had perhaps made a mistake.

The wind was coming down the hill as the little boy climbed up. As they met, the wind turned about and went along, singing, beside the little boy. It whistled in his ear and pushed him and dropped a pretty leaf into his hands to show what a good comrade it was.

"Oh, Wind," asked John, after they had gone along together quite a way, "can you help me to find a little red house with not doors and a star inside?"

The wind went singing ahead of the little boy until it came to an orchard. There it climbed up into an apple tree and shook the branches. At John's feet fell a rosy apple.

John picked up the apple. It was as much as two hands could hold. It was red as the sun had been able to paint it, and the thick brown stem stood up as straight as a chimney. It was a little red house. It had no doors.

"I wonder," thought John. He took his jack-knife from his pocket and cut the apple through the center. Oh, how wonderful! There inside the apple, lay a star holding brown seeds.

John called to the wind, "Thank you," and the wind whistled back, "You're welcome."

Then John ran home to his mother and gave her the apple.

Be sure that you cut the apple horizontally about half-way down between the flower and stem ends.

The cut apples also make great stamps for making prints on paper place mats for the apple feast. Use the shortened version below as the center of the place mats and the children can make apple prints as a border around it.

Reference Little Red House Story

The Apple Riddle

There's a round red house near here. It has no doors and no windows. But inside the house is a bed. The bed is shaped like a star and five brown babies are sleeping in it.

Johnny Appleseed Shared

Through his ideas

His possessions

With a proverb

Ideas for Teachers

A Guide for Using Johnny Appleseed in the Classroom (Literature Units)
A Guide for Using Johnny Appleseed in the Classroom (Literature Units)

More learning activity thematic unit ideas which will be useful for instructors.


Teaching Tip 1

Read 2 different versions of the Johnny Appleseed tale to your class, then use a ven model (2 intersecting circles) to compare and contrast the stories. Use the area where the circles intersect to record how the stories were alike and the left and right circles to record the differences in each.

Other Books

There are many versions of the story including the Real Johnny Appleseed and those about John Chapman. Some use controlled vocabulary for children who are learning to read. Others have complex illustrations and wording which is more appropriate for an older child.

Teaching Tip 2

Third graders are not too young to start doing format comparisons. Show a video version of Johnny Appleseed and read one of the stories. Record the students observations about the similarities and differences of each version. A chart could be used to tally the number of students who liked each.


There are many movies versions of the legend which are geared for different age groups. I especially enjoy the Disney version, which can often be found on YouTube.

The Perfect Tote Bag

This tote bag is just right for Apple Theme Materials.
This tote bag is just right for Apple Theme Materials. | Source

Books For Younger Children

For the younger children, ABC books, poems and other stories can shared during read aloud time. The Apple Pie Tree and How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World are good choices.

Non-fiction Books for Science

Use these books to teach about the seasons, life cycle and the science of apple trees. Some could be used with note-taking task cards for older or more advanced students. Younger students will learn about the life cycle of fruit trees and how apples are used.

The Life Cycle of an Apple Tree (Plant Life Cycles)
The Life Cycle of an Apple Tree (Plant Life Cycles)

The life cycle of fruiting trees is an important concept for all children to master. This book uses photos and easy to understand descriptions to throughly explain the concept.

Stickers are great for charting activities.
Stickers are great for charting activities. | Source

Themed Stickers

Use stickers for graphing and classification lessons, for dividing children into study groups or as rewards for a job well done. Many apple themed stickers are available on Zazzle.

© 2008 Yvonne L. B.

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    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 3 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      This has everything you need about the study of Johnny Appleseed.

    • attraction 42 profile image

      attraction 42 5 years ago

      Thank you. :) I love apples.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wow, loved it!

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 7 years ago from Royalton

      Just had to stop by and celebrate the season with another bite from Johnny Appleseed's apples.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 7 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I'm a huge Steven Kellog fan. His illustrations crack me up and give so much to LOOK at.

      Johnny Appleseed, although the real man has been mixed with a lot of legend, is still a great hero.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I love the story of Johnny Appleseed ~ thanks for this fun fall unit!

      Pamela :)

    • SpellOutloud profile image

      SpellOutloud 8 years ago

      What a wonderful resource! I'm linking it in my [url=]blog article[/url] today. Thanks for putting this together.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 9 years ago from Royalton

      Another great unit study. Thank you for joining the Unit Studies group.

      I just created a Lesson Plans Group and thought you might like to add some of your lenses.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      Welcome to The Totally Awesome Lenses Group.


    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      Great lens! Sometimes I wish I was teaching lower grades rather than high school. There are so many fun things to do.


    • kerbev profile image

      kab 9 years ago from Upstate, NY

      Not that it is useful in the classroom, but the one thing I always found interesting about Johnny Appleseed is how he brought more than food to the frontier, he brought drink. From the apples came the cider that was their alcoholic drink of choice.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 9 years ago from Royalton

      Garner Rix planted apple seeds on his farm just as you are planting the seeds for great teaching. I can hardly wait to put some of these ideas into practice with my students.

    • The Eclectic Muse profile image

      The Eclectic Muse 9 years ago

      Spectacular lens! I'm going to try out your recipe. Thanks for all the information!