Thematic Sheet

Cumulative tales

Did you know that the very first tales were probably cumulative tales? Their aim was to count. An intuition confirmed by the etymology, since the verbs “to tell” and “to count” both come from the Latin computare.
Cumulative tales could have predated the other tales, and would probably have been used to count, to measure, to enumerate…

In cumulative tales (or chain tales), the same formula, repeated throughout the story, creates a rhythm, which punctuates the key moments in the story, successive encounters that the hero makes, places he crosses, etc.
Thanks to the rhythm and music of the spoken word, this type of short, amusing story works on memory, as well as motor skills and coordination between body and speech.

With them, you can play, and sometimes extend the story to infinity!

To begin, let’s take a look at the stages of a cumulative tale.

If the beginning of the story is open and often simple, it is the development that is long. This is where the repeating structure of the story will appear. Like a chorus in a song, the essence of the story will unfold there, and the story will end with the desired fall. The course of the story is stretched as far as possible in order to prepare the ending, so that it is unpredictable and surprising.

Now that we know how cumulative tales are built, we can explore different types of cumulative tales, starting with the simplest.

The different types of cumulative tales

Enumeration: the simplest, linear form. At each stage, a new element is added to the story. A then B, then C…
A nursery rhyme or ditty, it is a delight for very young children.
Examples: Days of the week…, A white mouse, The Emperor his wife and the little prince, Where are my chicks, The princess rats, The bear hunt…

Small Monday
The nice tuesday
Wednesdays in the shade
Dizzy Thursdays
On Fridays with a bit of a bite to spare
Saturday asleep
And on Sundays everything starts all over again.

Accumulation: at each stage of the story, an element is added and the previous elements are recapitulated. A, then A+B, then A+B+C…
Examples: The mitten…, The turnip, Half chicken, The cat and the parrot…

An abandoned muffle, in the hollow of a path, in the middle of winter…
Each animal will enter the mitten in turn: the Mouse, the Rabbit, the Fox, the Bee… (you can add other animals).

  1. Arrival of the animal
    (can be played by an increasingly loud body percussion)
    Mouse: finger in hand
    Rabbit: clap of hands
    Fox : hands on thigh
    Bear: hand on belly
  2. The animal checks that it can enter :
    Knock, knock, knock…
    -Who is hiding in this dwelling? Well, it will be my nest.
  3. The animal falls asleep with the others already present in the mitten.
  4. Outside, it’s snowing… a new animal arrives (back to step 1)
  5. and fine. Arrival of the animal that makes the mitten crack!

Elimination: the story gradually loses its constituent elements (often its characters). Very often, at the end of the story, there are no characters left, or only one!
A+B+C, then A+B, then A…

Example: Five birds in their nest.

There were 5 in the nest
And the little one said: “Move, move! »
And one of them fell out of the nest.
There were 4 of them in the nest
And the little one said: “Move, move! »
And one of them fell out of the nest.
[then 3, then 2]
They were 2 in the nest
And the little one said: “Move, move! »
And one of them fell out of the nest.
He was alone in the nest
And the little one said, “aaaaah!”

Replacement: the story begins with A, which leaves its place to B, which leaves it to C and so on.
Examples: in French, we have Promenons-nous dans les bois, Alouette, Le Coffre, Roule galette, Les trois petits cochons…

Let’s take a walk in the woods
While the wolf is not there
If the wolf was there
He would eat us
But since he is not there
He won’t eat us

Wolf are you there?
What are you doing there?
Can you hear me?
I’m putting on my shirt [then my pants, socks, etc.].

Imbedding: it’s the principle of history within history, and sometimes of history within history within history, etc. A then B in A then C in B in A…
Examples: The house that Peter built, The fly that flew without looking where it was going…

This is the house that Peter built.
This is the flour that is in the attic of the house that Peter built.
This is the rat that ate the flour that is in the attic of the house which Peter built.
Here is the cat that caught the rat that ate the flour that is in the attic of the
house that Pierre built.
Here is the dog that strangled the cat that caught the rat that ate the flour that is
in the attic of the house that Pierre built.

Why use storytelling in class?

The structure of cumulative tales allows :

  • a learning of the world: from near to far, from small to large, from familiar to cosmic…
  • to order the facts: causes and consequences, action and reaction…
  • to see how relationships work: interdependence of living beings, relativity of each person’s place (we are always the weakest or the strongest in relation to…). Exchange is an efficient way to obtain what one desires, union makes strength, etc.

Classroom activities

  • Learning to count :

We can use Five birds in the nest. The aim is to work on the representation of quantity with the fingers and to note the consequences of removing or adding a unit. With a nest containing five removable birds on the board, the children will have to memorise the corresponding song, which is fairly short, and then count with their hands the birds falling from the nest, pushed by another bird. Once the exercise is over, they will start again, but this time the bird will push two birds from the nest, etc…

  • To learn the size of the different animals.