Illustration of a bear and a turtle talking in a forest
Art by Lisa Hunt

Turtle's Race With Bear

A Seneca folktale

By Joseph Bruchac (retelling)
From the October/November 2023 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify the moral of a folktale from the Seneca Nation.

Lexiles: 470L

The author

One day, Bear was bragging. “I am the strongest. 

I am the fastest.” 

“You are not the fastest!” said a small voice. 

Bear looked down. A little turtle was there. 

“Hah! You are the slowest!” 

Bear said.

“I dare you to race me,” 

Turtle said.

Bear laughed. “Ha ha!” 

“Are you afraid to race me?” Turtle said. 

“I am not afraid,” Bear said. “Tell me when and where.” 

“Tomorrow at the round pond. You can run around it. I can swim around it.”

They went to the pond. It was covered with ice.

“How can we do this?” Bear asked.

“I can make a hole in the ice and swim under it,” Turtle said. 

“No,” Bear said. “You will just hide under there and come out again.”

“I will make more holes in the ice,” Turtle said. “I will stick my head up from each one as I go.”

The next morning, Bear went to the pond. 

Turtle was waiting. There were holes in the ice around the pond. 

Turtle crawled to the first hole. She plopped in. 

Bear began to walk. 

Turtle’s head popped up from the next hole.

“Here I am, Bear,” Turtle called. 

Bear began to run. 

Turtle’s head popped up from the next hole. 

“Here I am, Bear.”

Bear ran faster. But Turtle’s head kept popping up.

“Here I am, Bear.”

“Here I am, Bear.”

Before Bear was halfway around the pond, Turtle climbed out and won.

Bear crawled back to his den and slept all winter. 

When he was gone, Turtle tapped on the ice. 

Other turtles popped up from every hole. They all looked like her.

“Thank you, friends,” Turtle said. “Today we won for everyone who’s been called slow.”

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About the Story

English Language Arts Focus

Folktales: Lessons & Morals

Social Studies Focus

Native American Heritage Month

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan


Whole Group; Small Group

Pairings and Text Connections

  • From the Storyworks archive: “Fiction: Mouse on the Moon,” May/June 2023
  • Suggested books: The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop, Zomo The Rabbit by Gerald McDermott, La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya

Before-Reading Resources

  • Video: Author Visit with Joseph Bruchac (7 minutes) Meet this incredible Native American storyteller.
  • Folktale slideshow (7 minutes) Build background knowledge about this genre.
  • Video: Skill Power: Character Traits (5 minutes) Build skills in identifying character traits

Suggested Reading Focus

Lessons & Morals (20 minutes)
  • Explain that the Seneca is an Indigenous nation. Tell students that they are going to read a Seneca folktale. A folktale is a story that has been told for a long time. Folktales sometimes teach lessons or morals. Sharing folktales is part of Seneca culture.
  • Ask students to make a prediction about the story. Who are the characters? Where does the story take place? What is going to happen?
  • Read the story aloud. Check comprehension as you read together with the Pause and Think questions. You may want to have children turn and talk to a partner to discuss.
  • After reading, ask students what happened at the end. What lesson did Bear learn?

After-Reading Skills Practice

  • Skills: Writing/helping (15 minutes)

Extension Writing Activity

Skills: Narrative writing (15 minutes)

  • Using chart paper or a dry erase easel, ask students how they would have helped Turtle win the race.
  • Reread the story, stopping after the first paragraph on page 28. Ask the class to brainstorm a new way that Turtle wins the race with the help of friends. As students dictate ideas, assist them in turning ideas into a story and write as a class.