Elephants Cannot Dance! Teaches Friendship
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Elephants Cannot Dance! Teaches Friendship

Categories Friendship 
Book Title: Elephants Cannot Dance!

Author: Mo Willems

Illustrator: Mo Willems

Jewish Value: Friendship

Book Summary:

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

Enduring Understandings:

  • A good friend is loyal, encouraging, and supportive. 
  • Value the strengths of others and learn from them.

Essential Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a good friend? 
  2. How is the Jewish concept of friendship, chaverut, reflected in this story?

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

And G-d said, “It is not good for Adam to be alone...” (Genesis 2:18). From the beginning of recorded history, human beings have sought relationships with one another. As the book of Genesis teaches, this is part of how G-d conceived of human existence. We are commanded to not be alone--and the friendships we have are part of the equation. We value our friendships, as facing the challenges of life together helps us to understand, or make peace, with its complexities.

Chaverut goes deeper than simply just having friends, but implies the importance of how we treat our friends, how we honor and respect them, love and appreciate them, and truly value what is a special relationship. We show our friends how important they are to us by our actions. In particular, while g’milut chasadim--acts of loving kindness often refers to what we do to improve the world, it can also connect with how we treat others. When we act with loving kindness, we demonstrate that we value the relationships we are in and those that we form.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah said, “Find for yourself a teacher, acquire a friend, and judge all people with the scale of merit” (Pirke Avot 1:6). What we learn from our friends is significant--they help us become righteous people. The relationship we have with our friends is a learning experience that teaches us how to nurture our best selves. A true friend is our partner in our own journey.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why would G-d say that it is not good for us to be alone? 
  2. What should we expect from our friends, and what should our friends expect from us?
  3. What are some things that you have learned from your friendships?
  4. Who do you consider a “true” friend and why?
  5. How can you incorporate the value of chaverut within the classroom?

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Copy of Elephants Cannot Dance!


Student example of Piggie and Elephant puppet show

Sharing The Storymore

Introducing The story

Read and discuss the book Elephants Cannot Dance!
Look at the cover. Ask, “What do you see?”
Ask, “What do you think the book will be about?”
Read the story aloud, showing the pictures and eliciting student comments.
Explain to students that the bubbles with writing are called speech balloons and they tell what each character is saying.

Ask if they’ve ever seen speech balloons before. (Many might say they’ve seen them in comic strips and comic books.)

Reading The Story

Discuss the following questions:

  • What do you like best about Piggie? Would you want her for a friend? Why or why not? How did Piggie stand up for the “honor” of her friend Gerald?

  • What lessons did Gerald learn in this story other than how to dance? (e.g., “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try  again.” You don’t always have to be the best at something to take part in it-just enjoy it.)

  • How do you select the people with whom you want to be friends ? What qualities do you think a good friend should  have? How can you be a good friend to others?

  • Gerald tried to dance, even though the book told him that elephants cannot dance. Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something, but through practice and effort  you learned that you could? Share your experiences.

  • Which characters in the book do you admire most? Why?

  • How might the ending be different if Piggie hadn’t encouraged Gerald to try even when the book said that elephants cannot dance?

After The Story

Discuss the meaning of the phrase, “Let your friend’s honor be as dear to you as your own” (Pirkei Avot 2:15).
Ask students how Piggie showed her concern for Gerald’s feelings and have them tell about a time when they stood up for their friends.

Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz taught, “Friendship is like a stone. A stone has no value, but when you rub two stones together properly, sparks of fire emerge.” Ask students to think about someone whom they consider to be a good friend.

  • How has that friend helped you to become a better person? 
  • In what ways have you helped your friend become a better person? 

Use puppets to put on a Piggie and Elephant performance. Invite students to take turns and pretend to be the characters. Here is one example created by two students: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNVNNCKZ5F4


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Story Share and Compare

Language Arts
Read the book Giraffes Can’t Dance.The main character, a giraffe named Gerald, also struggles to learn to dance. Put two T-charts on the board and have students suggest ways in which Elephants Cannot Dance! and Giraffes Can’t Dance are alike and how they are different.

In Giraffes Can’t Dance, the other animals made fun of him: “Hey, look at clumsy Gerald,” the animals all sneered. “Giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool! Oh, Gerald, you’re so weird.”Compare the reactions of these animals to those of Piggie in Elephants Cannot Dance!

Class Discussion:
Jewish Text
Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow . . . ” (Shabbat 31a). Ask students what they think the other animals should say to Gerald as he tries to learn to dance. Do a “whip-around,” moving around the room quickly, and have each student respond. Many world religions have rephrased Hillel’s concept. For example, “The Golden Rule,” which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is Hillel’s concept written as a positive.

Hebrew, Dance
Teach students the popular Israeli song “Pil-Pilon,” which is taught to young children in schools throughout Israel. Show them this video that tells the story. 

 Practice singing the song, both in English and Hebrew, or at least the repetitive portions. (Invite your school’s music teacher and Judaic studies teachers to take part in this activity.) Have children dance “The Elephant,” moving spontaneously to this tune as it is played on Youtube. They can even try some of the moves from the book Elephants Cannot Dance! As students become familiar with the words, have them sing along as well.

Music Connectionsmore


Explore Jewish dance, traditional and contemporary, with your students. Recruit an experienced dancer to help you engage students in dancing activities- remember this may be a music teacher, a former cheerleader, or simply a person who enjoys it as a hobby.

The Hora is one of the most popular Jewish dances and plays an important role in modern Israeli folk dancing. Teach students the steps and have them create a circle and dance to “Havah Nagila.”

This video can teach you (and/or your students) how to do the steps:


Here is a slightly more complicated Israeli Dance, with instructional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbGueJhzebw

Additional Music Connections

Evidence of Learningmore

Students are observed acting like good friends through acting with respect, helping and sharing.


Suggest parents involve their  child in a conversation about what makes a good friend. Tell about one of your best friends when you were your chlld’s age and the qualities this friend had that you liked so much.

literature connectionsmore

TitleAuthorIllustratorBook Summary
Will I Have a Friend? Miriam CohenLillian HobanThis is a classic picture book about the first day of kindergarten and a little boy’s concern about making new friends in school.
The Best Friends Book Todd ParrTodd ParrThis picture book by well-loved writer and illustrator Todd Parr describes the interactions of friends and the importance of friendship.
You’re Not My Best Friend Anymore Charlotte PomerantzDavid SomanWhen a conflict arises, two best friends, who wear identical shirts and celebrate their birthdays together, become very angry and no longer speak to each other for several days. Eventually, the conflict is resolved.
I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off A Little Self-Esteem Jamie Lee CurtisLaura CornellCelebrate liking yourself! Through alternating points of view, a girl's and a boy's, Jamie Lee Curtis's triumphant text and Laura Cornell's lively artwork show kids that the key to feeling good is liking yourself because you are you. Like the duo's first New York Times best-seller, Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day, this is an inspired book to rejoice in and share. I'm Gonna Like Me will have kids letting off some self-esteem in no time!
My Duck Tanya LinchTanya LinchGRADES: PreK +
It is hard writing stories, thinking of interesting characters and events. Sometimes you have to try once or twice to get it right. But when one little girl writes a story, something very exciting happens. The duck doesn't want to leave, and soon her story has a life of its own!
* PJ library Books