Book Activity: There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Shell

Kids and adults love learning about the beach. There are many wonderful picture books about the beach. One of our favorite beach themed books is, “There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Shell” by Lucille Colandro. This is a great book to add to a preschool beach unit. It provides students opportunities to learn beach vocabulary, sequencing and retelling. You can create simple centers for retelling with objects you have lying around the house or with printable materials. Just be prepared, kids will ask to hear this story over and over again! There are several other versions of the “There was an Old Lady…” story written by Lucille Colandro, so take these ideas and adapt them to any of your preschool themes. This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  If you would like more beach activities for kids check out my Ocean and Beach Themes for Kids Pinterest Board.

preschool beach unit There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Shell is a great preschool beach book. In the book, an old lady swallows a shell. Of course, following the pattern of the traditional song, “I know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly”, we don’t know why! Swallowing the shell leads to other strange choices, like swallowing a crab, a fish, a gull, a pail, some sand, and a wave. As anyone can tell you, swallowing these strange beach souvenirs, causes any old lady to belch. When the old lady belches, out pops a perfect sand castle.This book is a fun beach twist on the traditional folk tale.

Book Activity:

After reading this book, we created a book activity to retell the story. I created a beach bucket old lady by adding yarn and google eyes to a beach bucket. I hot glued the yarn (it was almost like twine… that’s what we had around the house). After I hot glued it, I gave the lady an ah-mazing haircut. Now you know why I’m a teacher and not a hair stylist. We gathered items from around the house and dropped them into the old lady  bucket one by one as we retold the story. We used sand in a container and water in a container as a wave bottle. If you are brave, you could let your child dump loose sand and water into the bucket. Be prepared for a messy activity!

there was an old lady activities, there was an old lady

Our “There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Shell” book activity was super fun, but I wanted to create a way to put the items into the Old Lady’s mouth. I also wanted a book activity that we could reuse and store easily. I created a simple file folder game.

 there was an old lady activities, there was an old lady

This file folder game is available in my Beach Thematic Unit in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. The unit includes a printable pail. All you have to do is add google eyes, hair, and cut out a mouth. I also created printable cards of each of the items. My boys love to shove the cards into the Old Lady’s mouth. They also love to open file folder and find the print out of the sand castle in the old lady’s “belly”. There are many other fun  book activities in the unit!

preschool beach unit

Either way you play, this book activity is great for retelling a story and also for holding the interest of the child while you are reading the book!


  1. says

    I love this book. Thus why i did a pack for it. But I love the idea of the pail and doing that activity with it!

  2. says

    What a fun way to illustrate a fun book. We have a puppet of the old lady who swallowed the fly, and my daughter loves it.:)

  3. says

    This looks like a fun book. I haven’t seen it before. I like twists on traditional tales, great for prediction skills

    Thanks for linking to the Sunday showcase.