Being Observant with Being Frog
Written and Photographed by April Pulley Sayre
Published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster
Grades PK and Up
When you see a frog, do you think ‘brilliant beautiful being’? If you don’t already, you will after reading Being Frog by acclaimed picturebook author and photographer April Pulley Sayre. Sayre’s stunning photographs depict the frogs she and her husband observe weekly in a local pond. The rhyming text is spare but deep, conveying information about frog behavior and life cycles (being a frog), while also prompting more existential consideration of the frog as a being in our world. The author’s note at the conclusion of the book is a wonderful invitation to discuss what it means to do science and to be a scientist. Sayre creates a bridge from the informal observations that she does to the work of scientists, noting that “wondering and imagining are a part of science…” and “ a scientist would go beyond pondering and design an experiment to find the truth.” Watching the frogs in her pond over time, Sayre has gotten to know these frogs as individual beings with individual behaviors and habits. Backyard scientists of all ages will find Being Frog a call to action – a call to watch, wonder, imagine and inquire.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Note our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Grades PK and Up
More About Frogs. Frogs are endlessly fascinating to both young and old. Use Being Frog as a launching point to a broader study of frogs. Following a reading of Sayre’s book with a reading of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s The Frog Book. While Sayre’s book focuses on the frog in her local pond, Jenkins and Page’s illustrated text provides a much broader look at different kinds of frogs. Ask your students to list several questions that they have about frogs. When students share their questions in a whole group meeting, form small study groups based on common questions/interests. With the support of your school or local public librarian, curate a collection of books as online resources, such as those shared in the author’s note and in the resource section below, so that students can work in groups to investigate their questions.
Doing Science: Observing Animals All Around. Many of us have spent more time close to home during the pandemic. This may mean more opportunities to study our neighborhoods and our communities and more time to notice the animals that live around us. Read April Pulley Sayre’s wonderful author’s note which describes how she and her husband study the frogs in a local pond on a weekly basis. Encourage students to identify an opportunity for close study over time of an animal nearby to their home or school. Students who live in urban settings may find Sarah Grace Tuttle’s poetry collection, Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife and Marilyn Singer’s Wild in the Streets, inspirational, and they will surely be able to describe the animals they see out their windows, in neighborhood parts and on walks around their commiunity. Students can make notes and sketches to document their observations. If they have access to a digital camera, they can take photographs (be sure to discuss safety measures when observing animals) to include in their observation journals. Invite your students to consider how current climate patterns may be impact the types and activities of the animals they are able to observe.
Wondering and Imagining. In her author’s note, Sayre states that “wondering and imagining are a part of science.” Elevate attention to students’ wonderings in your questions by finding ways to notice and document the kinds of questions that children naturally ask about the world around them. Create a Wonder Wall bulletin board if you are teaching in person or FlipGrid videos if you are teaching remotely. Have students keep Wonder Journals, and/or find other creative ways to celebrate the wonderful questions that students have.
Rhymes. Being Frog is a rhyming text. Support young students’ phonological awareness by inviting them to notice and list the rhyming pairs Being Frog. Extend your student by gathering a collection of animal poems, such as those by David Elliot, Valerie Worth, and Douglas Florian and inviting students to notice which poems rhyme and which do not – what other forms do the poems take? If time allows, invite students to compose animal poems based on their knowledge of animal behavior. Allow them to choose whether their poem(s) will rhyme or not.
Onomatopoeia and Animal Communication. Sayre’s frogs, say “Glunk.” What other sounds do frogs make? In her author’s note, she invites readers to learn to identify frog sounds, suggesting a free app called Pure Nature. As you listen to frog sounds, play with onomatopoeia to represent the sounds in words. Extend this study by learning more about animal sounds and communication. Use books such as Melissa Stewart’s Can an Aardvark Bark?, Lita Judge’s Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Nicola Davies’ Talk, Talk, Squawk! A Human’s Guide to Animal Communication to broaden your exploration of animals’ sounds and communication.
Descriptive Verbs: Being Frog as a Mentor Text. With careful verb choices, Sayre brings to life the frog behavior that she observes. Reread the text of Being Frog and make a list of all the verbs used by the author. If students need a movement break, you could invite them to demonstrate some of these verbs by displaying the verbs on cards or on screen and asking student to move in the way that the verb suggests. Next, divide students into small groups. Assign them an animal (or ask them to quickly choose their own) and ask the group to brainstorm a list of verbs that they associate with that animal. If you have enough time, offer students the opportunity to observe their animal through a web cam (see the New York Times listing of the Best Live Animal Feeds From Around the World). Give the groups a chance to share their lists with the whole class and add to their listings any other suggestions that come from the whole group. Invite your students to revisit a current piece of writing to see how it might be enlivened with descriptive verbs. For more on lively verb usage, see our Classroom Bookshelf entries on: Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature; Seeds Move; and Seashells, More Than a Home.
Life Cycles Duet Model. Being Frog is a natural addition to a text set on life cycles, a topic commonly addressed in the primary grade curriculum. Pair a reading of this text with Doug Weschler’s The Hidden Life of a Toad in a duet model reading. Students can compare the life cycle of a frog with that of a toad (make sure to record the questions this exploration inspires for further inquiry). Notice the different choices made by the authors as they present information about the lives of frogs and toads. Following this comparison, offer students additional texts that present animal life cycles, such as Nic Bishop’s Spiders, Alexandra Siy’s Mosquito Bite, Lisa Kahn Schnells’ High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, Nicola Davies’s One Tiny Turtle, Loree Griffin Burns’s Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, and Candace Fleming and Eric Rohman’s Honeybee. Invite your students to create visual representations of the life cycles of these different animals.
Photo Essay. April Pulley Sayre is known for the beautiful photographs in her nonfiction books. Guide your students to make observations about the roles the photographs play in the book: How are the text and the photographs related? How do the photographs move the narrative or expository text forward? How are the photographs placed within the book? Next, provide digital cameras or tablets and use an e-book composition tool like Book Creator to allow your students the opportunity to write and illustrate a book using photography. If you are seeking additional examples of photo essays as mentor texts, these Classroom Bookshelf entries may be helpful: Hatching Chicks in Room 6, Can We Help?: Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature, The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden, Bloom Bloom! (poetry and photography), and Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature (a photo essay using curated images). For middle grade classrooms, include the wonderful photo essay series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scientists in the Field.
Author Study. We have long been fans of April Pulley Sayre’s wonderful books and have featured several on the Classroom Bookshelf. Gather a collection of Sayre’s titles and conduct an author study. What patterns do students notice across the books in the text and the visuals? What commitments and values are evident in the body of work? How does Sayre use poetry to convey nonfiction information? What can your students learn about word choice and content organization from Sayre’s books? Augment your study by exploring Sayre’s website and available interviews with Sayre. Our Classroom Bookshelf entries on Sayre’s books include: Bloom! Bloom!, Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet, Raindrops Roll, and Rah! Rah! Radishes: A Vegetable Chant.
Frogs in Fiction. April Pulley Sayre notes that many frogs are featured as fictional characters in children’s literature. Perhaps, the most well-known frog character is found in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad. Sayre concludes her author’s note by stating: “After getting to know all these frogs ‘in person,’ so to speak, I still like imaginary frog characters in books and movies. But for me a made-up frog cannot match the beauty of a real frog – a creature so alive in its pond world.” Invite your students to discuss Sayre’s statement, considering how Sayre has gotten to know the frogs as individuals (characters) through close study over time. Extend the study by examining books with fictional frog characters (brainstorm a listing with your students and your school or local librarian)? How are the fictional frog characters like frogs in nature? How are they anthropomorphized (given human characteristics)? What does a fictional narrative have to offer? What does a nonfiction narrative or exposition have to offer?
Grades 6 and Up
Animal Intelligence and Emotions. Anthropomorphism or Anthropodenial? How do scientists study and consider the intelligence and emotional life of animals? Is Sayre anthropomorphizing animals in writing about them the way she does in Being Frog? Or, is the larger problem that we are failing to see the intelligence of animals? Carefully read April Pulley Sayre’s author’s note in which she shares her reason for speculating about frogs’ memories. Have your students investigate the ways in which scientists are currently conducting animal research on intelligence and emotion. Partner with your school librarian to find sources, but you can also start with the resources listed below. Invite local veterinarians, animal shelter staff, and university researchers speak to your students over Zoom to share their experiences and understandings of animals’ intelligence and emotional landscapes. Have students demonstrate their learning on the tension between and the meaning of these two words in whatever format makes sense, either in written or spoken words, illustrations or photographs, in the genres of their choice. Share the fascinating young readers edition: Beyond Words: What Elephants and Whales Think and Feel by Carl Safina. (This teaching invitation originally appeared in our entry on Becoming a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery.)
“Crying Elephants and Giggling Rats- Animals Have Feelings, Too – The Conversation, 2018
Photo Essays on The Classroom Bookshelf:
Davies, N. (2011). Talk, talk, squawk! A human’s guide to animal communication. Ill. by N. Layton. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Davies, N. (2001). One tiny turtle. Ill. by J. Chapman. Candlewick Press.
Fleming, C. (2020). Honeybee: The busy life of Apis Mellifera. Ill. by Eric Rohmann. Neal Porter Books. Holiday House.
Jenkins, S. & Page, R. (2019). The frog book. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Kalman, B. (2015). How and why do animals communicate? Crabtree Publishing.
Safina, C. (2019). Beyond words: What elephants and whales think and feel. Roaring Brook Press.
Singer, M. (2109). Wild in the streets : 20 poems of city animals. Ill. by G. Wright. Words & Pictures.
Siy, A. (2005). Mosquito bite. Ill. by D. Kunkel. Charlesbridge.
Tuttle, S.G. (2018). Hidden city: Poems of urban wildlife. Ill. by A. Schimmler-Safford. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Weschler, D. (2017). The hidden life of a toad. Charlesbridge.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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