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Which Herp Is Which?


By writing to "pen pals" from the point of view of a reptile or amphibian, your students can be creative while learning about how these animals are alike and different.

  • List several examples each of reptiles and amphibians.
  • Describe how reptiles and amphibians are similar to and different from one another.


  • Books and other reference materials on herps.
  • Index cards.
  • Pencils and crayons or markers.


  • Social studies, language arts


1. Before the activity, write the names of several types of herps on slips of paper (one for each person). Try to include an equal number of reptiles and amphibians. Depending on the level of your group, you can keep the names general (e.g.: frog, snake) or make them more specific (e.g.: bull frog, garter snake). Write a number on each slip so you can keep track of who has which herp.
2. Hand out the slips of paper you made earlier, taking note of who has which herp. Tell the students to keep the identity of their animal secret.
3. Assign each person a herp pen pal. Try to match reptile with amphbian pen pals.
4. Give the students time to find out about their herps. Then pass out index cards and have the students write "postcards" to their pen pals from the point of view of their particular herps. Explain to the students that they shouldn't give away their herp's identity, but they should give clues that will help their pen pals figure out whether their herp is a reptile or an amphibian. The information should also be as accurate as possible. (If you're working with more advanced students, you can also have them try to figure out what kind of reptile or amphibian their pen pal represents. You may want to provide a list of the herps you've assigned, to help the students narrow down their choices.)
5. You may want to consider having the students write a series of postcards, with each one revealing a new clue about their identities. Here's an example of one postcard a frog or toad might write:

 Dear Pen Pal:

Life is busy these days! I have been practicing very hard on my song. Spring will be here soon, and I have a lot of competition!

6. On the other side of the postcard, have the students draw a picture of their herps' habitats (excluding the herps themselves!).
7. Collect the postcards and hand them out to the appropriate pen pals. Provide resources and give the students time to figure out what kind of herp is their pen pal.
8. Have several of the students read their postcards out loud, then ask for opinions on the kind of herp that "wrote" each card. Finally, have the various pen pals identify themselves.
9. Use the postcards to create a bulletin board display. The focus of the display could be similarities and differences between reptiles and amphibians. (See the background information under Who's a Herp?)
Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies