Prepared by: Kathy Scott, Library Media Specialist, Lawrence Junior High

With assistance from Joey Marcoux

and thanks to Professor Cathy Bevier

Lawrence Junior High School

7 School Street

Fairfield, Maine 04937

207-453-4200 x312



Frogs Key, Fields Guides, and Habitat Boxes

Brief (one paragraph) description of activity or activities

Every kid knows about frogs. While the tropical, bug-eyed tree frogs have been elevated from "yucky" status to adorable, most students donít realize that there are nine kinds of frogs here in Maine. Creating a simple key to the frogs of Maine introduces the concept of classification, and leads smoothly to a comparison of field guides and discovery of their purpose and usefulness. Birds, mammals, insects, trees, and even rocks come in a variety of forms, each with special differences and a specific name. Maine frogs are usually found in association with our wetlands, especially in Spring, but every biome, every habitat, has its own inter-related physical features and life forms. To illustrate the inter-relationships of the various species within a habitat, students can create viewing boxes which replicate the natural environment and give them a peek at the ecosystems of our world. Whether students create their first classification keys and personal field guides by charting the differences between Maineís various frogs, as shown in the first activity, or compare different flowers, leaves, or birds, a simple self-generated key is the first step toward awareness of the systems used in field guides. Awareness of the variations within a species, and the potential reasons for those variations, lays the foundation for subsequent expansion to the variety of life forms inter-related within a habitat and the niche each occupies.

Materials needed

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles (edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J. K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, University of Maine Press, 1999) and CD

Audio CD player

Assorted field guides (as detailed in the following activity, sets of three different treatments of the same species, such as Peterson, Audubon, and Golden guides to birds, mammals, amphibians, insects, etc)


ARC/CB Freshwater pond community display

Other ARC items which illustrate diversity such as:

VC574.5-79 Habitats of the World

VC 574.5-59 The Diversity of Life

as well as bird song cassettes, the audible Audubon player, and insect displays

Additional useful resources:

Old magazines, calendars, the Internet, and other sources of pictures

Small boxes, scissors, glue, colored cellophane

Library Media Center (for research)


Grade level range

Middle Grades 5-8



Learning Results performance indicators addressed


Science and Technology:

  1. Classifying life forms

Students will understand that there are similarities within the diversity of all living things. Students will be able to:

Middle Grades 5-8

Compare systems of classifying organisms including systems used by scientists.


  1. Ecology

Students will understand how living things depend upon one another and on non-living aspects of the environment. Students will be able to:

Middle Grades 5-8

Generate examples of the variety of ways that organisms interact (e.g., competition, predator/prey, parasitism/mutualism)



Detailed description of lessons or activities, including student sheets if applicable



Activity #1

Students have collected leaves, admired wildflowers, and examined rocks in the early grades in many of their classes. While their experiences may have varied, selecting a new species, such as frogs, for a classification activity is sure to capture their interest. Frogs are fun. Students are just enough familiar with frogs to be comfortable comparing their features, but still frogs entice a great degree of curiosity, even for students who giggle or shriek in their presence.

Begin by personally reviewing the frog section of Maine Amphibians and Reptiles. Make a quick chart of the distinguishing features of the nine kinds of frogs in Maine (see the following key for ideas). Review the CD which accompanies the book; the mating calls of each frog are identified and clear examples are given. Then, supplying each student with a blank chart such as the one below, discuss the various frogs and play an example of the sounds they make. Ask the students to fill in their own charts as you progress. They can sketch a frog silhouette next to each kind of frog to further distinguish itís key visual differences (pairs of spots on the back of the pickerel frogs, more random spots on the leopard frog, swirls on the mink frog). When describing the sound each makes, allow the students to be creative. How does it sound to them? Be prepared for their laughter when you play the CD illustrating the heavy barrumph of the bullfrog; itís quite a contrast to the peep of the spring peeper or the trill of the American toad! Discuss their completed charts and the wonderful variety of frogs in Maine (maybe someone would like to find out how many different frogs there are in the tropical rainforest for later discussion).



Time required

Up to one hour

Suggested grouping of students

Entire class, although a variation could be made with nine small groups being responsible for each presenting the characteristics of one species





Maine Frogs



Sketch Name Size Sounds like: Look for:


























Key : Maine Frogs



Name Size sounds like look for



    1. American Toad 2-4" trill warts, strings of eggs

black tadpoles

    1. Gray tree frog 2" deeper trill suction cups on toes

green or gray

    1. Spring peeper 1" peep X on back

(group chorus sounds like sleigh bells)


4. Wood frog 1 Ĺ - 2" clucks like duck mask across eyes


5. Pickerel frog 2-3" snore paired spots on back


6. Leopard frog 2-3" grunt random spots on back

or fast tat-tat-tat

7. Mink frog 6-10" hut-hut-hut marked with swirls, smells


8. Green frog 6-10" banjo string pluck ridge from eye down back

9. Bullfrog 6-10" barrummp ridge around eye





Activity #2

Frogs are one thing, but there are a lot more than nine species of birds or mammals or fish or insects or flowers. How do we tell them all apart? The observable aspects of classification can be illustrated with field guides. Just as the chart of frog characteristics constitutes a key to their identification, field guides are based on an identification scheme. The second activity challenges students to look carefully at different types of field guides by comparing their treatment of a given plant or animal. Gather at least three different field guides which cover the same species. In the example below, field guides in the Peterson, Audubon, and Golden series are used. Assign trios of students one or more representative individuals which are contained in all three of their guides (for instance, if they have guides to mammals, assign a black bear, a beaver, and/or a white-tailed deer; if they have guides to insects, assign a praying mantis, etc). Ask them to fill out a chart comparing the treatment each field guide offers, and to decide which guide they like best. Although they may feel like theyíre evaluating the publishers, the students are actually gaining experience in the use of field guides and exposure to the key characteristics which make up the differences between species.


Time required

Up to one hour

Suggested grouping of students

Groups of three, if they are examining three types of field guides

Comparing Field Guides



Your animal(s) or plant (s): ____________________________________________




Please write in yes or no or put a check mark:


Peterson Audubon Golden/Other

Most colorful


Most information


Photos or drawings



Scientific Names


Gives Habitat


Gives Location Map


Easiest to Use


Hardest to Use


Activity #3

There is certainly a wide variety of plants and animals in the world, all of which are organized into classification patterns as illustrated in the first two activities. But how do they all fit together? The Freshwater Pond Community Display illustrates the inter-related individuals in one habitat. To assist students in discovering the concepts of habitat and niche, and of relationships such as predator-prey, mutualism, or parasitism, introduce the concept of a Habitat Box. Each student will illustrate a biome or community by constructing a model of that habitat and including representative individuals from throughout the food chain, as the following handout and evaluation checklist detail.

Time required

About three hours, probably spread over a few days

Suggested grouping of students

Individuals or pairs




Task: You are working for a childrenís science museum. You must design and create a miniature replica of a natural habitat (ocean, desert, rainforest, temperate forest, grassland, or freshwater wetland). Include at least one example from each part of the food chain. A presentation to the museum director (teacher) and museum patrons (classmates) will follow. You should make sure to explain why everything you included was chosen for your replica (use terms like adaptation and niche), and how each relates to your other choices (use terms like predator and prey).


  1. Decide which habitat you wish to create
  2. Research this habitat. Look for examples of living and non-living things which would be found there.
  3. Generate a list of the inhabitants and physical features found there.
  4. Use a box (at least shoebox size) with a lid to illustrate a scene from your chosen habitat.
    1. Take the lid off to expose the inside of the box
    2. On one side of the box, make a small window (this is where the viewing area for the museum visitor would be).
    3. Decorate the exterior of the box; label the title of your habitat and your name on the outside of the box.
    4. Place examples from your previously generated list into the box, using pictures or models from all categories, so it looks like a real-life scene.
    5. You should put as much as you can into your box without overcrowding.
    6. Cut an opening in the top of the box.
    7. Cover the exposed area with colored cellophane to create the atmosphere of the lighting that would be used in your exhibit (blue wrap would look like a summer sky or water).
    8. Replace the lid (enough light should come through the cellophane to illuminate the scene).

5. Review the Performance Grading List, and consult the museum director (teacher) with questions

Performance Grading List


Studentís Name_______________________



Box design:

Box is labeled with title and studentís name 5 ___

Box is appropriately decorated 5 ___

Box is accurately made regarding given specifications 5 ___

Box has at least 10 organisms/ physical features 10 ___

At least one food chain is present 10 ___

Box was well planned and creative in design 20 ___

Oral Presentation:

Loud and clear enough to engage the audience 5 ___

Complete and thorough in describing model 10 ___

Used appropriate terms (i.e. prey, predator, etc) 10 ___


List of organisms/physical features accurately

reflects habitat 10 ___

Successfully utilized a variety of resources. 10 ___




Supporting www links:


The Froggy Page

Living Things: Habitats and Ecosystems

Animal Informational Database

Created in cooperation with the Colby Partnership for Science Education, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Bell Atlantic