poem by Kate Hart , illustrated by Michel Streich

Identify the origins of certain animal names and create their own animal using a name derived from Middle English or Greek.

Before reading the poem, ask the class if anyone knows what a pollywog is. Allow students to guess, but don’t give them the answer.

Read the poem as a class and discuss whether anyone was right about the definition of pollywog. Brainstorm where the word pollywog might’ve come from. Once students have been given enough time to consider the possibilities, write the word ‘taddepol’ on the board. Explain that this comes from Middle English, a form of English used hundreds of years ago. Ask students if they recognise the word. Once students have identified the word as ‘tadpole’, explain that it is a compound word of two root words, and separate the two parts:

tadde = toad

pol = head

Ask students again where pollywog might’ve come from, this time guiding them towards the similar origin of ‘pol.’ Write the word in Middle English, which is ‘polwygle’ then separate it into:

pol = ?

wygle = ?

Students should recognise that pol is head from tadpole. Allow them time to discuss and identify that wygle means wiggle. In this way, pollywog means ‘head wiggle’.

In pairs or groups of three, students guess the origins for the following animal names:

- cephalopod

- hippopotamus

- rhinoceros

- octopus

- platypus

When they’ve written their guesses, students use either Collins Dictionary, Etymonline, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary or another source to find the real origins and see if they were correct.


Cephalopod – head foot

Hippopotamus – river horse

Rhinoceros – nose-horned

Octopus – eight-footed

Platypus – broad-footed

Students now have the root for several words such as head, foot and broad. Explain that they are to invent their own animal. They can use different parts from different animals (for example the head and body of a gorilla with the legs of a kangaroo) or create a new animal entirely. They can draw their animal on blank paper, along with giving it a name that has an root from older languages such as Latin, Greek or Middle English. Write up the following terms for them to use as a mix and match, (or allow them to research words themselves, although warn them this is difficult):

uni – one

bi – two

tri – three

pod/pus – foot

cephalon/pol – head

platy – broad/flat

rhino – nose

keros – horn

tyrannos – tyrant

corpus – body

oculos – eyes

auris – ear

magnum – big

parvus – small

multus – many