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Examine Your Attitudes

One of the best ways to help students dispel misconceptions about herps is to have them examine their own feelings about the animals. In this part of the lesson, your group can do just that by completing a survey. Afterward, they can help educate others about herps by creating posters and displays.


  • Discuss some of the misconceptions people have about herps.
  • Describe ways to improve the image of herps.



  • Social studies, science, math


1. Before the activity, make copies of the survey Examine Your Attitudes (Examina Tus Actitudes). Make at least two copies per student – the students will be having parents or friends complete the survey after they've completed it themselves.
2. Start the activity by defining the word "herp" and leading a discussion about the different kinds of herps. (See the background information under Who's a Herp?)
3. Have the students complete the survey, then collect them.
4. Assign the students into small groups. Give the surveys to each group, in turn. Have the groups tally the responses to each question.
5. Discuss the students' answers, using the information under Survey Discussion Points below.
6. Have the groups use the numbers they tallied earlier to create bar graphs of responses for questions 1-4. For questions 5-7, they can calculate percentages.
7. Pass out the extra copies of the survey and have each person ask a parent, neighbor, or friend to complete it.
8. The next day, have the students again work in groups to create bar graphs and calculate percentages based on the new survey responses.
9. Tell the students that they'll be participating in an "education campaign" to help improve the image of herps. To do this, each group should examine their calculations and graphs to decide on what area or areas to focus. Then they can create posters, buttons, and other materials to help dispel myths and negative opinions about herps.
10. Get permission to display the students' creations in a nature center, library, or other public facility.

Survey Discussion Points

1. Snakes are mean.
It's important for students to understand that snakes, like other animals, exhibit a wide range of behavior. Some species of snakes are quite docile, whereas others are more aggressive. Behavior that students may label as "mean," such as eating other animals or biting people, is merely a snake's way of surviving.
2. Most herps are ugly and gross.
It is true that some people think herps are ugly. But, as with other animals, the way a herp looks has been honed by evolution into a "design" that helps the animal survive. For example, a snake's lean, streamlined body can slip into tunnels where mice and other prey animals live.
3. Endangered species that are cute or intelligent, such as pandas and whales, should be saved before endangered snakes, frogs, turtles, and other herps.
People very often favor cute, cuddly, or intelligent animals, but it's important to realize that all species have a role to play in their natural habitats. For example, snakes eat rodents – animals that can sometimes do a lot of damage to crops and spread disease.
4. It's O.K. to use the skins of alligators, snakes, and other herps to make shoes, handbags, belts, and other products.
This is a matter of personal opinion, but it's worth pointing out that, in some cases, harvesting lizards, snakes, and other herps for leather products can cause their populations to plummet. For example, American alligators once bordered on extinction because of overharvesting, but when hunting was halted the animals made a comeback. They are being harvested once again, but the collection is now carefully regulated.
5. Touching a toad can give you warts.
6. Most snakes are poisonous.
False. Fewer than 10 percent of snakes have venom that can hurt humans.
7. Reptiles are slimy.
False. Reptiles have smooth, dry skin.

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies