Building on "Brown Bear, Brown Bear"

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? cover

Brown Bear, Brown Bear

written by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? cover

Polar Bear, Polar Bear

written by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? cover

Baby Bear, Baby Bear

written by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? cover

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

written by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

This is part one of a two-part series about predictable pattern books as writing prompts and imaginative tools for developing skills in comprehension and reading fluency, problem solving, and critical thinking.  Goto part two.

“Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?
I see a red bird looking at me.”

This opening of the classic children's book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. immediately draws the reader into the story: What did brown bear see? Can you see? Can you guess? The natural rhythm and easy to recognize pattern guides young readers to ask questions, think about the story, and anticipate the next lines. That’s the essence of a predictable book and is what makes them such fun for young readers

When we make predictions, we form ideas about the future based on our life experiences and what we already know or believe. Predictable books feature patterns, sequences, and connections in the illustrations or text that enable readers to assume or imagine "what comes next" in the story. They come in many different forms including chain stories and cumulative tales. Because the texts follow such a strong framework, you can usually find several variations (the story told with different pictures) or adaptations (the story transformed with different characters or setting) of the text.

Why use predictable books?

Predictable trade books are an excellent catalyst for learning activities!

  • They motivate readers. Enjoyment is a positive component of successful learning experiences. Building a lesson form a popular trade book provides a welcome break from cut and dried instruction, controlled vocabulary, and contrived situations.
  • They build critical thinking skills. Taking an appropriate predictable book apart and looking at the internal structure of the text can aid in developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • They build connections to the real world. The anticipation of events or predictions involved in reading predictable books – particularly pattern books – encourages connections between the book and the reader and his real world.
  • They aid comprehension. Using the illustrations for context clues and background information can aid in comprehension and enrich the experience.
  • They develop fluency. Familiarity with the predictability of the text and repeating refrains can help readers develop fluency and skill in reading with expression.

What can I do with a predictable book?

A well-chosen predictable book can support an effective learning activity that will meet expectations, standards, and goals for developing skills in several curriculum areas at one time.

Using predictable books as writing prompts is a great cross-curricular activity that works in almost any learning environment. It’s a great exercise even for experienced authors. Bill Martin Jr. created several additional versions using the Brown Bear pattern including Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? It is probably the best-known pattern book to be used as a student writing prompt.

What kind of learning experiences can I create with Brown Bear?

I have had many successful learning projects using the structure of Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Before Halloween, my kindergarten students and I developed a class book called “Brown Bat, Brown Bat”, having various Halloween characters doing the looking.

When we were doing a rain forest theme we used “Tree Frog, Tree Frog” to create a class book to spotlight various rainforest residents. This activity incorporated science with the language arts by focusing on the attributes of the rainforest and the plants and animals that call it home. It also featured a fine arts component, since students drew pictures to go with the verses we wrote.

Where do I start?

Before you begin a project using a predictable picture book there are some issues you need to think through:

  • What is your educational purpose; what standards and objectives will this project satisfy?
  • How will this project meet the interests and needs of the individual or group with whom you will be working?
  • What preparations need to be made in order to facilitate the project?
  • What would be an appropriate picture book in terms of content as well as text structure.
  • What will be the product or culminating event; how will the success of the project or the amount of learning be evaluated?

I would strongly suggest that you work through the entire project on your own first in order to develop potential vocabulary lists and examine possible areas of difficulty. Try it with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?.  Seriously. Write your own version of the story, create the pages, and build your own book. In any published product remember to give credit to the original author of the book you used in that activity.

You will likely discover…

  • Reading several variations or adaptations of the story helps get the creative juices flowing.
  • When adapting the story to a specific environment or theme, it helps to develop lists of appropriate vocabulary before you start to write.
  • Adjectives are like friends: the more you invite to the party, the more fun you can have.
  • There is more than one direction the project may head. You need to be prepared for whichever approach is chosen by the individual or group you will be helping.

What next?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a storytime favorite can be an excellent writing prompt, but is certainly not the only good predictable pattern book that could be used in this way. Part two of this article looks at other predictable books that make great learning opportunities and step-by-step instructions for creating meaningful lessons with them.