Pedagogical File

Pedagogical File : The frog who wishes to be as big as the ox
The pedagogical file accompanies the ebook. It is intended for teachers, trainers, cultural workers and speech therapists. It aims to facilitate the design of workshops to discover the digital books of the Bibliodos project.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Jean de La Fontaine is a major author of French literature, of which he is considered one of the greatest poets. Many of his fables are extremely well known in the French-speaking world.

More widely, he is a prominent figure in European heritage. An advocate of the Ancients in the debate between the Ancients and the Moderns, La Fontaine draws his inspiration from a variety of sources, including Greek and Latin poets. The incredible renewal he brought to the Fable genre, which became a literary genre in itself, his lucid interest in human nature and the freedom of his tone ensured him an undeniable posterity.

His successors are to be found in France, but also in Europe.  

La Fontaine’s Fables, short and relatively simple in their writing as the genre requires, but poetic, critical and ironic, are particularly interesting texts to be discovered by an adult audience entering the world of reading.

« The frog who wishes to be as big as the ox » is a very good example of this. The theme it addresses is universal and transcends temporal and territorial boundaries. Its adaptation will speak to readers from all walks of life.

The author: Jean de La Fontaine 

Jean de La Fontaine is a famous French poet (Château-Thierry 1621-Paris 1695). His family belonged to the good provincial bourgeoisie.

It was relatively late in life that he decided to devote himself to writing. He first followed his father’s footsteps and became Maître of Waters and Forests at Château-Thierry.

His first text “L’Eunuque” (1654) went completely unnoticed.

Without a penny, he entered, like many writers, into the protection of greats persons (Fouquet, Madame de La Sablière…).

Because of his loyalty to Fouquet, who was to be arrested by the King, La Fontaine was deprived of honour. His work developed on the fringes of the official organisation of the literary world.

In 1664-1665, his tales made him well-known, but it was only in 1668 that he achieved fame with the first collection of his Fables.

During his successful years, La Fontaine alternated between very secular subjects in his libertine tales and sacred subjects in his accounts of the lives of the saints. 

From 1673 to 1693, he became the host, both secretary and personal friend, of Madame de La Sablière. In her salon, new ideas were exchanged which heralded the Age of Enlightenment. These twenty years were a period of great intellectual enrichment for La Fontaine.

In 1674, his collection, « New Tales », was banned by the censors. However, the publication of the second collection of Fables (1678-1679) was another success.

In 1684, La Fontaine was finally elected to the French Academy. 

In 1693, he published the Book XII of Fables. 

At the end of his life, ill, La Fontaine gave up his epicurean life and his anticlerical writings.

The literary work: The frog who wishes to be as big as the ox

The literary genre

The fable, in verse or prose, is a short story intended to give a life lesson in a pleasant way. It is usually a fictional tale of naive and allegorical composition, featuring talking animals, human beings or other animal-like but personified entities.  

Its origin is to be found first of all in the oral tradition. It is generally considered that it became a literary genre with the Greek poet Aesop (620 – 524 BC). La Fontaine renewed the genre with his style and freedom of inspiration.

The European dimension of this literary work (inspiration, literary trend, posterity)

The sources of inspiration for his Fables are multiple: ancient texts of moral value, tales and fables of the Indian tradition, French texts of the Renaissance.  

La Fontaine imitates this very old and traditional genre in a very personal way: as an ironic and lucid moralist, as a storyteller who transcends the classical apologue by his charm and originality. 

The innovation and the great originality brought to the genre have left their mark in France and abroad. The “Fables” are illustrated, transposed and adapted into music. 

“The frog who wishes to be as big as the ox” is inspired by Aesop, Horace and Phaedra. It takes up the same theme with the same protagonists and follows the classic pattern of the fable. In addition, La Fontaine relates an anecdote made of an initial situation, adventures and a conclusion. La Fontaine innovates and modernises it by introducing versification, direct speech and developing morality. He criticizes vanity and human pride while adding a parallel with the society in which he lives. The fable is in fact brought to life by the present tense of the narrative, and punctuated by the exchange between the two frogs and the alternation between octosyllables, short verses, and alexandrines, long verses. The fable educates through its morality, while entertaining with a pleasant story that ends in a comical and unexpected way with the bursting of the Frog.

The main questions/problems of the time addressed in this fable  

In a context of increased royal censorship, La Fontaine expresses in his Fables both the appeal of an idealised pastoral society and criticism of society. In particular, he paints court life, and deals with the rise of the powers of the state and money. There is also a discreet but firm opposition to the politics of conquest and military glory.  

The Fables also address the theme of human nature and describes an art of living. Man in his animal disguise is endowed with a nature against which he cannot do anything. Wisdom consists in coming to terms with it. 

“The frog who wishes to be as big as the ox”, the fable presented in this ebook, is part of the first collection of Fables. It is an apologue against human vanity, a satire of the bourgeois and nobles who always want more than they already have, but this morality can be generalised to everyone: “The world is full of people who are not wiser” wrote La Fontaine.

The ebook : The frog who wishes to be as big as the ox

The gallery of characters

  • The Frog
  • A second frog, witness of his transformation, which he calls his « sister ».
  • The ox that sees nothing of what is going on 

Places

The fable takes place in a unique place that is neither named nor described. It is undoubtedly in nature, in a place where frogs and oxen live side by side.

Iconography in the ebook

The fable in general with its simple actions and very typical characters lends itself well to illustration. As soon as printing appeared, fable collections were accompanied by illustrations.  

Since their publication, La Fontaine’s Fables have been widely illustrated: François Chauveau, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Charles Monnet, Tony Johannot, Jean-Jacques Grandville, Gustave Doré, Benjamin Rabier, Marc Chagall, Marguerite Calvet-Rogniat. 

In this ebook, we find the illustration that Grandville and Gustave Doré made of it.  

We also find other works by Grandville illustrating the collection of articles, short stories and satirical tales from “Scenes from the private and public life of animals ” published as an illustrated book from 1841 to 1842. These texts and their illustrations have in common with the “fables” the personification of animals and criticism of society. 

The other iconographic works are of various origins:

  • The frogs are taken from a painting by Jemina Blackburn, dating from 1838, and from a study of frogs by Jacob of Gheyn (1565-1625).
  • The paintings depicting oxen are by Jacques Raymond Brascassat (1804-1867).

The reading workshop

PHASE 1: ENTERING THE EBOOK: UNIVERSE, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES

Activity: The Great Animal Show

Entry activity in the ebook

Materials
  • Pictures of animals
  • Photos / images of natural landscapes and weather elements
  • The image of a positive character symbol (+) and the image of a negative character symbol (-)
  • Flashcards with character traits (for the variant activities)
  • Scotch tape, removable paste or thumbtacks
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

  • Select nature recordings that include animal sounds and calls. Choose excerpts from which it is possible to form hypotheses about the animals and the sounds of nature heard.
    Example: Bernie Krauze’s recordings: Great Animal Orchestra, Amazone Nights… 
  • Familiarise yourself with fables, legends and tales of each participant’s country of origin. Also, research which animals are traditionally personified in them and their commonly attributed character traits.  
  • Prepare word flashcards of the character traits (qualities and flaws) most often associated with these animals. Do not prepare too many, adjust according to the level of the group and the number of nationalities 
  • Select photos of animals: the frog and the ox, animals heard in the recordings, animals present in the host country, animals known to the participants, and animals personified in fables, tales, myths and legends of their origin countries. Prepare as many sets as there are subgroups. 
  • Prepare photos / images of natural landscapes (mountain, sea, river, forest, pond, field …) and meteorological elements (wind, rain, sun, storm …). Prepare as many sets as there are subgroups.  
  • Choose symbols to represent either a positive attribute or a negative attribute (for example, a large “+” and a large “-“  or a thumbs up and a thumbs down…). Prepare as many sets as there are subgroups.

In the workshop:

  • Divide the group into sub-groups. Then invite the participants to close their eyes to get into a listening mode. Tell them that next they will discuss what they are about to hear. Play the recordings of nature. During this time, distribute the sets of pictures of animals, natural landscapes and weather landscapes.
  • Ask participants to discuss in their sub-groups what they have heard. Depending on their oral communication level, they can point to a picture or (and) speak.
  • Invite each group to share their ideas. This is an opportunity to check that the vocabulary is used correctly, and participants are trying to express themselves in sentences (can be very simple or complex sentences depending on the oral communication levels).
  • Then explain that everyone will now focus on the animals. Ask if in their country(ies) of origin and in their traditional stories (fables, tales, legends), whether these animals have a positive or negative image. To facilitate their understanding, you can give examples from the host country, mimic the trait and show an image of a positive or negative symbol.
  • Encourage persons with limited communication skills to use simple sentences, and participants who are more advanced in speaking to explain and justify their comments with anecdotes or character traits.
  • Invite the sub-groups to compare the different animal representations according to the country. Discuss how the frog and the ox are viewed, without revealing that they are the two main characters of the fables. According to their linguistic abilities, each participant will develop some explanation as they can (or wish to). They will be assisted as necessary by the teacher / facilitator.
  • Ask which stories of their country(ies) include these animals.
  • Put the animal classifications on the dedicated wall (area) of the room for the discovery of this ebook.
Variant

For an advanced speaking group (from level A2), go further by asking participants to associate qualities and / or defects to the animals (using adjectives). If the group includes beginner readers, have them search for character traits among the word flashcards. Then ask them to present their group discussion by using: “In my country, we say: “adjective… as a … “animal”. For example: “In France, we say: “sly as a fox”.

PHASE 2: DIVING INTO THE EBOOK

Activity 1: Let’s Play!

Preparation activity for global understanding

Materials
  • “Animal cards”
  • White paper
  • Pencils and pens
  • An hourglass or a stopwatch, or the telephone’s stopwatch function
  • Removable tape or paste
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

  • Create simple riddles in question form (for example, what is yellow with a long neck?) adapted to the level of the group and using elements given during the previous activity.
  • Prepare the cards for the game: On the same side put a photo of the animal and its name written in a suitable font and size. Add other animals (to be chosen according to the participants) to the animals from the previous activity.

In the workshop:

This first activity is offered before reading.

  • Propose, orally, riddles about animals named in the previous activity and therefore relatively well identified. The level of difficulty depends on the speaking level of the participants. So, for persons with limited communication skills, come up with very simple riddles that include physical elements and things said in the previous activity. You should include the frog and the ox.
  • Suggest to participants who want to try to make their own riddles. Before restarting the riddles game, recall the sentence structures that can be used.
  • Suggest a second game based on mime. Create teams and ask each of them to come up with their name, cry or gesture. Present the animal cards to be drawn from. Explain the rules: using mime, have people guess as many animals as possible in a limited time. Set the time (from 45s to 1,30mn to guess as many animals as possible) and explain the points allocation, which will depend on the group level.
  • Suggest a last game based on drawing. Explain the rules: Using a drawing, have people guess as many animals as possible in a limited time. Use the same playing cards.
  • At the end of these two games, count the points and name the victorious team.
  • Suggest displaying the drawings on the wall / space of the room reserved for this ebook.

Remark: Take pictures of the game and of the participants’ performances. These can feed into the ebook dedicated wall (area).

Activity 2: In the beginning, there was…

Global understanding activity

Materials
  • A3 paper
  • Markers, different colors pens
  • The frog printed image (slide 6)
  • The beef printed image (slide 9)
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:

This second activity is carried out after a first partial individual reading. For the 1st reading level, it means a “reading” of images and any key elements.

Explain that the goal is not to read or understand everything on the 1st reading but to discover the beginning of the ebook while researching the story’s basic elements. 

  • Ask participants to read up to slide 13. If possible, present a slide show up to slide 13. Give them the following elements to find: Where is it? Who are the characters? How are they? What is going on?
  • Ask participants to read the beginning of the story and to think about it, before sharing the results of their investigation with others within their sub-group.
    Remark: Keep in mind that groups having a reading levels 1 and 2 do not know all the vocabulary. They have to make more assumptions than groups with a level 3 reading who, on the contrary, may need more word explanations. However, be careful not to give all the explanations, in order to allow them time to understand.
  • After they have shared their ideas, start a new reading session (along with one or two listening sessions for reading levels 1 and 2) to find all the words used to talk about the ox and the frog.

When sharing their analysis, have them focus on the comparison between the two animals and ask what the frog wants (to be as big as an ox).  

Lead the participants towards an understanding of the more difficult elements: “Jealous”, “Envious” and “Silly”.  

Invite them to look for synonyms. To facilitate the understanding of the coming slide 28 (“Stupidity! Madness, yes!”) make them discover the association ” stupid-silly” .  

During the exchange, write down in the form of a diagram the elements of description corresponding to each protagonist, then illustrate what the frog wants (for example, use an arrow going from the frog to the ox).

Activity 3: Adventures

Fine tuning activity

Materials
  • A3 paper
  • Markers, different colors pens
  • The animals + / – classifications from phase 1 activites
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:

  • Before continuing with the reading, invite each group of participants to imagine what happens next. Specify that they can use their own drawings.
  • Invite participants to share ideas and drawings. Encourage them to give their opinions. Show them standard formulas and vocabulary such as: “it is impossible”, “it is funny”, “it is sad”, “it is weird”, “it is beautiful” …
  • Start the reading session: ask the participants to read the rest up to slide n°26. For reading levels 1 and 2, the session is initially offered without audio.
    Remark: During the reading, note the participants’ reactions for further use.
  • Encourage open discourse to get their point of views. If the participants find it difficult to exchange views, ask them to describe what happened.
  • Start a second reading session to check what are the steps leading to the frog exploding and to whom the frog is talking (for reading levels 1 and 2, add one or two audios to the reading).
  • At the end of the group sharing session, take another look at the place and the characters: The frog is not necessarily next to the ox. He is among his fellows. He sees a little further an ox. He is committed to become as imposing as him, and he begins to swell. He calls another frog as a witness.
  • To enliven the reading, ask that the participants read, or repeat for non-readers or beginners, the dialogue between the two frogs. Give indications about the tone and manner and encourage the group to apply it. Guide the participants to act out the roles. Ask them to act the scene between the two frogs. As a group, think about how to enact the frog’s character as he is gradually inflating until he bursts.
  • Finally, return to the story up unto this event. For all three reading levels, have them read and listen to the story from the beginning. Discuss the new adjectives describing the frog: “confident,” and “pretentious”. Point out that nothing is said about the beef.
  • Ask participants for their opinion of the two animals. If they say the frog is crazy, take a note in order to make it easier to understand the upcoming slide 28 (“Stupidity! Madness, yes!”).
  • Show the class the area where the animal classifications were placed in phase 1. Compare and contrast what was said then about the frog and the ox.
  • Ask the participants what they think of this story and how they understand it.
    Remark: Do not go further or give them an explanation. The moral of the story remains to be discovered. Simply facilitate the discussion.

Activity 4: Word of the Sage

Fine tuning activity

Materials

/

Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:

  • Project the illustration of the fable by Grandville (slide 26). Allow participants to react and discuss openly, then ask if the frog reminds them of people and who. Then ask them why.
    Remark: Accept all the answers as the pretentious frog can make you think of many people and situations, which is precisely the modernity of the fable. The participants will perhaps evoke specific people but also status, professions, honorary positions… and will give different reasons.
  • Ask them about the animals they would choose to represent these people, create a caricature of them.
  • Finish reading to the end of the ebook to look for other “frogs” and other envious characters like him. This reading is initially planned without audio for reading levels 1 and 2.
  • Proceed with the group sharing session.
  • Suggest a rereading of this part of the ebook (accompanied by one or two listening sessions for reading levels 1 and 2) to find who these other “frog” characters are and describe them (physical aspects, dress, attitude, activity).
  • Start a large group sharing session. Guide the group towards the formulation of what these characters are looking for. Then, guide them toward the link between “big” and “important” and what these qualifiers imply (power, money, goods, “health”, the feeling of class superiority…).
  • Finally, to help them understand “vanity”, “stupidity” and “madness”, ask the participants if, according to the fable, this is reasonable. Ask them also what they think about it.
  • If this last part of the activity is relatively well understood, go a little further by asking the participants how severe the criticism appears to them.  

The main point here is to distinguish the differences between the posture of the moralizer who says how to act while judging, and that of the moralist who simply brings a moral light to a situation. La Fontaine is not a moralizer, but he brings to light certain features of human nature.

To go further with linguistic

Discuss with the participants the description and role of the qualifying adjective. Depending on the participants’ languages ​​and levels, it will be interesting to study its place in the sentence, the number and gender agreement or other key aspects.  

The tense of the fable (present indicative) is another interesting aspect to work on from the point of view of its formation and its values. Here, it serves to make the anecdote come alive, and therefore more pleasant, but it also brings a value of general truth to the moral.

PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE

Activity: We The Artists!

Activity to enhance the reading experience

Materials
  • The illustrations of La Fontaine’s fable as adapted in the ebook  
  • Illustrations from other La Fontaine fables  
  • A3 paper  
  • Markers, different colors pens
  • Scissors  
  • Glue  
  • Scotch tape, removable paste or thumbtacks  
  • Smartphone with a voice recorder function (for the variant activity)
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

  • Select and print various illustrations from the Jean de La Fontaine’s fable. Prepare as many sets as there are subgroups (see section: Iconography in the ebook).
  • Select and print / prepare illustrations of other fables by La Fontaine from the same illustrators.

In the workshop:

  • Discover a set of illustrations from the fable “The Frog who whishes to be as big as the ox”, created over the centuries
  • Suggest to the sub-groups to observe and compare them. Some of them could be combined (for example, humorous illustrations). Point out the peculiarity of Grandville’s illustration which contextualizes the fable.
  • Offer illustrations of other La Fontaine fables to recognize the styles and illustrators.
  • Ask them what each illustration brings and what it allows. To help them, recall the representation of social importance.
  • Finally, suggest to them to create their own fable illustration. Tell them that the illustration can be literal or not. They should feel free to contextualize it, giving it a social, political turn … with respect for everyone. If some participants find it more interesting, encourage the cultural adaptation of the fable by choosing other animals, places, and social importance representations.  

These illustrations may be placed as an exhibition in the place offering the workshop.

Variant

This last activity can also be an opportunity to reconnect with the oral tradition of the fable. It offers time to listen to, comprehend and memorize the fable.  

The challenge for the participants is to memorize and recite the fable using various intonations, telling a vivid and uplifting anecdote and offering a lesson about human nature. Once ready, they are recorded.  

These recordings can be shared to accompany a project about the fable or about La Fontaine, or serve as a learning medium for other groups…  

The same activity can be offered in the participants’ native language, which will bring special challenges : The fable translation created by more than one speaker of the same language, recitation rehearsal of the translated text, memorization and recording.