Hands-on Science and Literacy Lessons About Birds

While birds and other animals are popular topics with elementary students, it can sometimes be challenging to create truly hands-on lessons about them. With the help of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we’re pleased to provide a nine-lesson unit that ties observation and study of birds with physical science concepts. We also include lessons that deal with pollution’s effect on birds and migration.

Of course, a polar science issue about birds would not be complete without a section devoted to penguins! We’ve highlighted a unique real-time nest check of Cape Royds Adelie penguin families as well as interdisciplinary units that help students investigate the many penguin species throughout the Southern Hemisphere, penguin characteristics, life cycles, and response to environmental factors such as oil spills and climate change.

The science lessons in this article meet the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards. Some also meet the Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Physical Science Content Standard, and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard. You can read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.


BIRD LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES

Amazing Birds (Grades K-5)
This unit uses bird activities and Macaulay Library sounds and videos as a springboard for exploring physical science concepts such as sound, magnetism, flight, and simple machines. Nine lessons include: Observing Birds, Physical Adaptations of Birds, Sound Is Energy, Why Birds Sing, Bird Beaks, Flight and Feathers, Magnetic Migration, Culminating Activities, and Optional Extension Activities and Assessment. From the web page, you can download a teacher manual and student sheets, see sound and video examples from the Macaulay Library, and learn how to rent a kit with supporting materials.

This unit meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, and Life Science.

To integrate literacy into these lessons, try the following:

Investigating Animals: Using Nonfiction for Inquiry-Based Research (Grades K-2)
Through the use of nonfiction, students can be encouraged and challenged to learn more about favorite animals and to document their findings with graphic organizers. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 7, 12.

Multimedia Responses to Content Area Topics Using Fact – “Faction” – Fiction (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students work cooperatively using a strategy called Fact-“Faction”-Fiction to identify what they know, gather information, and create their own multimedia diaries using PowerPoint. While the lesson centers around spiders, it could be easily adapted for birds. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12.


Bird Baths: Cleaning Up Wildlife After Oil Spills
(Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students will explore the causes and effects of events such as oil spills and contaminations. They will then experience firsthand the feel of oil spills, determine an environmental problem that affects their community, and develop an “action plan” to minimize the risk to one form of wildlife. Finally, they will examine ways in which public and private organizations partner to keep the environment, and its wildlife, healthy. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry, Life Science, Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Reading and Writing about Pollution to Understand Cause and Effect (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, third-grade students access prior knowledge about water pollution before exploring the topic further using read-alouds. They then complete a sequencing graphic organizer using a story of a fish and its journey from the mountains to a polluted waterway. Finally, students’ understanding of cause and effect is reinforced using a hands-on experiment, art project, and graphic organizer. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 5, 7, 8.


MIGRATION

Arctic Terns From North to South (Grades K-2)
The arctic tern is an amazing migratory bird, traveling over 22,000 miles in a year from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again. Students will map this bird’s migration route and consider why it wants to migrate so far. They will conclude by writing paragraphs describing the arctic tern’s migration route and explaining how they think it knows when it’s time to migrate. This lesson meets the following content standard of the National Science Education Standards: Life Science.

Arctic Tern Migration Simulation (Grades 3-5)
Students create a model arctic tern using patterns and heavy card stock. They simulate fishing, nesting, and migration using their models. This lesson meets the following content standard of the National Science Education Standards: Life Science.

To integrate literacy skills into these lessons, try the following:

Completing the Circle: The Craft of Circular Plot Structure (Grades K-2)
After exploring the organizing structure and writer’s craft of picture books, students identify, explore and apply the elements of circle plot structures to their own stories. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 12.

Unwinding A Circular Plot: Prediction Strategies in Reading and Writing (Grades 3-5)
Students explore circular plot structure with a graphic organizer and write their own stories. Why not one about an arctic tern’s migration? This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 8, 11, 12.


PENGUIN LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES

Cape Royds Nest Check (Grades K-5)
Your students follow six Adelie penguin families via data and pictures, updated daily. Students can create field books and record observations, weather conditions, and nest status. The data can also be used for the Nesting Time and Population Counts activities. The education page of the Penguin Science web site also includes several other activities and information about Antarctica. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry and Life Science.

To integrate literacy into this activity, try the following:

Writing in Science Field Journals (Grades K-2; modify for 3-5)
Students create field journals to record data, drawings, and reflections. While the lesson describes a gardening project, teachers can easily modify the lesson to focus on penguins in conjunction with the Cape Royds Nest Check. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12.

Webcams in the Classroom: Animal Inquiry and Observation (Grades 3-5; modify for K-2)
While the Cape Royds Nest Check is not a webcam, teachers can use this lesson to help students make observations from the data and photos. Teachers can also use this penguin webcam. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 7, 8, 12.

Penguins (Grades K-3)

Penguins (Grades 4-8)
These two teacher’s guides from the SeaWorld Education Department include interdisciplinary units about penguins. These units meet the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education

What’s Happening to the Emperor Penguins? (Grades 3-5)
Students will learn about emperor penguins’ habitat and behaviors and will illustrate a map to show what they have learned. They will view pictures of icebergs that are affecting penguin colonies and consider what impacts these icebergs might have on the penguins. They will conclude by writing paragraphs describing the maps that they have illustrated. This lesson meets the following content standards of the National Science Education Standards: Life Science and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.

To integrate literacy into these lessons and units, try the following:

Animal Study: From Fiction to Facts (Grades K-2)
This lesson describes how to use selected fiction and nonfiction literature and careful questioning techniques to help students identify factual information about animals. Children first identify possible factual information from works of fiction that are read aloud; then they listen to read-alouds of nonfiction texts to identify and confirm factual information, which is recorded on charts and graphic organizers. They also use the Internet to gather additional information about the animal. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8.

Blending Fiction and Nonfiction to Improve Comprehension and Writing Skills (Grades 3-5) This lesson supports the use of a text set (paired fiction and nonfiction texts on a similar topic) to increase student interest in and understanding of content area material and to develop critical writing skills. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright February 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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