Nonfiction Text Features With "Dinosaur Detectives"

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SWBAT use labels in their own informational texts.

Big Idea

How do we know about dinosaurs when people didn't live during that time period?

Teacher Background Knowledge and Preparation

I love the fact that Common Core encourages teachers to balance literature with informational texts that bring in both science and social studies topics. This lesson is an example of a great science connection.  This lesson is geared towards my advanced reading group (see final paragraph below), using the leveled reader "Dinosaur Detectives" from Pearson Reading Street.  However, you can use any nonfiction book that discusses the different parts of dinosaurs, how dinosaurs defended themselves, or how scientists learn about dinosaurs from fossils.  There are so many books you can use with this lesson.

During the course of the lesson students will be answering my questions so that I can see how much of the text they are comprehending. This addresses standard RI.1.1. Students will use the labels in the text to gain a better understanding of the body parts of various dinosaurs.  Students will solidify that understanding by labeling their own dinosaur pictures in the book they will author.  These tasks address standard RI.1.5.  Finally, students will write their own informative text about dinosaurs and the different body parts they utilized as a means of protection.  This addresses standard W1.2.

I have really tried to have my students write a great deal this year, especially writing in response to texts we read.  This particular book has the nonfiction text feature of labels, and I knew I wanted my students to practice this skill as well.  I have made some dinosaur pictures with lines to write labels.  I have 5 different pictures which we will turn into 5 different pages of a book.  I took 5 different colors of  12x18 pieces of construction paper and glued the pictures to the top of each piece.  I then folded each piece of construction paper on its horizontal axis.  After that I glued each piece of construction paper on top of each other, creating a layered book.  For the bottom part of each book, students used writing paper to write about each dinosaur.  After the students were finished writing, they glued their writing to the bottom portion of each page.  If you would like to make these books as well you will need 5 different colors of 12x18 pieces of construction paper, enough writing paper for each of your students (Horizontal Writing Paper), and the pictures of the dinosaurs so students can label each dinosaur (Dinosaur Detectives).

A note about the lessons within this unit: I have an hour to teach 4 small groups each day.  Each group gets 15 minutes with me each day.  I am writing this lesson as a whole lesson, but I could never get it done with each reading group all in one day.  Realistically it took me 3 days to do this lesson with each group.  You can easily take this lesson and chunk it out to how it will fit your classroom based on what your district mandates and what time restraints you have in your classroom.

Reading and Discussion of the Story

15 minutes

We read the story on the first day of our reading group.  After every page I would stop the students and we would talk about each dinosaur in depth.  We would talk about how scientists have learned about dinosaurs by studying fossils.  We also talked about each part of the dinosaur and how these particular parts would help defend themselves from predators.  During the discussion of the story,  I tried to stretch my student's vocabulary by using words such as predator and prey.  We also put ourselves in the position of the predator to deepen comprehension.  I would ask questions such as, "How hard do you think stegosaurus's bony plates are? What would happen to me if I was a predator and I tried to eat stegosaur's bony plates?  What would happen to my mouth?"  All of the rich discussion about the story really helped my students to understand the story better. 

During this time, I also instructed my students on the nonfiction text feature of labels.  We talked about the labels on each page and how labels helped us to understand the parts of each dinosaur better.

Writing Our Own Book

30 minutes

We began to write our own books.  Before we started writing I had the students reread the page about that particular dinosaur. I wanted the key details to be fresh in their minds.  After rereading, we had an in depth discussion about the parts of the dinosaur and how they used that part to defend itself. It was because of this in depth discussion that my students built a knowledge base in which to write about.

After our discussion I said, "I want you to write about what you learned about how this dinosaur defends itself against predators.  Make sure to tell your audience what body parts it uses when it defends itself."  My students also labeled the parts of the dinosaur on the illustrations using the book as their guide.  These were the key details and page numbers we discussed in the story:

  • Pg 5. Stegosaurus - Discussion of Bony plates and spikes to defend itself.
  • Pg 6. Apatosaurus - Discussion of shear size of the animal and the size of its tail to defend itself.
  • Pg 7. Triceratops - Discussion of bony frill on its head and its brow and short horns to defend itself.  My students also used what we had learned in our whole group lesson how triceratops made a huge circle to defend its young against predators.
  • Pg. 8 Allosaurus - Discussion of how its large jaw, its teeth, and its sharp claws helped to defend itself
  • Pg 9 - Discussion of how fossils have helped scientists to learn about these animals.  Discussion of how dinosaur bones are like puzzle pieces that scientists put together to learn about the animal.

You can get an idea of how the writing went by looking at our video here Dinosaur Detectives.  Because we had those rich discussions before we did our writing, my students didn't feel the need to copy word for word from the book.  You can see in the video that I asked my students questions and they were able to answer me without referring back to the book.  This tells me that they've developed that knowledge base about each dinosaur's defense mechanisms. They were smart and referred back to the book to spell words correctly and to help them with their labels.  The writing also came out nicely because each student's writing was different.  We didn't use a template and they were able to write their knowledge in their own words.

Peer Editing

10 minutes

It wasn't until this year that I stepped out of my comfort zone and started having my students doing some peer editing (see reflection in previous section for more).  Once I started doing so, I realized I need to make tools to help guide students with the editing process.  You can see in this video, Peer Editing With Dinosaur Detectives, that students are doing a pretty good job reading each others work and suggesting some edits such as noticing missing words and working on conventions.  It was in later lessons that I devised this this checklist, Editing Checklist for Informative Writing, and modeled explicitly what I wanted from my students as they sat with a partner to revise work.

Now that I've had some success with peer editing I would suggest that, for the purposes of this lesson and since this is a small group, to model revising a student's work using the checklist, and then have students work together with a partner.  They need to see a specific model so they know what is expected of them. This isn't how I did this in this lesson because I wasn't at that point yet, but this will be how I teach the lesson the next time.


3 minutes

Last year I felt as though my closures were the weakest part of my lessons, so this year I've been trying to really make sure I have strong closures to my lessons.  I found this resource 40 ways to leave a lesson online that has really helped me.

I decided to try idea #4 from this resource.  It's called "You're stuck here until..."  It's meant to be a fun closure and not as a punishment in any way.  I said to my students "You're stuck here until you can tell me what you learned about one of the dinosaurs and what body part they used to protect themselves."  Students would tell me something they learned, and, if they had trouble remembering, I would say, "Go back and look at your evidence."  It was a great way to end our lesson and sum up our learning.