What Are Fossils?

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SWBAT ask and answer questions to understand fossils using informational text.

Big Idea

Fossils Rock! Today students will read closely, take notes, discuss, share, and have fun exploring fossils in different ways.


10 minutes


This week, we are studying the Earth. The last two days were spent studying rocks and their properties. Today, the students will investigate different sources to develop a conceptual understanding of what fossils are. Second graders in our district are expected to know that fossils provide evidence about plant and animal life long ago. This study fits in perfectly with the informational standards of the Common Core. Students are expected to read and comprehend informational text, this lesson gives them this type of practice. The core of the lesson will be about the students asking and answering questions that shows their understanding of key details of the of fossils. One central question they are examining today is: What are fossils? I am looking for students to read closely, take notes, discuss, share, and have fun exploring fossils in different way.

Opening Activity

I will share the friendly stated objective written on a sentence strip about our topic today: I can ask and answer key details about fossils. I will also write the question: What are fossils? on the easel and white board to remind that we are concentrating on gathering information about fossils and asking and answering questions about fossils.

Brainstorm: What Are Fossils?

10 minutes

Before brainstorming what fossils are, I will have my students experience an inquiry activity at their tables. They will work with their table partner. They will observe a fossil. I will walk them through a quick guided observation with three questions:

1. What am I observing?/What are you observing?

2. What do I notice?

3. What do I notice inside the rocks?

These questions are written in the first person because I will be modeling how we ask ourselves questions when we look at something closely. They will be asking these questions of themselves and their partners. 

Then, I will brainstorm with them asking them the following question: what do you know about fossils?

I will ask them to pair share and then have a few share out loud. I will write their answers on a circle map.

Questions About Fossils

10 minutes

Then, I will bring them back to the rug and now we will brainstorm questions they have about fossils. I will let them know that I will be transcribing their questions on a chart paper. On top of the chart paper, I have written: What are fossils? The reason I am doing is so that they do not ask the question again. I will let them know that I am only writing down 10 questions now. We can add more later.

Afterwards, I will draw their attention back to the questions. I will give them an opportunity to evaluate the questions. I am asking them to reread the questions and to notice whether we can combine any of the questions. I am asking to be observant about whether the same questions has been asked more than once. If there are questions that ask about the same thing, then, I will show them how we can combine the sentences.

Finally, I will ask them to turn to their science journals, which they brought with them, and choose two questions they like from the list. They will write down the questions. The reason is that later on they will be researching one of the questions from this list.

Taking the Questionnaire

5 minutes

After brainstorming about fossils and generating questions, I will have my students go back to their tables.  I have prepared a questionnaire, that asks questions about the job of a paleontologist. (They don't know that the questions they are being asked are about paleontologists - I am doing this to build excitement about the lesson and the next task). After each question, they are either circling yes or no. Here are some examples of their finished questionnaires:

Once they are done, I will let them know that if they answered yes more than they answered no, then they would probably like studying fossils. While most of the students were clear about liking the work of a paleontologist others were not sure being a paleontologist was in their near future. Some were undecided. They have plenty of time to figure it out.

Video: A Day in the Life of Paleontologist Thomas Carr

15 minutes

Now we will view a video on the type of scientist that studies fossils.  

In watching the video, I will ask them to pay attention to key details about being a paleontologist. Each student has a sheet for note taking: A Day in the of Paleontologist Thomas Carr. Before watching the video, I will review how we have been taking notes. I will share the (Chart For Note-Taking) that details how they should be taking notes. I will guide them through the process. Also, I will remind that in being a note-taker, we need to listen, ask questions, collaborate, write, and talk with each other. Today, we are experiencing these different roles.

The video we are watching is titled: A Day in the Life of Paleontologist Thomas Carr. It runs for 6:51. I will let it run for the first 2 minutes without any note taking. Before letting them watch for these 2 minutes, I will ask them to think about who the video is about and where it it takes place before pausing. I will have them pair share with each other before I ask them to write words or phrases on their paper. Here are some examples of what they wrote:

As they write, I will walk around to help them stay on task.

Here is the link to the video, and below I have embedded it for you: 

Back-on-the-Rug: Pair Share

7 minutes

I will gather the students back on the rug ask them to pair share with each other about what they learned from the video about fossils and paleontologists. I will ask for volunteers to share with the class. I will check in to see how many of them want to be paleontologists.

Also, I will be using this time as a transitional time to explain their next task. I will give them instruction about how they are going to do research different types of fossils. For the purpose of this research time, I will be choosing for them what each of them will be researching. I will let them know that I want to make sure that all the types of fossils are researched. They will have a choice in picking their own research questions later on. 

I will provide students with a template for them to record their research. This template will include a space for an illustrations as well as their notes. They will display their research on the bulletin board.

Researching Fossils

25 minutes

Students will now spend time researching fossils using informational text. I will be handing out informational sheets to the students. I have pre-planned who is reading what page given their reading ability. As they read their sheet they will be looking for specific information so that they are able to take notes on their template (Researching Fossils2). They will need to include an illustration as well.

Here are some examples of their work:

For those who are done early, they can spending time reading other books on fossils.  

The informational sheets I copied for this section come from these three books: Fossils by Chris and Helen Pellant, Geology Rosks! Fossils by Rebecca Faulkner, and Rosks and Fossils by Chris Pellant. I borrowed these titles from the local libraries. No need to buy!

Pair-Sharing Their Notes

12 minutes

Communication is a very important part of the learning process. It is vital that students get an opportunity to share their work. Not all students feel comfortable sharing in the whole group so that is why I am pairing them up and give everyone an opportunity to be heard.


7 minutes

I will gather the students once again on the rug and will have a few their work. I will ask them if we met our objective of understanding what fossils are. 

Extension: Excavating Dinosaur Fossils

20 minutes

My students need hands on activities to help build their conceptual understanding of ideas. So after lunch, my students got the opportunity to excavate their own dinosaur fossils. Every child received a kit containing 1 of 6 different dinosaurs. The kit came with a wooden tool for digging. As you can see from the examples, they worked enthusiastically ExcavatingThierFossils and experienced the patience a paleontologist needs to keep a fossil intact.

LookWhatIUncovered! One student makes sure I pay attention to the hard work it takes to excavate while another exclaims, Wow!CanYouBelieveThis Their enthusiasm is worth the work in putting all this together. And, it made me extremely happy to see them working so diligently.