Welcome to a series of ten lessons on planet research! This set of lessons is part of a larger unit my district is implementing all about the topics of space and books with great word choice. My grade level completes a research report or project for each of our six thematic units. This happens to be the fifth research project my students are completing this year.
I loved completing these lessons because none of my students' reports came out the same - even those who researched the same planet! The design of this unit was inquiry-based, so students chose the direction of their report. Some were interested in the history of their planet - how it got its name, who discovered it, etc. Others wanted to know if there were features similar to Earth, or why their planet had so many moons.
I've included the Planet Research Packet in this section of my lesson on each day. I refer to page numbers as I walk you through each day of this series of lessons, however I left page numbers off, in case there were pages you didn't want to use. You may notice that my student samples vary slightly from the packet I've provided for you. I made changes to the packet as I noticed things that could be made better. I hope you and your astronomers find these resources helpful as you research planets! Thank you! (See Resource File: Planet Research Packet)
*Clipart in my lesson picture purchased from ScribbleGarden on Etsy
An enrolling activity refers to "hooking" your students. This research project is inquiry-based, meaning that the students are deciding what they'd like to learn about, and they're not given a set of criteria that they need to research. When students have choice and control over their learning, they are much more motivated to complete work, learn, and grow!
Enrolling Activity: I explain to the students that we'll be beginning our research project for this ELA unit. I tell them that this project is different than our last research unit because it is an inquiry-based project. I explain this further that they will get to choose their favorite planet and decide what they learn about it! The students are excited to begin. I pass out Planet Research Packets to the students. I ask the students to put their names on the front, next to "Astronomer Name". I find adding little details like this get the kids excited about their projects. I have students write the names of the planets on the orbits on the front cover. We open to the first page, and I explain an overview of the project and how they will be assessed. (See Resource File: Planet Research Packet - Cover and Page One; and Cover Sample)
Question Brainstorm: Our first activity is the "Question Brainstorm". I want to activate my students background knowledge and get them thinking about what they want to learn in this inquiry-based approach. I give students the example that they may be wondering what makes a planet a certain color. Others may be more excited to find out if life can exist on other planets, or know the mythology or history about a planet. I remind students that our Language Arts Standards require us to ask questions that begin with capitals and end with a question mark. They also have to express a complete thought. I model by writing a question on the front white board: What makes a planet a certain color? I ask my astronomers to reread through the directions on the "Question Brainstorm" page, and the question stem words. I let them know that they don't have to use every question stem word, but those are there to help them begin their questions. I remind them to write the sounds they hear if they don't know how to spell a particular word. I give them "all the time in the world" (that is a funny saying I use all the time when I put a time limit on something)...about ten minutes to complete their questions. (See Resource File: Planet Research Packet - Page Two)
I did grade the questions my students generated. Please see my student samples. This was one way to assess their abilities of writing complete sentences, capitalization, punctuation, and writing questions that stayed on the topic of general planet research. If you find that you'd like to assess your students differently than me, feel free to not copy the rubric, page two, into your packets. You can always include a grade at the top of the pages you want to assess. (See Resource File: Question Brainstorm Student Samples One, Two, and Three)
Now that my students have activated their background knowledge, and generated some questions I am going to give a short PowerPoint presentation to give them some additional schema about each of the planets.
PowerPoint Presentation: I tell students before we begin, that after the presentation, I'll be asking them to add any additional questions to their "Question Brainstorm" page, and then choose a planet to research. I narrate this short presentation reading through the slides, taking additional student comments or questions about each of the planets. It's my goal to "sell" each planet as a unique planet, hoping everyone does not pick Saturn! (See Resource File: Planet Research Intro PowerPoint File)
Optional Book-Around: If you need an additional way to promote the planets, try completing a "Book-Around". During a Book-Around, you'd pass out different informational texts about each of the planets, giving one to each student. Consider using trade books, magazines, encyclopedias, iPads with digital text, etc. Give the students a short amount of time to browse the text in front of them, then have them rotate them around the room. This would give them a chance to "check-out" information about all of the planets before making their decision. My class didn't complete a Book-Around with this research project, but you can visit my Biography Research Unit Preview Day! (Day 1 of 11) to see a video of my students completing a Book-Around.
Revisit Question Brainstorm: I give students an addition few minutes to add any new questions to their Question Brainstorm page. I remind them that these questions should be able to be answered about any planet.
Choose Planet: The moment has arrived! My astronomers are eager to chose the planet they'd like to research. Up until this point, I've asked my students to keep an "open mind" about considering all of the planets for their choice. This is why they brainstormed questions that could be answered about any planet.
We open our packets to page three, "Planet Choice Sheet". Reading through the page, I explain the text feature I've created for students at the top of the page, with the Sun and planets in order. The students choose their top three planet choices, numbering them one through three. I remind the students that they want to choose a planet that will help them build knowledge. I use the example that if they already know a lot about Saturn, then they'll want to choose a different planet.
Review: I review our day with students, telling them that I'm proud of them for beginning their inquiry-based planet research. We discussed and shared favorite questions from the Question Brainstorm sheet. I tell them how exciting it will be to have so many different reports - about the same planets - because it will be include information that they are curious about.
Tomorrow's Mission: I let students know that they will receive their planet name tomorrow, and we'll begin researching. I ask them to think about the differences and similarities of researching with digital text and print text, which will be the topic of our lesson for tomorrow. Giving students time to reflect on questions prior to lessons and activities will allow more time for reflection, and lead to more great ideas! I collect the students' packets to assess their Question Brainstorm page, as well as assign them a planet.
Here are some additional resources you may find helpful if you're working on a space-themed unit.
Do We Wish Upon a Shooting Star, or Falling Rock?: This document is an informational passage that includes multiple choice questions. My students need practice with these types of questions, including those with multiple answers, questions with Part A and Part B, and fill in the blank. I teach in Illinois, and our students will be taking the PARCC Assessment beginning next year. I hope these types of tasks will help prepare my students for these tests, as well as our end-of-unit assessments, and overall mastery of the standards. The focus of this assignment are standards RI3.1, RI3.4, and RI3.7. (See Resource File: Shooting Star, or Falling Rock MC Practice)