Survival of the Fittest: Exploring Basic Needs

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Students will identify and match key elements that different living things need to survive.

Big Idea

Why is it important for animals to have the right place to live?


10 minutes

This activity acts both as a warm up and pre-assessment.  I ring my chime and gather the students to the carpets squares.  I announce our lesson with a question “What does it mean to survive?” and wait for answers.  “To live” was the most common.  “One of the most important that a living thing needs to survive is the right habitat (place to live).  How many of you think about the place you need to survive?”  I created a blow up (poster size) of a worksheet that shows things in our class (plant, fish, human) matched to their appropriate environments.  This acts as an engaging visual for the students that can easily be seen as they sit on the floor.  If poster size is not available, I’d suggest you take a piece of the template (divided into thirds) and enlarge each section to ledger size.  It’s a bit of work though worth the effort.

As the students seat themselves, I point out the living things on the chart.  We discuss the elements of a healthy habitat/environment (access to water/food/shelter) and how these things can be different depending on the living thing.  I share some of these things are brought on by instinct (born) or environment (need).  “Who would like to come up and match one living thing to it’s habitat, the place where it could live best?”  I purpose chose three different students (one per habitat) of differing academic levels so they could model the ability to access and demonstrate matching skills to all levels in the class. 

Volunteers come up and match a living thing with the correct environment.  As each volunteer approaches, they asked the class to help explain their choice “Why is this the right/wrong place for the animal to live?”.  I facilitate this discussion, model an appropriate response (“Because the plant needs to get water from the ground.”) encouraged the volunteers to support their choice with a reason ("A person needs a house to stay warm").  The students contribute supporting questions and comments that make sense and add to the learning.  The student-led ask and answer session allows the class to take ownership of the information, making for a comfortable transition to the next portions of the lesson.

Whole Group Instruction

20 minutes

I read the book A Frog Thing by Eric Drachman to my class.  After I finish, I say, ”The book shows us that all living things need the right environment to survive.  What other book did we read about this?”  (Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni).  The class brainstorm and record different types of living things in our class (people, fish, frogs, birds, plants).  I facilitate a brief discussion of what each needs in order to survive., “Fish need water to breath.  Birds need open space for air.  People need shelter from the weather.  Plants need sun to grow.”.  With these learning opportunities, we see animals need specific structures in place to survive.  The students and I came up with questions to ask each other- “What are some of the things that we noticed about what the frog needed to survive? Do we see any of the same things when we look at plants?”.  This discussion of the needs different living things will be recorded during the next step of this lesson.

To expedite the activity and avoid having the students sit for more than 15-20 minutes, I previously drew a Venn Diagram with three labeled circles.  At this point, my goal is not to teach the students to draw the diagram, more to use it to collect data so a premade product worked best.  I use this diagram to provide a visual way to compare and contrast the elements that three different living things (humans, fish, plants) use to survive.  I briefly explain the concept of habitat as “a place that has the something livings things need to survive”.  I emphasized the difference between a need (will die without it, e.g. water) and a want (can find another way, e.g. certain forms of shelter).  In my head, I know-technically- this is not entirely true, since (for example) some foods provide essential nutrients better than others.  Here, however, my focus is on the concepts of habitat and survival so I make peace with myself and commit to addressing that detail in a later lesson.

Once the parameters are established, I ask the students to help me explain why these living things needed these elements to survive- “What does a plant need to survive?”  “Plants need sun and water to suck up food from the dirt.”  “So we need to put ‘sun’ and ‘water’ in the plant section of the diagram.  What does a fish need?”  “Fish need water but not sun.”  “So we need to put ‘water’ in the fish section of the diagram.  What does a person need?”  “People need water, sun, and a place to live.”  “So we need to put ‘sun’, ‘water’, and ‘shelter’ in the people section of the diagram."  I add the definition to clarify the vocabulary. “‘Shelter’ is another way to say place to live, like a roof over their heads.”  As the comments wind down and the Venn was complete, I ring the chime to announce the transition to the next activity. 

Small Group Instruction

15 minutes

Before I dismiss the students from the carpet squares, I ask them to chose a book from the classroom library and take it back to their tables.  “Your book needs to have an example of a living thing and something it’s doing to survive.”  Since we have an abundance of non-fiction books in my class, it is easy for them to choose, for example, something that has a bunny looking for food or a person sleeping in a house.  Either of these simple acts shows a way that a living thing is making use of its environment to survive.  By choosing their own book, they have a vested interest in the subject and the objective.  

As a formative assessment, the students use a Reflection Sheet to detail the thing they noted in their book.  I get their attention with a pattern clap and gave a brief instruction, “Think of the living thing in your book.  Got it?  Put that in the first blank space.  Then think of what that thing did to help itself survive.  Put that action in the second blank space.”.  In my class, invented spelling (writing the word based on the letter sounds) is expected and encouraged.  This provides me with an authentic product that both reflects their ideas and gives me direction for their subsequent phonemic instruction.  I then say "When you have written this information, draw a picture that tells about the things you wrote."  An added illustration is a great way to help communicate their thoughts to others who want to know more.

 I circulate among the students as they complete this assignment and listen to their comments “My book has a bear.  He’s sleeping during the Winter.”, “My book had a snail.  He has to live in a shell.”, asking for clarification “Tell me more about that.” when necessary.  To extend the concept and give the students were finished quickly something to do, I tell individual students to verbally explain to a table partner whether this thing is instinctual (‘born to it’, like how a fish needs water) or adaptive (‘brought on by its environment’, like how a plant turns toward light).  A verbal contribution is fine because it identifies additional information and is not a part of the formative assessment.  

Wrap Up

5 minutes

After the Reflections are complete, I use a chime to signal the end of this lesson piece.  I ask the students to put their Reflection papers away in their bags and return back to their carpet squares.  To act as a whole class recap, we gather again in front of the original living thing/habitat poster to share out the observations “My book had a seed that got rained on and became a plant.”.  This discussion acts as a quick way both to recap the ideas and give voice to the things that the students learned.  When I do activities like this, I don’t always ask for volunteers.  Sometimes, it’s better to “randomly” choose a student, maybe one who doesn’t always volunteer to talk.  This assures everyone has an opportunity to share a tangible idea- something they just wrote on paper- and validate their ideas.