Scientists Ask and Answer Questions

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SWBAT ask and answer questions about external parts of animals.

Big Idea

Got science? First graders are naturally curious, which makes them perfect scientists! Today, students will ask and answer questions about how animals survive.

Instructional Notes

Over the last few lessons, students have learned some of the basic scientific practices, such as making observations and sorting objects into categories.  Students have also set expectations for recording in Science Journals.  

In this lesson, students learn about the scientific practice of asking and answering questions.  I decided to focus the remainder of this unit, which introduces science practices, on unpacking the Next Generation Science Standard for Grade 1 Life Sciences: Structure, Function, and Information Processing.

In order to move students towards 1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs, we need to start by defining external parts and figuring out How do plants and animals meet their needs to survive?  For the rest of this unit, we'll be focusing specifically on the external parts and needs of animals.  This will build some background knowledge to prepare first graders for the subsequent Life Sciences unit.

In today's lesson, I introduce a second Essential Question: How do animals meet their needs to survive? Over the next few lessons, student will continue addressing this question as students come to the big understanding that animals have external parts that help them meet their needs.  Students will read informational texts, observe actual live mealworms, and create clay models of animals as they synthesize their new learning.  Sounds fun, right?

Note:  The first Essential Question in this unit was What does a scientist do?  It's important that students connect our activities to the Science and Engineering Practices, so that they begin to see that indeed, they are scientists!  I make What does a scientist do? a large anchor chart that we add to throughout the unit, and throughout the school year.  It will remain posted in the classroom.  If you are looking for a good book to read aloud in order to start this anchor chart, try What Is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn.


  • Essential Question #2 displayed: How do animals meet their needs to survive?
  • Schoolyard Observations Web, created in Lesson 2
    • If you missed Lesson 2, take a few minutes at the end of recess and have students jot down 5 things they observe around the schoolyard.  Try to encourage them to find at least 1 living thing (bird, insect, tree...whatever!).
  • Student Resource-- Animal Pictures
    • I provided a resource for you, but feel free to replace these pictures with animals local to your students!
  • Science Journals (I use marbled composition notebooks for each student), 1 per student (optional)


5 minutes

I connect the schoolyard observations we did in Lesson 2 to today's focus-- external parts of animals.  So first, I display the t-chart we created in Lessons 2 and 3 with Living and Non-Living items in our schoolyard.  I want to focus students' attention on the list of living organisms from the web. 

Take a look at the left side of the web.  Read the subtitle with me, "Living."  Now, of our living things, which are animals?  How do you know?

You may need to build background knowledge about the differences between plants and animals (namely, animals don't make their own food and can move freely).  My students had no difficulty with this concept, so I read each item and then students called out either "plant" or "animal."

Under the "Living" side, I drew a second set of titles: Plants and Animals.  Then, I moved the sticky notes under the correct categories. 


20 minutes

Now that the class is focused on animals, I display the second Essential Question Anchor Chart: How do animals meet their needs to survive?  I'll be coming back to this idea throughout the year in both science and some of our Language Arts texts, so I'm going to display this on large white chart paper.  That way, I'll be able to add pictures of specific animals and adaptations when they come up!

I ask students to turn-and-talk to discuss the Essential Question.  Discussion is so important!  Conversations with peers and the group are the key to having students feel comfortable communicating their ideas (science practice #8).  Hint:  While students are talking, first I make sure that everyone has found a partner.  Then, I listen in on conversations or ask questions that might drive our conversation farther.  

Next, and I call on a few to share their ideas with the larger group and record the ideas on the anchor chart.  In the video below as we share, you will see students make a "connection sign."  In my class, students put out their thumb and pinkie, and then move it towards a friend to soundlessly agree or say that they have the same idea.  In this way, students don't snicker, "Oh, that was *my* idea!"  A connection sign helps them validate their thinking and let's me see that they get credit for the same idea.

Next, I guide our conversation to the big idea that animals have external parts that help them survive.

Many of you said that animals need to find food to survive.  How do they find food? (Use their eyes, ears, and nose) 

Also, ___ said that animals have to get away from danger.  How do they get away? (feet, fins...)

Oh, I see, so animals have body parts that help them survive.  Well, scientists have a fancy word for the body parts we can see.  They are called "external parts."  External just means outside.  Take a look at me.  Can you see my head? (Yes.) My head is an external part.  Can you see my fingers? (Yes.) My fingers are an... (students join here) external part.  Can you see my heart?  (No.)  Aha, my heart is inside, so it is not an external part.

In Language Arts and in our Scholastic News articles, it's possible that your students have seen a few animal diagrams.  If you have come across a diagram already, bring it back out!  If not, make sure you tell your students that this nonfiction text feature is called a diagram.  Here are two samples you can show too:

Horse diagram

I say:

Check it out!  In a diagram, the author labels external parts.  I wonder if we could do that!

Next I put up a photograph of a common animal.  I model pointing to an external part, naming it, writing the part, and adding an arrow.  Then, I model thinking about how it might help the animal survive.

This elephant has ears.  I'm going to make a diagram by labeling the ears.  Hmm, how would ears help an elephant survive?  Oh, maybe they help him hear danger nearby.  Ears help an elephant hear danger nearby.

I gradually release the skill of identifying an external part and inferring its purpose through a think/pair/share routine.  You can provide a sentence starter by saying something like, "______ helps an elephant _____."  I'll continue labeling the photograph with students, as we turn it into a diagram.  I also tell them that diagrams have titles.  Titles help you know what the diagram shows.  This hits Science Practice #8 in describing how text features-- like diagrams-- support and describe ideas.


5 minutes

In closing, I give students a choice between photographs of different animals.  If possible, you might want to find a photograph of a specific animal from your schoolyard walk!  

Students glue one animal picture into their Science Journal and label external body parts.  I did not provide a list of body parts to help them spell, but feel free to!  English Language Learners in your classroom may need some extra support here, especially when naming less common body part names like claws or hooves.  In tomorrow's warm-up, students will circle one body part and tell how it helps the animal survive.

Here are some samples of student work:

Student Work #1 This is excellent work! There is a title, "cat," and there are multiple external parts labeled.

Student Work #2 This is the work I was looking for because it included a title (the animal name) and labeled external parts. We decided as a class that they should each try to label at least 5 parts, and here are 4. But, overall, I am happy with this work!

Student Work #3, a non-writer This non-writer drew what appeared to be lines with circles on the end around his animal (a scorpion, he called a lobster). When I spoke with him, though, the circles are actually his drawings for the body parts. So, his label for "leg" is a picture of a leg rather than the word.

Student Work #4  Such great first grade phonics, with the sounding out of "Muchalll"