Scientists Read for Information

20 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT identify key details that support the author's point, "A trunk is a tool."

Big Idea

How do external parts help animals survive? Find out how an elephant's trunk helps it meet its needs, and how it learns these behaviors from its mom.

Instructional Notes

In the previous lesson, students learned that "external parts" is a fancy science way to say "body parts on the outside."  They then labeled external parts on photographs of an animal.

Today in the warm-up, I introduce the External Features Song.  First graders love to sing!  Then, students circle one animal external part from the previous day's diagram and articulate how it helps the animal meet its needs.

Next, in today's exploration, we reflect on the Essential Question: How do animals meet their needs to survive?  I write this on a large sheet of chart paper, and I display it as an anchor chart throughout the year.  Last, I facilitate a shared reading of a text to determine ways that elephant's use their trunks to meet their needs.  

Today's objective and formative assessment are written to meet the English Language Arts Information Text Standard.  This text is a great way to incorporate ELA into Science, as it is an informational text that directly hits NGSS Standard 1-LS1-2 as well!  The NGSS standard calls for students will begin thinking about how many animals teach their young how to survive, and in the article, elephant moms teach their young how to meet their needs using their trunks.


  • Essential Question Anchor Chart: How do animals meet their needs to survive?
  • National Geographic Young Explorer magazine, "Family Lessons," May 2012.
  • Elephant student response sheet
  • National Geographic accompanying teacher's guide, May 2012 (optional, for additional links to elephant sites and ideas for using the text across subject areas)
  • Animal Pictures (optional, from the previous lesson in case you missed it)
  • Science Journals (optional-- I give my students marbled composition notebooks)
  • External Features Song


5 minutes

In the previous lesson, students glued one animal picture into their Science Journal and labeled external body parts.  (In case you missed that lesson, I've attached a bunch of animal pictures in a resource for you-- and you can start today that way!)  

First, I introduce the External Features Song!  I feel like songs are such a fun way to sneak in content knowledge!  I wrote this song to include examples of external parts along with ways they help an animal meet its needs.

Today, I have students go back to their diagrams.  They circle one body part and tell how it helps the animal survive/meet its needs.

Take a look at your animal photograph.  What did we do with it yesterday?  (Created a diagram, labeled external parts)  Now, I want you to think about your animal for a moment.  How does your animal survive?  What does it eat?  How does it escape from predators?  Tell the person next to you one thing that your animal does to help it survive.

Now, what body parts help your animal do that?  Today, I want you to use a crayon to circle one helpful external part of your animal.  Then, write below your diagram: A(n) ______'s ______ helps it _____.   For example, a bird's beak helps it pick up tiny seeds.

Here are some samples of student work:

Student example Here, a student chose to circle the cat's paws and wrote, "To help them to walk."

Student example #2 Here, a student circled the scorpion's claws and wrote that, "The claw helps them hurt a person from killing them." Essentially, the claws help them survive attacks!

Student description, non-writer  In this video clip, I ask my non-writer to orally describe what body part helps the animal meet its needs. Here, he sees the tail as helpful in whacking away attackers. His picture, though it appears to be a scribble, is actually the tail whacking a predator.


20 minutes

I play a transition song to bring students to the rug.  I like transition songs, because they allow students the time to finish last details, clean up supplies, and take care of tasks like getting a drink or sharpening a pencil.  Plus, they are a fun way to add in some movement.

I begin with an adorable student-created video I found on YouTube!  This video reinforces the idea that external parts help animals meet their needs.  Plus, since a peer created this video, I find it quite motivational!  

Then, I ask students to reflect on the Essential Question: How do animals meet their needs to survive? We'll record on the Essential Question anchor chart that external parts help them.   I ask, "What specific examples did the video show of how external parts helped animals?"

Today's text is a National Geographic Young Explorer magazine article called "Family Lessons" from May 2012, about specific ways that elephants use their trunks (an external part) to meet their various needs.  I picked this article because it specifically hits NGSS standard 1-LS1-2, that parents have behaviors (like teaching their young) that help their offspring survive.  

In the article, the author makes the point, "A trunk is a tool," and then supports it with details, which is just the kind of text we're looking for to hit Common Core Reading Informational Text standard RI 1.8.  The objective for this lesson is written to reflect this reading standard.

I share the objective.

In this article, the author says that an elephant's trunk is a tool.  Just like table legs support the top of a table, we are going to see if there are key details in the text that support what the author says.  We are going to listen for key details that support this point.  

Then, I introduce the graphic organizer we'll be using.

Today as we read, we are going to create a web.  A web is a way that we organize our thinking around one big idea. In the center bubble of the web, I will write the author's point-- a trunk is a tool.  

When I think of tools, I think of hammers and saws.  How is a trunk like a tool?  (Students turn-and-talk, then share.)  Okay, so while we are reading, if we hear ways that trunks help an elephant do something, then we'll write them in these bubbles all connected to the center bubble.

As we read, we add key details that support the author's point to the surrounding bubbles.  I record this web on my easel, right next to where we are reading, so that it is visible while I display the text on the whiteboard.

Hint:  If possible, you can display the article digitally.  The website also reads it aloud, so it's great for students to listen to for fluency on 1-to-1 devices or in a computer lab too! 

Finally, after reading the article, I come back to the Essential Question: How do animals meet their needs to survive?   I say, "Tell the person next to you one way that the elephant's trunk helps it meet its needs."  

I also address the idea of the mother helping her offspring.  I ask, "How does the elephant learn how to use its trunk?"  (It's mother teaches it.)  I record on the Anchor Chart that often parents help their young survive by teaching them.


5 minutes

In follow-up to reading the article, students write to restate one way that elephants use their trunk as a tool.  Communicating our observations is the crux of Science Practice #8!  My students recorded in their Science Journals, which are marbled composition notebooks.  You can also use the student response sheet I included!  I gave my students directions for how to draw an elephant following simple instructions.  

Before writing, I modeled the sentence frame and how to follow the drawing instructions in order.  I also have a lot of students come to the rug to copy the sentence.  Students know they don't have to ask to come to the rug; if they can't see or if they need to be closer to copy, they just move!  

Today's formative assessment is the student response.  Here is the criteria I look for:

  • Was the student able to restate a key detail that supported the author's point?

Here are some student work samples:

Student sample #1 "Use it's trunk to keep cool." This was one way elephants used their trunks as a tool in the article.

Student sample #2 "An elephant uses its trunk to spray sand." This was one way elephants used their trunks as a tool in the article.

Student sample #3 "An elephant uses its trunk to play trunk wrestling." In the article, elephants used their trunks as a tool to play. This friend added in the wrestling!