Introducing Basic Needs of Animals

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SWBAT draw and write what they know about the basic needs of animals and begin asking questions about them.

Big Idea

Students show what they know about the basic needs of animals.


**This lesson may take 2 days to complete!**

For each lesson, I post both the lesson objective from the Essential Standards and a guiding question. Click here to find out why I teach the Essential Standards for science. This is to help students to understand the purpose behind the lesson and to connect to prior knowledge. I have found it helpful because it also keeps my focus on the objectives for the day. When I first introduce the day's activities to the students, I will write at the top of the board, 'What do we know about the needs of animals?'


  • 1 set (5 or more) animals cards per group - For the lesson, prepare a set of animal cards for each group. They do not have to be identical. Each card should have a real life picture (not clip art, because you want the students to become familiar with the real animals) and the name of the animal clearly labeled somewhere on the picture. Each group will need at least 5 animals.
  • 1-2 books with lots of animals and little text to read to the class
  • Student science journals
  • Pencils
  • Colored pencils (crayons in the journals will be really messy and not erasable)



Students work in groups during this lesson. Depending on your class, you can put them in pairs or groups of 3 or 4, and determine how many sets of materials you will need based on that. Especially since this lesson is taught at the beginning of the school year, some students may need the support of others to become engaged in and remain focused on the activity. Using pairs or small groups allows for that support while also limiting conversation and interaction so students are not too overwhelmed by having to talk in front of the whole class.


I use the same science journals all year for students. This allows us to go back and reference other units as we move along. The journals are valuable teaching (and re-teaching and revisiting) tools if they are really used in daily lessons. It also provides a place for literacy integration, where students are labeling, drawing, and writing science ideas. Then, if they need a spelling for another piece of writing, they can access their science journal.

I teach in a school of Science, Mathematics and Technology. The journals are something fairly new that I am implementing this year because it will help me to maintain a consistent review cycle throughout the year with students. I can easily ask them to go back and look over something before starting a new project. If you do not already use ongoing science journals, you might consider spending a day or two teaching students how to use them (i.e., how to draw a label figures, how to use the space on the page efficiently, etc.). During every lesson when we use the science notebooks, I will specifically be teaching this skill by making my own science journal to model those skills for students.



Warm Up

15 minutes

Brown Bear CoverTo engage students and to activate their background knowledge, I first read a fun, colorful engaging text with lots of different animals in it called Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, written by Bill Martin, Jr. I purposefully chose this text, even though it is not non-fiction, because I knew my new first graders were familiar with it. Their familiarity allows me to focus on asking questions to my students and not just reading to them, inviting them into conversation about different animals.

Here is a link to some alternative examples.

The focus of the book is for the students to visually see many different animals and to engage in discussion with the students as I read. After I read the line of text on the page I say,

"I drive past cows on my way to work (or something else that starts the conversation). Has anyone ever seen a cow or read a different book about a cow?"

This allows students to share what they think they know, even if it is not quite correct. Communicating information supports Science and Engineering Practice 8. Click here to see a video of my students answering these questions. Also, I ask,

"What are the basic needs of this animal?"

I try not to just tell students that they need food, water, etc. so that they will develop the understanding on their own. The reason for this question is to introduce the vocabulary "basic needs". At this point, it is all about finding out what the students know without just telling them. The learning will come later but I want to simply engage them in thinking about animals and basic needs in order to find out what they already know.


20 minutes

Student Working First, I pass out the pictures of animals to each group. In their science journals, students will choose at least 3 animals, write the name of the animal, draw a quick picture and then write down everything that they know about the animals, including the animal's basic needs. Students do not have to use the pictures of animals but it is a way to get them started. I encourage them to think about other animals that they have at home, classroom pets, or that they just know something about.


Student Working 2While this is happening, I continue to question students to find out what they already have a good understanding of regarding the objective of the basic needs of animals. The goal of this activity is not for everything on their paper to be accurate and complete. Instead, the goal is to see what they know as well as to find out what their misconceptions are which is just as important, which relates back to the the standard for students to determine basic needs of animals.



Student using reference bookThis lesson builds understanding of the basic needs of animals by scaffolding what students already know with working in small groups and having teacher interaction. If I notice a student who really does not seem to have any background knowledge about this topic, I will sit with them and conversationally talk about the animals I have. I might say, "I have rabbits, and I have to to feed them every morning and check that they have water for the day. The live in a hutch. Have you ever seen a rabbit in a hutch?" This supports both the instructional learning and engages the student in conversation in a meaningful way, because most students are interested in their teacher's pets!

 Here is some of my student's work!


Student Work 1

     Student Work 2    Student Work 3

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Student Working

After the students have at least 3 animals in their journals, I call them all back together and talk about what they know. I say,

"What did you write in  your journal? Who would like to share what they know?"

This part of the lesson is incredibly important because it gives students an opportunity to talk in front of the group, share their ideas, and hear other student's ideas. This builds their confidence and helps to lead the way for future conversations which can deepen student's understanding of the content. It also allows me to gather information about any potential experts for future lessons or students who might need much more support.

Think-Know-Learned Chart


Extend and Display
I am going to keep a bulletin board display up during each unit. It is similar to a KWL chart, but with a few important differences. Since I want the vocabulary to be evident, I will do most of the writing for the display. Students might add pictures, but the bulk of the written work will be mine so that it is clearly written and spelled correctly. With older students, I would let them do this part, but with beginning first graders it is important to model good writing and correct spelling.
The left side of the board is labeled "What we think we know". Notice, it is not "What we know". That is because we are allowing for misconceptions on this side.
The middle is "What we are learning". This will grow over the lesson. I might add anchor charts, displays, and pictures of student's work here for reference. The right side will be "Things we have learned" and we will record big ideas and things that we have learned together.

If a student mentions basic needs, I write what they say on a piece of paper to add to "What we think we know" (you can do this one the spot or later). Not everyone needs to add to that section, so I just put a few key things up that we can come back to in later lessons to talk and think about with students.

Remember that the focus is on basic needs - not physical properties or stories about animals - so try to keep coming back to that when students are talking. The things on the Think-Learning-Know chart should reflect that objective clearly with the emphasis on basic needs of living animals.


The purpose of this lesson is pre-assessment, so that I can find out informally who my 'experts' in the group are, who needs more support, and who might not be really interested in the topic. The experts I will use as group leaders or to work with students who need support, or I may choose to have them do an independent or partner project later on. The students who need support I will make an anecdotal record of in order to check back with them daily. Usually, I do this through either small group work or conversation with the student to make sure that they are grasping the content fully. The students who may not be interested are my challenge - I have to find a 'hook' to get them interested. This might mean that I make them a helper with our classroom pets, or I find a special library book just for them about animals. It may take some work to find out what really interests them about animals (or any science subject), but taking that time to talk to them is really worth it in the end because then they will engage with the lessons more fully and get more from them.


The formative assessment in this lesson occurs when I watch students working, listen to them talking to their group members, and talk to students individually. It will be evident who can easily identify the basic needs and who is looking at a partner for help. Sometimes the students who are unsure of the answers choose not to do anything to avoid being wrong. I will purposefully sit near those students and ask them questions, like "Do you have any pets? Do your neighbors have pets? Have you been to the zoo?" etc. to engage them.