What Behavior Is Best?

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SWBAT write an opinion paragraph based about which animal defense mechanism they think is best and why.

Big Idea

Have fun engaging students in a reflective writing activity about animal defense.

Setting the Stage

Next Generation Science Standard Connection

This lesson connects to 1-LS1-2, since students analyze their notes from several lessons where they recorded observations of how animals use their external features to help their offspring survive. Analyzing data that has been collected connects to SP4, because the class is looking at the research they collected to determine their own opinion. They are interpreting their data and creating an opinion paragraph based on their interpretation of which animal behavior is most effective in helping them protect their offspring, or help their offspring survive. The class has already obtained information which connects to SP8, but they are also trying to communicate their understanding by talking to their partner, evaluating peer work, and presenting their own opinion paragraph.

Lesson Overview

The first thing I do is excite the class and assess their prior knowledge. Then I allow the class to explore some different animal defenses they have notes about in their science journal. Students select their favorite behavior that helps the animal of their choice promote the survival of themselves or their offspring. We use a specific graphic organizer to organize our notes and it is similar to one we use in a previous lesson. Last the students present their paragraph. Now, I am doing this lesson in two days. I will do all the parts including organizing their notes on the graphic organizer, and explaining their reasoning on the first day. Check out this link to more free graphic organizers to support opinion writing. Then on the next day the students write, present, and evaluate their work.

I find that moving my class about every ten to fifteen minutes is a very effective way of helping young learners persevere through a very rigorous activity or lesson. So, we begin in the lounge, and then we do the explore, explain, and elaborate section in the center of the room while the students are at their desks which are in groups of four. Last, we meet in the lounge to present and evaluate each others work.

The other big strategy I use is partner talk and whole group discourse which I feel really engages the class in using scientific language.  I call the partners peanut butter jelly partners. They are heterogenous ability groups of two. After almost every question I ask the students they talk to their partner about the answer, which allows students to learn from each other as well as communicate about a science topic.

Engage Day 1

5 minutes

In this section I excite the class about this lesson since it is our culminating activity for the unit, and we are going to engage in opinion writing for the first time.

So, I say, "Class we are going to use this new graphic organize (I have it on the Smart Board.) to write an opinion about all of the data we have collected. Now, I want for you to reflect quickly on what an opinion really is. Tell your partner what you think." I listen and then after about one minute I ask the students to share their thoughts.  After hearing what they know or are thinking now, I can be more prepared to scaffold my instruction or give them more freedom to work on their own. The more confident they seem in their knowledge the less I will have to support. After about two minutes, I share, "Owen's opinion is that Shark Boy and Kid Danger are the best superheros, but Ava thinks Lava Girl is the best. So, an opinion is just what you think." This kind of connects something new, an opinion, to something familiar which helps students udnerstand.

Explore Day 1

20 minutes

Now, the class moves to the center of the room to their desks. Then they are going to pick their favorite defense from their notes, and they will use the graphic organizer for helping them sort out the information. It may take a little time, maybe ten to fifteen minutes, for the students to look through their notes, and I am walking around making sure each child is thinking about the defense.  If there is struggling, I will write these choices on the board:grouping, mimicking, and camouflage. Then I say, "What defense do you think is the most effective or what works best?"

Once the students determine their favorite defense, and they write their notes on a graphic organizer: tree graphic organizer.  I have a video explaining the graphic organizer and writing mneumonic. Throughout this unit I kept notes similar to the students notes on a anchor chart, so we can have a nice readable document to reflect upon in this lesson. It is so important to really focus the student on the evidence in our notes, since many first graders seem to want to recall prior knowledge. Now, I reread all of the animal behavior we have recorded. Then I tell the students to think for two minutes about which one they think is most effective. After two minutes, I say, "Tell your partner what behavior you think is most effective and why?" I listen to see what they are thinking.

Now since this is an opinion piece there is not really a correct answer. So, we are going to put all of their reasons and ideas on a really neat graphic organizer, and I distribute one to each child. I also have a model on the board, since the class has never used this graphic organizer before. I say, "Your topic or idea goes on the tree trunk, because it is the strongest. So, write your topic or your idea on the trunk. I might write: Making noises to communicate is the most effective form of animal communication to help the offspring survive." I think the students need an example, and I write it on my model:model graphic organizer.

Now, I ask them to not copy my idea, because I want this to be their original work. Then your reasons can go on the roots, because they hold the tree up. These reasons need to be evidence based on the content presented in the lessons. "I might write: Noises can warn of offspring of danger. They can teach animals how to hunt. Making noises can also help parents discipline their offspring or correct unwanted behavior."  I say, "Please add your own three reasons to the roots, and remember these are notes, so they do not have to be in complete sentences." Last, we need to add our ending and it is the earth. So, I say, "For my ending I might write: Making noises is the best way to help parents keep their offspring alive." Now, I say, "Go ahead and add your own ending. Remember it restates your topic."

Explain Day 1

10 minutes

This is the last part of day one, and I have the students share their graphic organizer:modified graphic organizer and proficient graphic organizer with their partner. The partner may give them feedback, and this encourages discourse related to science and will hopefully help develop their science vocabulary. After sharing their work with their partner I say, "Please add anything you learned from your partner to your graphic organizer." After about five minutes, I begin to encourage the whole class to comment or share. I say, "Will a volunteer please share their graphic organizer with the class?" After the student shares, I say, "Will another child please comment, or add to their work?"

Elaborate Day 2

20 minutes

Since this is day two I remind the class of what we did the previous day. It is also essential to really go back over what an opinion is, because that is a new term and way of writing for most first graders.

Now, I prepare the class to write their own opinion essay. I show the class an exemplar opinion essay: opinion paragraph and explain all the parts. I show them how the topic from the tree trunk on the graphic organizer goes first and we indent. Then I show the students how to add their three pieces or reasons from the "tree roots" as the next three sentences. Last, we add the ending from the earth. It is important to remember that the class will be learning to create a sentence, write one sentence after another, and just really beginning to write, so we need to provide a lot of support. I my write for several students with a highlighter. Others, I may allow to work in a small group, and then do all the writing based on their responses.

Evaluate Day 2

10 minutes

This is the time when the students present their work and evaluate their peers work: peer evaluation. Several students read their paragraph. I also try to get the class to evaluate the work of their peers. Now, modeling evaluation is my biggest strategy to get the students to evaluate each other. Sometimes I call this "peer feedback." My plan is for my student begin critiquing each others ideas, adding to them, or disagreeing.

Now, I do have a neat chant we say that is my proactive strategy to get the desired listening behavior I want. We say, "Criss cross apple sauce pockets on the floor, hands in your laps, talking no more." If they want to chant it with me it is fine, but this is optional. Then I say, "Remember to keep your eyes on the speaker, think about what they are saying, and be prepared to give your peer academic feedback."

As my last resort I just start begging and say, "Remember we are all friends. Simply agree or disagree with your peers. Then tell us why."   Also, sometimes first graders give off topic comments, so when this happens I listen attentively. Then I redirect them with a question. "So, do you agree or disagree."

What I want to see is my students getting up and presenting their paragraph, speaking clearly, loud enough, and presenting a topic, three reasons, and an ending. It is September, so I am being really ambitious here, but with a lot of support and a positive room culture my class can do it.

Presenting and evaluating is another great application activity that helps students build content knowledge. Even though it may seem redundant or not necessary in this lesson, it really is essential to help the students reflect upon what they have created and learned.