Scientists Read for Information #2

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SWBAT identify key details that support the author's point, "Animals use their (parts) in very different ways."

Big Idea

What would you do if you have a tail like a lizard, a nose like a platypus, or feet like a chimpanzee? Find out about amazing animals with author Steve Jenkins!

Instructional Notes

In the previous lessons, 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, we sing the External Features Song.  First graders love to sing!  Then, I display a picture of a blue-tailed skink lizard that we see on our playground and we discuss his special tail.  

Next, in today's exploration, I facilitate a shared reading of a text What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins.  

This is such an incredible book, and Steve Jenkins is sure to become one of your class' favorite authors!!!  In this book, Jenkins focuses on different external parts-- one at a time.  He chooses animals with unique adaptations to that part, such as the four-eyed fish with eyes that can see both above and below the water at the same time.  We use the illustrations to note key details that support the author's point, "Animals use their (external parts) in very different ways." 

Today's objective and formative assessment are written to meet the Common Core English Language Arts Information Text Standards RI.7 and RI.8.  Reading nonfiction text is a way for students to obtain information about the science content standard. The NGSS standard calls for students to understand how animals use their external parts to help them meet their needs for survival.  This text is a great way to incorporate ELA into Science, as it is an informational text that directly hits NGSS Standard 1-LS1-1!  And, reading texts is just what scientists do-- it's NGSS Science Practice #8!


  • Essential Question Anchor Chart: How do animals meet their needs to survive?
  • What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins


5 minutes

First, we sing 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 show students a picture of the blue-tailed skink that frequents our playground.  Students always ask why his tail is blue!  

Take a look at the lizard we see on our playground, the blue-tailed skink.  What external parts do you see?  How do those parts help the lizard meet his needs, or survive?

I ask a lot of questions and like students to turn-and-talk, then share.  Discussion is so important!  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge.  

I have students turn-and-talk, and then I call on a few to share with the larger group.   Hint: While students are sharing, I make sure all friends have found a partner.  Then, I try to listen in and find unique ideas that will take our conversation farther. 

Then, I tell them a little about what makes lizards' tails so unique.

One amazing thing about a skink is that it can detach, or take off, it's tail!  If it gets caught by a predator, like a bird, it drops it's tail and is free.  Or, it can drop it's tail before it is caught.  The bright blue tail keeps wiggling around, which distracts the bird, while the skink runs away!


20 minutes

One of the reasons that I love Steve Jenkins so much for first graders is that he clearly states the main topic or point on the opening page and follows it with amazing examples.  In the back, he adds additional information about the animals that doesn't fit the main topic, but will help answer additional student questions.  If you like this book, look up Steve Jenkins' books Move! and Actual Size.

First, I introduce the book.

The blue-tailed skink has a very special tail, right?  Check out this book, What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins.  Who's tail do you think this is?  Why might this tail be special?

I have students turn-and-talk, and then I call on a few to share with the larger group.  Hint: While students are sharing, I make sure all friends have found a partner.  Then, I try to listen in and find unique ideas that will take our conversation farther.  

Next, I set the purpose for learning by sharing the objective.

Today as we read, we will use details in the illustrations to support the author's point.  Just like the legs of a table support the top, the details support the author's point.  This author, Steve Jenkins, tells you his point on the opening page.  Listen and see if you hear him say his point or the main topic.

The Common Core standards don't expect first graders to pick out the author's point, but students are expected to name the main topic.  Especially if it's early in the school year, provide as much assistance as your students need.

  The main topic will be external parts.  Here's the author's point, "Animals use their noses, ears, tails, eyes, mouths, and feet in very different ways."  I'm going to write that here on the easel as, "Animals use their external parts in very different ways."  Then, while we are reading, let's see if the illustrations give us key details that make us agree with Steve Jenkins.

There is a pattern to this book.  First, Steve Jenkins gives close-ups of a particular part on five or so animals.  On this page, I ask students to turn-and-talk to predict which animals they think the parts belong to, and why they might be special or unique.  Then, when you turn the page, you see the animals using their parts in a unique way.  The text reinforces the illustrations.  There are lots of "aha's" and "wow's."  

I hold the book to my chest and read the question; for example, "What do you do with ears like these?"  Not showing the page right away heightens their excitement and anticipation!  Then I show the close-ups.  

Whose ears are these?  Why might they be special?  Turn-and-talk.

As you can see from the video, every year, the predictions are such fun!  We disagree respectfully, and I always ask, "Who has another idea or more to share?"  Plus, there are always a few questionable animal parts.  Who does that belong to, anyway?  Those ears look like legs, right?!?

I turn to the animals page and give students a moment to get out their, "I knew it's" and "Oh, now I see's."  Then, I read the text for each animal.  After each animal fact, I give time for discussion and reflection.  For example:

Oh my gosh!  Crickets have ears on their knees?!?  No way!  I am picturing how silly it would be if I had ears on my knees!  That's a WOW fact for me.  No wonder he picked crickets for the ear category, their ears sure are unique.  

I continue presenting the pages in this fashion.  I also continue referring to the main point.  For example:

Steve Jenkins said the animals use their parts in different ways.  Do all of the animals use their feet the same way... to walk?  (Students turn-and-talk, then share.)  No!  The chimpanzee eats with his feet, and the water strider floats on water with his feet.  Those are different ways to use feet, which make me agree with Steve Jenkins' point.  Give me a thumbs-up if you are agreeing with Steve Jenkins right now.

In the back of the text, where Steve Jenkins gives additional information, I say:

Wow!  Steve Jenkins is so smart and he has so much schema (background knowledge) about animals.  These bits in the back aren't about external parts, but he still wanted to teach you about them.  If you want to know more about one of the animals in this book, you can go here.

With so much conversation throughout this lesson, I do not have time to read the additional blurbs.  But I encourage you to read a selected animal or two if your students were particularly fascinated by one (the horned lizard gets my vote)!

After reading the text, I leave it on my front chalk ledge for a week or two.  Students love taking this one to independent or partner reading.  


5 minutes

For the closing, students return to their seats and fill out the blank verse of the External Features song with an animal from Steve Jenkins' book.  You can choose to have them work independently or with partners.  I chose elbow partners (the person sitting next to them) because I have a lot of struggling writers this year.  What was more important was that they were retelling a key fact, not whether they figured out how to write it.  

This is always a bit of loud independent work in my room, as they talk and share ideas together! Plus, they are still excited from such incredible WOW facts.

Friends, I want you to pick the animal that was such a WOW for you-- a fact from this book that you do not want to forget!  Let's write a verse of the External Features song for that animal.  For example,



Have strong feet

Have strong feet

That help them eat, they eat with feet

Feet help them survive, help them survive.

If time remains, I have students retell key details from the text by sliding animal pictures into external feature categories on the Tail Like This flipchart.  This also makes a good warm-up and review the following day!