Characteristics of Life Part 3

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Students will be able to apply the characteristics of life to a case study of an unfamiliar organism.

Big Idea

Life forms demonstrate the characteristics of life in varied and interesting ways.

Teachers' Lounge

The purpose of this lesson is for students to apply their knowledge of the characteristics of life to a real organism, while practicing going between two different readings.  Then the students will learn about a new thing, the virus, and they will need to decide for themselves if the virus is alive or not.  


3 minutes

Learning Goal:  Apply the characteristics of life to real organisms.

Essential Question:  When you read the case study today, what are you going to be looking for as you try to learn about the characteristics of that organism?


Students come in the room, get ready (get their stuff), get set (get settled in their seats), and engage in writing the learning goal and answering the essential question on the board.

As the students are walking in I remind them to get ready by getting their folders and get set by setting up their work station.  When the bell rings, I put three minutes on the timer and say to the students, "Ok kids, you should be engaged in our work now."


2 minutes

For my hook today, I want students to practice looking for specific information in a text.  This section today is the transition that will help solidify for students the purpose of the reading - to identify characteristics of life as demonstrated in the Dumbo Octopus.  

To do this, I ask students what words or phrases might be important to look for in their reading today.  I pull random name sticks, rewarding each participating student with a ROCK STAR SCIENCE ticket.  If I don't get exactly the answer I am looking for, I remind by restating, "In the reading I'm looking for the characteristics of life, so I'm going to be looking for words about growth, cells, response, energy, reproduction, and organization."

The hook is the part of the lesson where you should decide how you will engage students.  Engagement does not have to be about "Bells and Whistles."  Engagement is also about students having the confidence to know they can do a task.  


7 minutes

For this activity the students go between two different resources.  One is the "7 Characteristics of Life" reading and one is the "Dumbo Octopus" case study.  Being able to move between two resources is an important research skill students will need to accomplish.  This situation is scaffolded because they have already had experience with the first reading.  

My job today is to help students be able to read the case study and glean the information that relates to the "7 Characteristics of Life" from "Dumbo Octopus."  To do this students will need a highlighter and a pencil.  

I tell students that today we are going to be going between two readings.  This is an important research skill because scientists often have to look more than one place to get information.  Many of the students will already be experienced at having more than one tab open on their computer.  This is similar.  

"To do this you want to have the two readings in front of you on your desk.  Today we are going to work with a highlighter and a pencil.  The highlighter is going to be used to highlight parts of the text that are important and the pencil is going to be used to make notes about what we decided to highlight.  The first thing I want you to do is highlight the 7 characteristics of life on the reading.  So I would first highlight the words...'Living things are composed of cells." You should highlight all of those sentences."

"Now we are ready to move to the Octopus reading.  You will read the Octopus reading with the purpose of find the characteristics of life in the reading.  So you read along and when you find something that matches you highlight it.  Then you take your pencil and write a note to explain why you marked it. "

When we are done, we will be doing a discussion using this sentence frame,

I noticed that the way the organism _____________________ is by _______________.  This is interesting to me because of ________________________________.

Please write YOUR sentence at the bottom of the Octopus reading so that you are ready for the discussion.  

So your process today looks like this;

1) Highlight

2) Notes with pencil

3) Sentence frame

Independent / Scaffolded Reading

10 minutes

Independent Reading

After showing the students the expectations for reading and modeling the highlighting protocol I leave the anchor chart on the board and give students 10 min to read the text.  

Scaffolded Reading

At the same time, I call a group of students that have shown reading difficulties and bring them to the back circle to read the text with me.  These are students that might not be able to find the information on their own.  I want to help scaffold this for them so that they can go back to their group and participate with all the students in the collaborative discussion.  

Collaborative Structured Discussion

10 minutes

The students should already have their sentence stems written at the bottom of their Dumbo Octopus reading.  The sentence stem is; 

I noticed that the way the organism _____________________ is by _______________.  This is interesting to me because of ________________________________.

Now we are going to start the structured discussion.  We start with student 'A' at the table.  Student A reads their sentence frame.  Then Student B uses one of the sentence frames below to respond.  I call this an "Agree...disagree...add on" discussion, because students have the choice to agree, disagree, or add on.  The students continue around the table in order. 

I agree because__________

I disagree because ___________

I would like to add on that ___________

When the whip around is finished, Student B reads their sentence frame and the discussion continues.  Like all structures, this one works best once the students have familiarity with the routine.  

Guided Practice: The Story of a Virus

10 minutes

At this point in the discussion, I stop the students and say that now we are going to do the same process, but on an organism that is right at the boundary of life.  The virus.  I preview the topic by telling the students that there will be things about the virus that fit the Characteristics of life and things that don't fit and that it is going to be up to them to make a decision on whether the virus is alive or not.  For this lesson I use an animated power point because it allows me to tell the story of the virus in an engaging and surprising way.  I also pull random name sticks to let students answer questions and reward them with a ROCK STAR SCIENTIST ticket.

IMPORTANT NOTE - This is an animated powerpoint so you will want to download it and play it to see the animations showing the virus attacking the cell.

Also- I wrote this powerpoint in Late August of 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in Africa.  The numbers represent a growing threat and would need to be updated to be accurate.


5 minutes

This is the point in the lesson where the students get out their writing logs and write to the prompt, "Using the characteristics of life, do you think a virus is alive.  Why or why not."  

I remind students that this type of writing is for them (writing to learn), using the anchor chart to ground their work, but let them know that tomorrow they will be doing a readable writing using the same prompt.  This is a chance for them to practice and get their thoughts ready.  


2 minutes

Today's closure is about getting ready for the readable writing tomorrow.  I bring out the two anchor charts on writing and ask students how they are going to change their writing to think into a readable writing.  


We gather up some student thinking, and using stickies I "parking lot" some ideas on the readable writing anchor chart for tomorrow.