Characteristics of Life Part 1

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Students will be able to discover some of the characteristics of life and see how they connect to real organisms.

Big Idea

What do all life forms have in common? These characteristics of life help us understand the concept of life better.

Ready. Set. Engage!

5 minutes

Learning Goal: Students will discover what the characteristics of life are and use these characteristics to develop an understanding of the concept of life.

Essential Question:  What do all living things have in common?  

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 students are coming into the room I remind them to get ready by getting their folders and notebooks, get set by getting out their pencils and getting settled in their seats, and engage by writing the learning goal and answering the essential question.  

*At this point in the year students are normed on how to get their notebooks and use the office supplies, but generally I am still putting out the class folders and graded work.  Once students get normed on one procedure then I build on that by adding the next structure.  This takes time, but does not overwhelm the students.  


5 minutes

This video is a great introduction to the mini- unit on Characteristics of Life.  In fact, this teacher, Frank Gregorio, has many such videos on his channel that are all interesting and professional.  Before watching the video the students answer the essential question:

"What do all living things have in common?"

Depending on time available I either have students share out ideas with the whole class or turn-and-talk.

When the clip is over, I preview this content by explaining to students that we will be trying to figure out what all living things have in common.

Discovery Activity

10 minutes

This activity is designed to astound students with the variety of life on earth and to challenge some of their preconceived notions about survival while emphasizing some of the characteristics of life.

The video is about the Woolly Bear Caterpillar, an animal that "makes a living" in a way that is very different from other animals.  Before watching the video, I remind students about the characteristics we have already discussed as a class and I ask them the following questions.

What must happen for you to be alive?  Do you have to eat? Drink? Does your heart have to beat?  What is true for all living things?        (If the movie doesn't work...use this link.)

When the video is over, I ask the students what surprised them about this animal and how what they've just learned might change their thinking about some of their thinking on the characteristics of life.


5 minutes

This is an important conversation with students where I connect what living organisms need to the characteristics of life.  I do this by pulling out an anchor chart of the NEEDS OF LIFE and comparing it to some of the ideas that we have had so far on the characteristics of life.

This explanation doesn't have to take long, but it is an important moment in making connections in to the information we've been exploring.  

Vocabulary Introduction

10 minutes

I use a Collaborative Vocabulary Protocol to front load vocabulary for students in small chunks.  I have found this is a powerful practice because it give students access to a new language (science) in a supported environment.  This is especially valuable for ELL, DHH, or IEP students.  

This vocabulary is especially interesting because these are not entirely "new" words.  Students probably have a definition of organization, grow, energy, respond, and adapt in their heads.  However, the scientific uses of these words can be far different from the colloquial use.  I chose these words from the reading to help prepare students for the concepts we explore with these deeper scientific meanings.  

Independent Reading

10 minutes

I am choosing to do an independent reading for this section because the reading is just not complex enough to justify using the close reading strategy.  

Today's reading purpose is for students to locate vocabulary words and clarify their meaning using the context found in their text. To do this I ask students to circle vocabulary words as they are reading.

Once they have done this, I show the students how to clarify the meaning of those words using that context as evidence.  When students are done, I select some words and specifically demonstrate how these words are different in science than how they are used in our regular language.


2 minutes

For this closure, I  remind students that we are going to be studying some of the basic concepts of life in this mini-unit and that the characteristics apply to all life forms on earth.  Knowing these characteristics is a way to begin studying them - as they've seen with the Wooly Bear.

I ask them to take one of the characteristics we learned about and apply it to an organism they know something about.  We share out our ideas.  I preview the next day by telling students that tomorrow we will be looking at specific and interesting life forms.