Over the first 7 lessons in this unit, students have worked towards mastering standard 1-LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs. The next 3 lessons introduce a final external part-- feathers-- and give students the opportunity to mimic feathers as they design a solution to a school-based problem of their choice.
In the previous lesson, we began reading an extraordinary text about the many uses of feathers. In this lesson, we read the second half of the text and visit the author's website. I have structured this lesson according to the Common Core Language Arts standards RI.2 ad RI.6, finding key details in the text and illustrations, and retelling the main topic and key details. By reading a text, your first grade scientists are obtaining information (NGSS Science Practice #8).
This science lesson can be followed up by rereading the text, Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, during your Word Work or phonics block. The author chose vivid verbs like “glide” and “sprint,” juicy adjectives like “damp” and “delicate,” and my personal favorite element—similes! It’s such a gem of a text, and it will fit nicely into your day’s or week’s instruction.
I have also included a "links" section, which has some bird poems. And, check out the STEAM (STEM + Art) packet I send home to parents during this unit. You could complete one or more of these crafts as a craft to accompany this book-- and make a stunning hallway or showcase display!
I always like to start off with a song. Songs are a great way to sneak in content knowledge and a little movement! I start this lesson singing a song about External Features. As the assessment for this lesson, students will be writing a new verse to the song to retell a key detail about feathers. I posted a video of my students singing the song here.
Next, I connect to the previous lesson by reviewing the Main Topic & Key Details Anchor Chart.
Friends, one of the reasons that we record on graphic organizers is so that we can remember the main topic and key details we learned. Let's review the main topic of the text we are reading. Please read along with me, "Jobs of feathers." Great! We learned lots of key details too. Just like the title says, feathers aren't just for flying!
I retell the key details about the first bird on the chart. Then, I ask students to share what they remember about other uses of feathers. As students remember and share unique ways birds use their feathers to meet their needs, I put a check mark next to each one on the chart. This helps them see which details have been retold, and which birds we still need to recall. Since the anchor chart lists key words (and not sentences), students are actively participating in a retelling experience by putting the key details into their own words!
Next, I set the purpose for learning by sharing the objective. I like to display the objective and break it down. I circle or use a highlighter for the words text and illustrations. Also, “meet the needs” is the NGSS standard’s language, but I want students to think of this as “helping” the birds.
Today we will continue to use the text and illustrations to locate key details about how feathers meet the needs of birds. Meet the needs means “helps.” We’re actually looking for details about how feathers help birds survive.
First, I remind students about the way the graphic organizer works. The Main Topic and Key Details graphic organizer is divided into facts learned from the text and facts learned from the photographs, which hits Common Core ELA standard RI 1.6. I am teaching this lesson early in the year (October), so we will complete the organizer as a shared writing. However, if you are teaching this lesson later in the year, and your students are more familiar with these organizers, students can all record individually as well. At this point in the year, with such early-stage writers, I don't want students to be so busy that they aren't actively thinking and participating.
We will be taking notes about key details together. We have learned that good writers organize their thinking-- sometimes with charts. See how this organizer, or chart, has us list the main topic. Then below, we will write facts from the text here (point to the left column) and facts from the illustrations here (point to the right column).
Now we are ready to read! I first read the simile at the top of the page, and then the detailed text specific to the bird. I model listening for the type of bird and the job of its feathers. Then, I model getting even more information about the bird from the illustrations.
Okay, so the bird on this page is a sand grouse. The text says the sand grouse absorbs water into its feathers to give its babies a drink. Visualize a sponge or paper towel wiping across a wet table, that sponge picks up the water, just like the sand grouse’s feathers. Under “From the Text” I will write the words sand grouse and hold water. Now I’m going to look closely at the photograph. Wow! I see that it is tan or brown, just like the desert where it lives. I bet the colors help it protect itself. What is it called when something blends into the background? (Students start calling out, "camouflage!"). Also, I am thinking that these little chicks look like their dad. Under “From the Illustrations” I will write the key words, "brown feathers, camouflage, look like dad."
Because we read the first half yesterday, today I will model the skill with only the first page-- to remind students how it works to obtain information from both the text and illustrations. Then, I release this skill to students so that they are talking with a partner and then sharing. I record student responses on the chart.
We ran out of time for the reading portion, but here is what our chart looked like after Day 2:
Day 2 Anchor Chart
The following day, I changed my ELA lesson to respond to student questions. Check out this video clip about how the "Feathers" text generated a ton of student questions! The reflection in this section then gives you more information about how this rolled out in ELA.
Finally, it’s time to introduce the writing response. Today, students will add another verse to the External Features song.
Today, I want you to pick the bird from the text that you are still thinking about. Which bird used its feathers in such a cool way that you want to tell other people about it? As scientists, we share our new learning with others. We are actually going to write a verse to the external features song, and then we'll turn it into a class song book!
I model filling in the blanks with the American Bittern as my example, referring to the information from the chart. The tune is Frere Jacques.
To keep them clean
Feathers help them survive, help them survive.
Students can choose any bird from the chart to write about. Students will illustrate their responses, and I turn them into a class sing-along book!
Here are some samples:
As morning work on this day, I placed bins with various feathers on each group of desks. These are feathers I have picked up over the years on walks, including some blue jay feathers, which is one bird we saw in the text. As morning work, students traced the feathers, colored them accurately, and described them in their science journals.
As students finish their verse to the External Features song, they continue observing and recording actual feathers.
As an extension to this lesson, during the subsequent day's morning message or ELA block, I check out the author’s note at the back of the text with my students. It has neat information about how Melissa Stewart got her ideas and researched birds with scientists. Her website also gives this information! There are some kid-friendly activities on the site that could be incorporated into a technology special or center. I show it to students and then send the link to parents as a home-school connection.
An article by Melissa Stewart with other great paired fiction and nonfiction texts:
Melissa Stewart’s lesson using Feathers as a similes lesson:
A list of bird poems:
A poem and facts by a brilliant teacher/scientist (check out other topics while you are there!):