This lesson has been adapted from a National Wildlife Foundation lesson entitled, "Habitats for Sale".
I start the lesson by projecting an image of the surface of Mars. I ask my students to view the picture carefully and to decide whether or not they think humans will ever be able to live successfully on the planet.
After giving think time, I ask for a few volunteers to share their thoughts, explaining why they believe humans would or would not be able to live on Mars in the near or distant future. Next, I project the Mars One Homepage, which states that humans will inhabit the planet by the year 2024. I also show them the Mars One Roadmap, which depicts a timeline and plan for human residence on the planet.
I ask students to think about what humans might need to bring or build on Mars in order to make it possible for us to live there. I pass out paper and direct the students to sketch what this might look like. I encourage them to think about the basic needs of living things and how they would meet these on a faraway planet that’s very different from Earth. (You can extend this activity by having them research how the physical environment of Mars differs from Earth. However, since this is not the main objective of my lesson at this time, I try to keep it simple.)
After giving some time for students to complete their drawings, I invite several volunteers to share their drawings under the document camera, pointing out the things they feel would be necessary for humans to be able to live on Mars. As they share their ideas, I record them on the board, listing all of the items they believe we will need to bring our build (ex: food, water, homes, etc). I am careful to repeat items and write them as many times as they are stated.
After making the list, I ask the students how we could categorize these items, asking questions such as:
Next, I tell students that they have just drawn their own habitat. I explain that a habitat is a home, the place where humans get all that they need to survive. Humans, like all animals, require certain habitats that can meet their four basic survival requirements - food, water, shelter, and the ability raise young (this can mean safety, space, and potential mates). I ask the students to look at their pictures again and to circle all of them items that meet these four basic needs.
I have my students use their laptops to go to preselected advertisements on real estate sites such as Trulia or Zillow. (I usually provide links to the specific ads for the students to access on my class website. If these sites are blocked or you do not have the technology available, you can always cut out real estate ads from a local newspaper or magazine and copy onto a piece of paper.) We read through many of the real estate ads as a class, copying down key words or phrases that stand out, either because they are creative, or because they are common/popular ways of advertising and attracting potential home buyers. I want students to become familiar with this type of writing so that they will be able to write their own ads. Because many are not in the home-buying market themselves, we have to take some time and read several ads in order to learn about this style of writing.
After taking time to read through several ads and copy key words/phrases, I explain that they will each select an animal and write their own advertisements for their animal's habitat. These ads will describe the habitat or home and will attempt to attract potential "house-hunters". Their ads should not only be creative and persuasive, but should contain information about how this habitat meets all of the four basic needs of survival that are necessary for their specific animal.
*Example (from the National Wildlife Foundation):
Home on the Range: Prime Nebraska prairie! Loaded with tasty grasses, this wide-open property boasts refreshing water potholes. Perfect for growing herds that love to roam. Hot in summer, cold in winter. (Home for a bison)
After students complete their advertisements, I pair each one with a peer, carefully trying to pair up lower performing writers with more capable students, and average performing students with more advanced writers.
I provide each pair with a copy of the advertisement rubric, and have them edit each others' writing as well as providing suggestions to improve clarity, creativity, and address the required content. Once they have provided feedback to their partners, each student revises their advertisement, types it neatly, and add images (drawn or found online).
Next, the students play a game to match the ads with the correct animals. Each student takes a piece of lined paper and numbers it with the number of ads that have been created.
Then I have each student read and/or display their ad while the rest of the class guesses what type of animal would likely "buy" that habitat, placing the name of the animal next to the corresponding ad number. After reading each ad and having the students guess the animal that would live there, we revisit each paper and I have the student who created it identify what animal it was written for.
Students are assessed on their writing and on their understanding of the components of a habitat through the use of a rubric.
In addition, each student completes the following Self/Peer Reflection quickwrite, answering each question in 1-2 complete sentences:
How did your students do? Check out my impression of my student work here!