Animals communicate with sound

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SWBAT retell key details about how animals communicate with sound over distances.

Big Idea

Echo (echo)! Animals communicate with sound too, from echoes to songs. Check out some awesome animals use sound to say hello!

Instructional Notes

This unit is broken down into two main parts: sound and light.  For the first half, we are investigating the question, "How do we communicate with sound?"  This essential question incorporates two NGSS standards as we are beginning to investigate the properties of sound and also moving towards the culminating engineering design product. 

  • 1-PS4-1. Plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate, and NGSS.
  • 1-PS4-4. Use tools and materials to design and build a device that uses light or sound to solve the problem of communicating over a distance.

Throughout this unit, I use a KLEWS anchor chart to record our new learning.  This is a science-specific type of KWL chart designed with primary students in mind!  Check out this video I like to call KLEWS chart 101:


This lesson is an enrichment to the curriculum.  Animals using sound to communicate is not included in the standards.  However, one aspect of the standards that I love so much is that they are just that-- standards-- and not curriculum.  The standards give us the freedom to present the information in different ways.  

Children are amazed by echoes.  It's just fascinating to hear your own voice booming back at you!  So, today, I have added in a lesson that introduces students to animals that use echolocation, including whales and bats. Then, we go a step farther by introducing how the military and scientists use echoes with sonar to locate objects underwater.  In later grades, students will explore many ways to harness sound using technology.  We also look at how animals communicate with sound underwater.


5 minutes

To begin, I connect to students' prior experiences.

Friends, we have been talking about how to communicate with sound.  Have you ever communicated by turning your voice into an echo?  How do echoes work?

We define echoes and add it to the KLEWS chart under the "S" Science section.  Echoes are sounds that bounce off of an object.

(Note: this year, my students did not feel the need to add echoes to the KLEWS chart as they all feel very comfortable with the concept and vocabulary word.)

Next, I ask if students have schema (background knowledge) about any animals that use echoes.  Here I pose the question of the day, "How do animals communicate with sound?"  Bats are a pretty common fall subject for teachers, so I expect that students will know about them.  Students may also know about whales, ask and see!  Here is a close up of student responses on "K" section of KLEWS chart.

Exploration ~ the wave crest

20 minutes

Science & Engineering Practice #8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information states that students may obtain information from grade-appropriate texts and/or media.  I love that this standard includes the word "media" because so many students learn very well from videos.  Videos are an engaging way to both show and explain concepts.  It is incredibly important, though, that teachers sift through the plethora of available videos and find grade-appropriate ones that first graders can relate to.  It is also important to facilitate the video by setting a purpose before watching, turning on closed-captions when available, and also pausing the video at intervals to have students retell key details in their own words.

To begin, we pose the question, How do animals communicate using sound?  I set the purpose for watching the video by saying, "While watching the video, let's listen for key details about ways that animals communicate with sounds."

In this video, we see how dolphins and bats use sound to communicate and also to locate objects. Students are introduced to sonar as well.

After watching the section on dolphins, we take notes together on our Key Details chart paper.  I give students the option of recording along with me in their Science Journals as well.  We also pause after the section on bats.  Finally, we see how humans have learned from animals and also use echoes to locate objects.

Here we are taking notes (Engaged taking notes and Note takers in action) and here's where we recorded our information (left side is from video #1, right is video #2).  A student's notes show how they mimicked writing the key details from our class chart.

Part of SP#8 is also evaluating sources.  I think aloud that this video wasn't only about how animals communicate with sound.  Rather, it was also about how we use sound to locate objects.  I tell students that we will watch a second video clip.  We will pause and take notes during this video as well.  Then afterwards, we'll evaluate and decide which video best helped us answer our question, How do animals communicate with sound?

As we pause the video during viewing, students retell key details such as these about marine animal communication:

  • Whales, dolphins, and killer whales communicate with sound
  • Use echoes
  • Humpback whales sing songs
  • Splash with their tails to communicate too
  • Use blowholes to make more sounds and communicate

After watching both videos, we evaluate and see that the second video gives us more ways and more types of animals communicating with different types of sounds.

Students go on to describe their reasons why video #2 is better at answering our question.


5 minutes

In closing, students choose one of the animals from the video and write a fact about how it uses sound waves.  Scientists retell key details through drawings and diagrams.  My students record in their Science Journals, which are marbled composition notebooks.  

We were on the rug during the video, and to put in some movement, students are now at their seats drawing and writing.  See this friend with his notes on the left, as he completes his formative assessment.

Here are more samples of student journals:

When I complete this lesson next year, I will have students draw sound waves as well, in order to better explain their fact.

Finally, I have a collection of sound books in our classroom and provide this extension for early finishers.