I present students with a simple scenario to get them thinking about animal groups. I create several different situations to provide different perspectives on the purpose of an animal group, the relationship between predators and prey and how that dynamic changes when either population fluctuates, and how availability or scarcity of plant food and shelter also affect the prey species ability to survive.
I was working with a smaller group than usual, so I picked 4 coyote and the remaining 13 students were rabbits. In this first scenario, the oval carpet was where the food was located and prey (desert cottontail rabbits) had to go to that location to get the 3 pieces of plant food they needed to survive another day. (This is intended to be analogous to what species might face when going to a watering hole, for example). I gave the rabbits a very slight head start before releasing the coyotes, who were instructed to gently tag and were given permission to howl. Note: There are classes with which I have chosen not to do this activity because they were too physical, but this class is very good with boundaries and they are gentle with one another.
After the second round, the rabbit population has diminished significantly while the coyotes (who only need to eat one rabbit to survive) are doing well. Here's what the rabbits had to say:
As the students return to their seats and prepare to work quietly, I ask them to reflect upon what observations they made about the relationship between the predators (coyotes) and prey (rabbits), and what they observed about the benefits and disadvantages of being in eh group. I encourage but don't require note taking or diagrams as they think (without talking) for about 7 minutes. This gives them a chance to settle and give them a model for how to transition and focus themselves after an exciting and social activity.
Then I ask them to write about what they observed. My science goal is for them to build upon their understand of how groups benefit from being together, and to introduce the idea that sometimes being in a group can put an individual at a disadvantage. In addition, though, there are a many other basic principles on display in this activity and if they bring out any of these that is another area in which to build upon their specificity of language.
Here are a few examples of students who have some ideas that they could elaborate upon further, and a student who had more specific ideas but needs to work through a misconception.