I start his lesson by asking students to think about what they already know about animals and why they live in groups. I show them this visual presentation to stimulate their thinking,engage their interest, and provide vocabulary review.
Many of my students speak English as second language and even something as seemingly simply as providing and reviewing animal names accompanied by visual cues can be empowering.
I remind students of the diversity of animals we've studied already, and our previous discussions about which of them live in groups. I show students this introduction to CER (Claims, Evidence, Reasoning).
After I introduce the process, we go through some examples of how the Claims, Evidence, Reasoning process applies to our study of animal groups.
This is a summary of the process: Curiosity and observations naturally lead to questions. A claim is generated based on the question. Evidence is collected to support the claim. Reasoning is used to make certain that the evidence does support the claim, and an explanation is given about how the evidence supports the claim.
Third graders are naturals at making claims and this process provides a structure in which they can be supported in differentiating between a claim that needs to be tested with evidence and an unsubstantiated claim that they state as fact.
To assist in this discussion, I have students share their ideas about why animals live in groups with the whole class. In a previous lesson students acted out a scenario involving banded mongoose and a wild dog. I find that whe ,students act out specific science scenarios it can give them a more immediate involvement with the topic, a deeper comprehension of subtle complexities, and it also provides support for English language learners.
I gave students these reading passages as homework so that they would be coming in with some background information. Additionally, half of the class reread the passage and/or read an additional passage while the other half of the class participated in the modified Socratic circle at the carpet. Splitting the class in half like this freed me to confer at greater length with the students who were reading the passages. These kinds of brief 1-1 support sessions are extremely valuable. It gives me an updated snapshot of students strengths and areas for improvement. Additionally, it gives me a chance to connect with them, uninterrupted, on an individual level. This is an important part of both what I value as a teacher and a person and what, in my opinion, makes a classroom work. Relationships are key. Finally, in addition to getting 1-1 time, the students get immediate, specific feedback. In a busy, full classroom, this is something that has to be planned for to provide access as equitably as possible.
Here are some animal groups reading passages.
Students are provided with a CER introductory organizer for animal groups study. Parts are already filled in based on our previous discussions. I provide this tool to help them categorize their thinking, stay focused on the questions and key details, and to help them think through the CER process.
Here is an example of how one student started to organize his thinking. The decision to use post-its was his. He wanted to be able to move details around to different places on the organizer if he changed his mind. Here are another student's notes about banded mongoose, leaf-cutter ants and round-tailed ground squirrels.
I split the class into two groups for this lesson. Half of the class read their animal passages and took notes at their seats. The other half sat at the carpet and participated in a modified Socratic circle. As you will note in this video that shows how these kinds of structures can be designed so that the Quiet/Shy Students Get A Chance to Speak, the students are conducting this discussion completely independently. They know the expectations, we have been practicing the rules for respectful dialogue all year, and they are able to own their learning with no immediate support from me. You will see me with the group, in the background, at the very beginning, and then I move off to work with the children at their seats. For me, it's a true high point of my day, week, or year when I see students able to engage with independent conversations in such a powerful, respectful manner.