I ring my chime to get the class’s attention. I announce that we were about to begin the first lesson in our next Science unit. I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’. Once seated, I share “I have a mystery. There are two types of things that we will study in this unit. One of them we see every day in our fish tank. The second lives outside on the ground. I wait for answers from the class. ("Birds! Fish") “No….any more guesses?” (“Bugs?”). “Let me read you a book and then see if you can guess.”
I read The Biggest House in the World by Leo Lionni (while the book isn’t an instructional text about snails, it does introduce the appropriate snail environment, which will make the hunt easier). As I read, I stop to ask questions about the appearance of the snail, “What did the shell look like? Why did he need this structure?”. I continue to the end of the book, at which the students realized that we will be studying..(“Snails!”).
“We get to be “Naturalists” today. What are you going to be today?” (“A Naturalist!”) “Yes! These are people who study things in nature. There was a man named Charles Darwin who was a famous science explorer and naturalist." I show them a picture of him. "Charles Darwin was a scientist who was born 200 years ago. He loved nature and was especially interested in how different plants and animals evolve, change over time. He thought this subject was important to share with others.” Since Charles Darwin isn’t the focus of our lesson, I don’t go too much into him or his work since I plan to mention him in future lessons. Mostly, I just want the students to understand that some people get so excited about looking at nature that they do it for a living!
I connect a snail’s environment to that of our frogs. “Where can our frogs live?” (“In the tank with the plants.”). “Based on the book, where might we find a snail?” (“In cabbage plants.”) “Yes, snails have adapted to live in moist places that have lots of plants. That means where there's dirt and other soft ground that comes from plants. These places provide them with the right environment.” I display a picture of snails commonly found in our area I downloaded from the internet. “These look like the snails we have here at school. They like places that are dark, shady, damp, and grassy. Based on what we know, where can we find those kinds of places at school? Before we guess, let’s think about the things they need. Echo my words”. “Dark” (“Dark”) [hands covering eyes] “Shady” (“Shady”) [hands shading over eyes] “Damp” (“Damp”) [shaking water off hands] “Grassy” (“Grassy”) [fingers pointed up, wiggling like grass] . When I introduce words like this, I often add hand motions like this as second nature, both to help them remember the words and allow English Learners better access to the new vocabulary.
After the whole class instruction finished, I tell them “It’s time for us to go outside and look for snails.”. Based on what we know about their environment, I think the school vegetable garden is a good place to start? Do you agree?” (“Yes!”) They may have actually agreed or else just wanted to go outside! I use the chime to dismiss the students by table group to line up at the back door.
• Plastic containers for snail collection (one per group)
Once they line up, I say “Let’s review some rules first. First, walk in the garden. Second, stay on the path. Third, be gentle to the plants, animals, and each other.” We straightened our line as I remind them “Lines are…(“straight”) “and…(“together” and..(“calm”). We gather several clear plastic containers I had prepared and put next to the back door. We'll use them to collect snails and begin our walk to the school garden.
When we arrive at the garden, I model what I would look for by thinking out loud “Where would I hide if I were a snail? Let’s look under the compost. Look! There is a snail!”. I model how to use my thumb and pointer finger to gently pick up the snail “like I was holding a feather” and set it down in the container. I dismiss the children one at a time to look for one snail. Along with a snail, I ask them to pick up a small handful of compost or 'squishy leaves' to help create a habitable environment. Once they find a snail, they put it in a plastic container and join me back at the gate. The snail collection essentially acts as a pass/fail formative assessment because they show mastery over the material by looking in the right place and finding, gathering, and depositing a snail in the container correctly. The collection takes about five minutes by design since we now have an adequate number to use for future observations. I give them a one-minute warning with a hand clap pattern. After they all find one snail, I assign one person per table group to carry the containers. We line up again, checked our form (“straight, together, calm”) and head back.
Once we return to class, I briefly talk about proper snail care, "We need to keep the organic material moist, a little wet. We'll use a sponge to add small bit of water every day. The other thing we need to consider is how they will get oxygen, so we'll cover them with plastic wrap and poke some small holes holes so they can still breath but not get out.". The attached picture shows the collection of one table (for better viewing, I took off the cover).
Once we were back in the classroom, I have the assigned students put the plastic containers on the tables. After everyone washes their hands, I ask them to head back to their carpet squares. “Let’s share some of the places we found our snails.” (“Next to the wood” “Under the dirt pile” “Near the leaves”). As each idea was shared, I add it to the list I wrote on chart paper. After all ideas were recorded, we review the contributions before it is posted near the Science area so the students could refer to it during future Science lessons or drawing/writing activities.