I ring my chime to get the class’s attention. I announce that we are about to begin the second Science lesson in our unit about snails. I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Me Five’. Once seated, I ask “What part of your body helps you survive? “Our brain” “Skin” “My hard head” (That answer begged for so many comments!). This question was designed for engagement so I didn’t record answers. I share, “Yesterday we went outside to the garden to look for snails. When you picked them up, what did you notice about their body?” I wait for answers from the class. “They had shells.” “They were soft underneath.” “We get to learn more about these parts so we can better understand how they are used to help the snail survive.”
Before I begin The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder, I ask the students, “Focus on four important vocabulary words in this book- mouth, foot, shell, tentacles- that illustrate the parts of a snail. Look for these in the book.”. As I introduce each word, I list them on a simple chart. By simple, I mean that it was designed to preload (provide exposure to) key vocabulary. I have a variety of language levels in my class so I cover the vocabulary in varied forms more than once to provide them with maximum exposure. I like to use color on charts like this to add visual interest as well as support retention and cognitive organization. Simple icons/simple drawings also help explain the term. To add to my geekiness, I choose colors based on the subject. I refer to this chart at points in the lesson, both to help illustrate the concepts and terms as well as give the students a model so they know to reference it themselves later on.
To better give these words context, I went on to give some explanations. “A snail uses his mouth the same way you do, to eat. The snail foot is like his body and helps him move. The shell acts like a house for the snail, moving with it as protection. Tentacles are what the snail uses to see and hear so it knows where to go.” As I read the book, I stop to point out these parts on the snail illustration. As the book progresses, the picture of the snail gets bigger so it’s much easier to see details. I ask the students to pretend to be the child in the book, “The child is imitating the snail, imagining what he feels like in the garden. Snails have no bones, so how does it move? It uses its strong muscle to inch along. Stay on your carpet square and pretend that you are a snail with no bones.”.
I continue with the book, stopping two more times. “The book talks about when the snail needs to slide to move. Let’s take a minute to move a tiny bit by sliding. Notice how it feels to use that strong muscle and move without arms or legs.” I needed to keep it quick and simple here so the students would focus on the content..and not how much fun it is to slide around on the floor. As I ended the book, I focus on the last key body part- the tentacles. “Now I want you to point your fingers and put them up on top of your head. Point your thumbs in front near your chin. Close your eyes. Snails use the ones on top to see and the ones on bottom to smell. Move around a little bit and use these tentacles to feel your way with only your fingers to tell you where to go.”. I finish the book with a thought, “Now we know a little more about what it feels like to be a snail. I wonder if we can we learn more when we look at it more closely? What do you think?” (“Yes! Yup! Of coooourse!”) I use the chime to transition the students back to their tables and begin the next part of the lesson.
“Remember yesterday when I told you about a famous naturalist? Anyone remember this name?" I knew that -this year- I have one or two students who remember facts like that. Otherwise, I wouldn't ask that question in order to avoid the 'dead space' silence that can sometimes kill lesson conversation. "We get to be like Charles Darwin now and see if we can identify the snail parts by looking very closely at the snails in our containers on our tables. I want us to focus on the parts that we learned and explored when we pretended to be snails. Does anyone remember these words?” Since I left up the chart, I wasn’t surprised when several students answer together (“mouth”, “foot”, “shell”, “tentacles”). I add one more vocabulary word to the chart, “slime trail”. This would have been difficult to imitate on the carpet squares, though easy to observe in the clear container. “A slime trail is the trail a snail leaves when it moves. It’s made up of a sticky mucus..well, kind of like the stuff that comes out of your nose when you blow it..that helps it move forward.”. In general, connecting a new word to something they know (sometimes intimately!) will help them apply it better.
Before I let them observe, I remind them of some simple rules:
1. Look with our eyes
2. Give them space
3. Wash hands after to make sure you don’t transfer any bacteria.
I refer to the Animal Rule Chart near our Science Area.
Then, I remind them of a way to be fair with this activity- take turns with the magnifying glasses so everyone has a chance to look. I set parameters in place for each student to have twenty seconds (we make a game of everyone counting at the same time to give valuable number practice) to look before passing on the magnifying glass to the next person. I anticipate the question and answer, “Yes, if there is time, more than one turn is fine.”. Last, I pass out a big magnifying glass to each table for the children to share while they observed the snails in the container. To prepare for the observation, I asked “What body parts can you see without the magnifying glass? Will it look different with it?”. As they began to look at the snails, I move around the class, guiding them when need to find the snails’ body parts.
After about 5-7 minutes, I ring the chime to get their attention. “Now we are going to be like naturalists and label a drawing so we can remember the locations of the body parts we just observed. Did we ever do this before?” (“With the goldfish”) “Since they were often the first people to see these things, Naturalists like Charles Darwin did this so they can record what they learned with their observations and help other people learn the same things.”. I added this fact to give them a vision into their future and explain why this skill was valuable both to their own learning and that of others.
I pass out the Snail Worksheets. “On the bottom are the vocabulary words [I include academic words like vocabulary whenever possible to raise their vocabulary level.] that we listed on the chart and practiced on the floor when we pretended to be snails. You need to match the words to the part of the snail body then write it in the correct box.”. Standing in front of the tables, I use a worksheet to model the first one for them. “Put you finger on the word shell. Next, touch the shell on the snail picture. Then write the word shell in the box next to the line that points to the shell.” I chose ‘shell’ as the example because it’s an easy word to identify and write, a useful thing when you want a quick model. After this initial demonstration, I tell them to fill in the remaining four labels on their own. “Anyone that finishes quickly can color in the snail as long as the coloring is accurate. That means it needs to look like a real snail.”. It’s important for me to include this instruction both so they can make their observations more concrete and so I don’t get poor snails that are colored like the characters in ‘Frozen’. The labeling doesn’t take long for most of the students, about five minutes. I ring the chime to end the lesson. I ask them to clean up the tables, push in their chairs, and put the papers away before returning to their seats.
I have a quick discussion with the students, “What did we learn when we observed the snails?” “Where their body is.” “How they go from one place to another.” “How they see with their tentacles”. “Could we learn more if we observe further?” “Yes” “Should we leave the containers on the tables then?” “Yeees!” “OK, let’s take a second to review the rules about animal safety and respect. What are they again?” “Hands off.” “Give them space” “Wash hands after” “Then we can leave them on the tables to observe during our free choice.” I want to give the students an option to keep the snails on the table as a future learning experience, though I wanted their buy-in to follow the rules first. That will keep them focused on the learning targets.