Layers of the Mountains

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SWBAT sort animals and plants into the correct layers of the deciduous forest.

Big Idea

Exploring the biomes of the mountains and forests offers students a chance to make observations of the diversity of the biome.


10 minutes

I begin this lesson by showing the children the GRASPS Power Point. This is a strategy I use every time I begin a new unit.  The premise behind this strategy comes from Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design.  I love to begin units with this strategy.  It gives the students the understanding and purpose about the learning we have ahead of us.  This unit focuses on the diversity within the mountain and forest biome (LS4-1).

 The children always get very excited at the beginning of a unit. They love to know what kind of a scientist we will be in this unit.  The GRASPS, does a nice job of setting this up. After we have looked at the Power Point and learned about the direction of this unit and what type of scientist we will become, the children add and create a new section in their journals.  

I usually have the children count about four or five pages from the ending of the last section in their books to the begin the new section. I explain to them that just because we are moving on to a new unit does not mean we may not find more learning that will connect to past units.  If we leave some extra pages, we will be able to add that learning in and organize it appropriately.  


30 minutes

I gather all the children on the carpet with me and share with them a book.  It is called, Henry Climbs a Mountain.  It is a great story that is loosely based upon Henry David Thoreau and his travels through the mountains and his feelings about following rules he did not agree with.  I don't focus on this aspect of the book, but more on the travels in the mountains.

Another golden opportunity in this book is the ability to introduce a historical person who was a naturalist and scientist.  Connecting history to science is always a plus. 

I review the book with the children and ask them if they can remember things that Henry came in contact with on his journey up the mountain? I then ask them if they could document what they remember. 

I show them the Brainstorming page (sometimes we call this a Circle Map or a Brain Dump) and explain to the children that I would like for them to write down in their teams all that they can remember from the book about the mountains. 

The children get busy right away. They love to do these kinds of activities. Afterwards, the children do a quick Professor's Walk (a Professor's Walk is when children walk around the classroom quietly making their own observations and gathering information from others. This is not my original idea, but one I learned many years ago from a training I attended) and see what other teams have written down.

I now explain to the students that I want them to take the information they have documented from our story and see if they can apply it to some real world pictures and labels.   

I explain that the forest is divided up into six layers.  I tell them that I will bring them a set of cards and they will use them in their teams to see what they know about those layers.  I explain that I want the children to work together in their teams to sort the plants and animals into the layers they believe we would find them if we were to venture into the mountains.  

I am doing this before I begin teaching the unit to gather any formative information I can about the children's prior knowledge.  This is the first big unit on biomes that will be addressed this school year. I want to hear their rationalizing of where each plant and creature should be.  

I pass out the pictures and label cards to each group.  I have already printed and laminated each set. They are sorted in small ziploc bags and ready to go. This makes it much easier for me to manage with the class when they are made ahead of the lesson. 

As the children are working, I am circulating in the room listening to the conversation and what they are discussing.  


15 minutes

Because I really want to grab my students attention with this first lesson, I show them the Layers of the Deciduous Forest Power Point.  I begin on slide one.  

Right away, I have caught their attention, because they do not know what the word, deciduous means.  I tell them to hold on for a little bit, that maybe, we will discover it as we are learning from the slide show.  

We slowly go through each slide, reading and discussing what we see.  Every time we come to a new layer in the forest, I have the children repeat that word. They say it to the ceiling, their desks, the floor,  and their shoulder buddy. This seems silly to have the children say the new vocabulary word in this way, but it promotes language building for all students when you do this.

According to Isabelle Beck, children need to say and hear new vocabulary words up to 25 times to learn it and internalize the new language.  Also, having the students say the word orally (verbally) helps them to aurally (listen to ) hear the word.  Two different ways to cement that language. 

Within each layer, we talk about the pictures that accompany that slide.  After we have made it through all the slides, I ask the children how many of the teams were correct in their placement of the animals and plants. The team leaders stand and share out that they didn't get them all right. Some of the teams have placed some in correct positions, but they realize we have some learning to do.  

None of the children are disappointed. They have begun to internalize that these mistakes are healthy learning mistakes. 


10 minutes

When we have completed going through the power point, I allow the children to work at reorganizing their pictures and word labels a second time.  However, I don't let them look at the slides as we are doing it.  

I want to know how many of them were beginning to listen to word clues or any sort of system they may be creating for themselves to remember new information.  

I walk through the room and have the children explain their thinking for me to verify that they can explain their thinking and share that thinking with me as a real scientist would (SP8).