“We’re going to read a book about our next Science unit. I need you to listen and guess what we'll be studying.” I begin to read Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni (I always use Amazon Smile to buy my classroom books. It's a program from Amazon that effortlessly raises funds for your school!).
While the book isn’t an instructional text about worms, it does introduce its environment and behavior. Additionally, it’s a really engaging book by one of my favorite authors for this age. While Leo Lionni writes and illustrates books using very simple texts and pictures, he packs the characters with vocabulary and behaviors (curiosity, stubbornness, love) that instantly connect to the students. As I read the book, I stop to ask questions about the appearance of the worm, “What did the character look like? What did he do with his environment?”. I continue to the end, I asked the students to guess what we will be studying..(“worms!”).
After the book is finished, I tell them “We get to be “Naturalists” again today, people who study the natural world or a living thing so they can teach other people about it. In order to be Naturalists though, we need a specimen to study. It's time for us to go outside and look for worms."
"Based on what we learned about worms from the book, I think the school playground may a good place to start to look for worms? Do you agree?” “Yes!” "Let's take a minute and list a few places that we may want to look. When worms crawl, they leave something called 'worm casts' in the dirt. It looks a kind of footprint so we can see where the worms have been. This can also help us know where they are headed. Let's start looking for our worms..." "On the ground!" "OK, we'll put 'ground' on the chart. Anywhere else?" "In puddles?..In dirt...On plants." I record all answers- along with simple illustrations to add clarity- on the chart to give the students both a way to remember what they are currently hearing and also reference as the lesson moves forward. Preplanning makes the hunt go quickly, so you may want to identify/do some recon in some areas at your school where worms are likely to live. Students can sometimes lose interest of they don't see quickly see a result to their effort. While perseverance is a useful skill, there's nothing wrong with doing some pre-work to help them along. This was a useful step to help my students quickly find specimens and maintain engagement in the lesson. I ring the chime and have the students line up at the back door.
• Plastic container for worm collections (one per group)
Once they were lined up, I said “Let’s review some rules first. First, walk on the blacktop. Second, be careful where you step so you don’t step on earthworms. Third, be gentle to the plants, animals, and each other.” We straightened our line as I reminded them “Lines are… “straight” “and.." “together” "and.." (“calm”). We gathered several clear plastic containers I had prepared and put next to the back door to collect worms. The class and I began our walk to the playground.
Some recent rains have made this a great time to hunt worms so I want to take advantage of the bounty. We arrive outside and I model what I would look for by thinking out loud “Where would I hide if I were a worm? I need moisture and dark places. Let’s look under the mounds of dirt near the puddles. Look! There is a worm!”. I now model how I use my thumb and pointer finger to gently “like I was holding a feather” pick up the worm and set it down in the container. After the modeling, I dismiss the children one at a time to look for one worm. Since we need a small amount of specimens to study, I limit it to one. Along with a worm, I ask them to pick up a small handful of dirt to help create a habitable environment. Once they found one, they join me back at the gate and deposit the worm and dirt in a plastic container. I didn’t specify which container because I knew I would be able to even out the numbers later.
The worm collection essentially acts as a pass/fail formative assessment because they showed mastery over the material by looking in the right place and finding, gathering, and depositing a worm in the container correctly. The collection takes about five minutes by design since we now had an adequate number to use for future observations. I give them a one-minute warning with a hand-clap pattern. Once they all find one worm, I assign one person per table group to carry the containers. We line up again, check our line form (“straight, together, calm”) and head back to class.
Once we are back in the classroom, I ask assigned students (usually Daily Helpers or other responsible choices) to put the plastic containers on the tables. Everyone washes their hands and heads back to the carpet squares. “Let’s share some of the places we found our worms.” “Next to the wood” “Under the dirt pile” “Near the leaves”. As each idea was shared, I add it to the chart we created at the beginning of the lesson, looking at our predictions and comparing them to the places we actually found worms. When all ideas were recorded, we review the contributions before it was posted near the Science area so the students could refer to it during future Science lessons or drawing/writing activities.