Nocturnal vs. Diurnal

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Students understand the definitions of a nocturnal animal versus a diurnal animal by sorting animal pictures into two groups.

Big Idea

Students learn that some animals have adapted to be awake in the day and some awake at night.


15 minutes

Students are instructed to sit at their seats to begin a new unit.

At each students' desk, there will be a baggie with pictures of animals.  Each student will have their own baggie for this lesson.

I ask students to take the pictures of the animals out of their bags and turn them all face up so that we can go though them and name the pictures.

The pictures of these animals are black and white photocopied.  I chose to use these because of the high number of students I have and the ease of making the activity the same for each student.

I specifically do not introduce the words nocturnal and diurnal to the students yet.  I want to see what they know before we dive into the definitions of these words.

This activity gives me a good base for what prior knowledge the students are coming in with.  It is also interesting to see the connection to the math lessons that we have done on the different ways to sort by attribute.


Guided Practice

10 minutes

As the students get their pictures out and ready, I lead them in a short discussion about what each of the animals is. 

Since I have a wide range of prior experience, I know that there are students that will know the names of all animals but there will be many that do not.  It is important to name the animals since students may have heard about a certain animal but may never have seen one.

As we name each animal, I also ask students if they know anything about these animals.  I use turn taking sticks to call on students to share information about the animals.

As the animals are named and information is shared, I will record the student responses on the anchor chart that I previously created.

The anchor chart has a picture of each of the animals in the baggies.  The pictures are displayed across the top of the chart.  I have drawn a grid under the animals so that each animal has several boxes underneath to add facts. 

As we add the information to the chart, I will organize it in the boxes by habitat, foods, etc.  Then as a class, we will label each of those sections of the chart accordingly.


Independent Practice

10 minutes

After the class is done naming each animal, I ask the students to sort the animals from their baggie into two groups.

I do not give any further instructions because I want to see all of the different ways the students can sort them.

As the students are sorting, I am walking around the room, quietly observing.  This activity will be fairly quick as there are only 8 pictures.

When I see that most students are finished, I will ask for any volunteers to share how they sorted these animals. 

If I see that a student was able to sort them by nocturnal and diurnal, I will try to call on them last.  I choose 5-6 students to share. 

If no student is able to come up with the two types of animals, I will introduce that to them by saying, "Did you know that there are two types of animals?  One type sleeps at night and is awake in the day and the other sleeps during the day and is awake at night?"

This question/statement usually starts up a conversation among the students because odds are, they do know this.  They then start to realize that they have some of these animals in their pictures from their baggie.  I allow them to chat for a minute or two with their peers and I will indefinitely see that some students will begin to sort the pictures again.


10 minutes

Students typically have a good sense at this point which animals are which.  As a class, I have students come back together and we sort the animals again. 

This time, I have the pictures of each animal and I have the pocket chart set up with two columns.  At the top of each column I have placed the words, "Nocturnal" and "Diurnal".

Now, I hold up each picture and say, "Is this animal nocturnal, meaning it is awake at night, or diurnal, meaning it is awake during the day?" 

We talk about each animal and where we think it fits and place the animal in the pocket chart accordingly.

To close the lesson, we review the two words, nocturnal and diurnal.  I tell them the meanings of each word again. 

To give them a memory clue, I tell them that nocturnal starts with an "n" just like the word night and diurnal starts with a "d" just like the word day.  This can help them remember the meanings.

After reviewing the two words, I pass out science journals and we write the two words and draw a picture for each.  A moon and stars for nocturnal and a sun for diurnal.