The Structures and Functions of Birds

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SWBAT identify the different structures and functions of birds.

Big Idea

This is for the BIRDS!! Did you know birds do really cool things that engineers can use to create new stuff? Check out how first graders discover more about birds and Biomimicry!

Setting the Stage:

National Science Education Science Standards Connection:

The National Science Education Standards has said that making observations is key to inquiry-based and discovery-focused learning in science instruction. In order to do this students participate in inquiry-based learning that allows them to solve a problem in science through observation, discourse and using a science journal. Students will then be give a chance to share their findings with their peers and then reflect on their own understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

In this unit students will learn that organisms have external parts that help them survive in nature and then use that information to help them solve a human problem by mimicking plants and animals. This is called Biomimicry - bio: life, mimicry - to copy. To learn more about Biomimicry check out this Ted Talks.

In this lesson students will learn about the different structures and functions of birds.  They will identify that birds use their beaks and claws for protection and for finding food. They may also discover that feathers keep birds warm and dry. This lesson will also introduce my students to the idea that engineers can observe and copy things that animals do to create new inventions.

Home to School Connection:

In this unit we will be learning animal and plant parts. Students will learn that organisms have external parts that help them survive in nature. The NGSS standards ask students solve a human problem by mimicking how plants and animals survive.  Each a day a student in class will be able to take home the Organisms Bag. In this bag I have included a recording sheet, crayons and pencils, and the book What if You Had Animal Teeth by Sandra Markle.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.

Vocabulary Cards:

These are the vocabulary that will be covered in this unit that addresses 1-LS1-1.  You can choose to use these cards in different ways. I like to print all vocabulary words on card stock and hang them on my science bulletin board as a reference tool throughout the unit.  You can also use these cards as flashcards or a concentration matching game.


Anchor Chart - Animal Classifications

Video: Amazing Animal Facts: The Birds

Investigation Worksheet - Birds

Feathers- Various feathers from local birds (turkey, owl, goose)

Beaks 1- different sized beads, cereal, felt (meat), cooked noodles, buttons, beans, different sized tweezers, straws, hooks, slotted spoons, tongs and trays

Photo - Hummingbird

Photo - Wood Pecker

Photo - Robin

Photo - Meadowlark

Photo - Owl

Photo - Bald Eagle

Beaks 2- tubs of water, plastic seaweed, plastic leaves, strainers and slotted spoons

Photo - Duck Beak

Claws 1- 1 tub of dirt, gummy worms or plastic worms and 2 hand tillers

Bird Bone - Bird Bone and Antler of same size

Birds - Structures and Functions

Book: About Birds: A Guide for Children, 2nd edition by Catherine Sill

Science Journals:  I just use blank paper in my journals so my students have space and freedom to experiment with graphic organizers, illustrations, etc.

Science Journal Prompt: What are the structures and functions of different birds?


5 minutes

The NGSS does not require students to know the different classifications of the animal groups so the focus of this lesson is to allow my students to explore animal parts (structures) and functions while introducing them to the different classifications.

I begin this lesson by referring to the Anchor Chart we created in our previous lesson Animal Classifications. I read the characteristics of birds that we have written on this chart.

Boys and girls, today we will be studying birds parts but I bet you already know a lot about bird parts.  With your turn and talk partner please share what you know about a birds structures.

I listen in on conversations and record the different structures I hear my students share on our Anchor chart - Structures and Functions of birds.  I bring the class back together and read the different parts I heard them share: curved beaks, claws, wings, feathers, & keen eyesight.

You came up with some great animal parts (structures).  You said birds have beaks. You are absolutely right. I hang different pictures of birds on our chart: Balled Eagle, Mallard Duck, Robin, Ostrich.  Look at these birds - they all have beaks.  All birds have beaks and this is a great structure to study.  I repeat this for feathers and wings.

Today you are going to do an investigation to answer this question: What do you think is the most important bird part and why?

Boys and girls, today you are going to watch a video about birds.  In this video you are going to learn more about their different animal parts and how they are used.  Be sure to listen carefully to learn about how animals use their parts.

Watch video: 1:00-10:00

After the video, I have my students share with elbow partner any new facts that they learned about birds structures and functions.


30 minutes

The standard addressed in this unit requires students to make observations and identify functions of structures (animal parts) that help animals survive in nature.  In this lesson my students get to observe and collect data on the animal parts and functions of these parts.

In this next section I begin by I telling my students that we are going to investigate the functions and structures at stations. I have organized materials into different stations that my students will rotate every 5 minutes.  As the students observe, they record their observations on an Investigation Worksheet - Birds.

Recording Sheet: Investigation Worksheet - Birds


Feathers- At this station students work with their workshop partners to explore with feathers.

Investigating Turkey feathers

Investigating owl feathers

Beaks 1- At this station I have a series of different sized beads, cereal, felt (meat), cooked noodles, buttons, beans, different sized tweezers, straws, hooks, slotted spoons and tongs on different trays so my students can explore with bird beaks. 

Investigating bird beaks

Photo - Hummingbird

Photo - Wood Pecker

Photo - Robin

Photo - Meadowlark

Photo - Owl

Photo - Bald Eagle

Beaks 2- At this station I have a couple of tubs of water with plastic seaweed, and leaves.  Ducks have holes in the bottom of their beaks so the water can drain.  I have different strainers and slotted spoons to use with this investigation.

Investigating duck beaks

Photo - duck beak

Claws - At this station I have 1 tub of dirt and inside of the dirt I have placed plastic worms.  I have a couple hand tillers to use for this investigation.

Investigating claws

Bird Bone - At this station my students get to compare the weight of small antlers (bone) to an actual bird bone of similar size. 

Bird Books & Bird Photographs - At this station I have photographs and books about birds.

Nests - At this station I have different bird nests for students to observe.

Investigating a Magpie Nest

Investigating a bird nest

As my students research different birds parts, I walk around and confer with each student naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching. I refer back to our question:  What do you think is the most important bird part and why?

Field Trip Extension - Explore:

60 minutes

For this lesson I invited a group called the Montana Rapture Conservation Center to come and speak to my students about the different Montana raptures.  In their presentation they spoke about all the different structures and functions of the raptures including claws, curved beaks, and keen eye sight.


10 minutes

The NGSS asks that students communicate and explain information from observations. In the explain section I want my students to share their observations with their turn and talk partners.  Each partnership will engage in accountable talk agreeing or disagreeing with each others' observation notes.  I want my students sharing their observations and explaining their thinking as well as engaging in high levels of student discourse and reasoning. 

Thank you for meeting me on the carpet with your observations. We can call the work you have in front of you, your data.  Each of you have collected a lot of really good data today.  Now you get to do just what scientists do. You are going to share your data with your turn and talk partner.  Your job is to have a thoughtful conversation with your partner about your findings and your partners findings. As your partner shares his or her work with you, I want you to listen carefully to your partner today.  Are you ready to give this a go?

As my students share, I listen in on their conversations. Then I bring them back together and we record the different animal parts we observed on our Birds - Structures and Functions.

What do you think birds use beaks for?  

My students share things like; to eat, to tear food, to feed babies, to sing, to drink.

Next you said claws. What do you think birds use their claws for?

My students share things like; to hold onto branches or bird baths, to pick up things for their nests. I record these on our anchor chart as well.

Lastly you said feathers.  How do birds use their feathers?

My students share things like; to keep warm, to fly. I record these on our anchor chart as well.

WOW! You know a lot about bird animal parts and their functions!


15 minutes

In order to develop a culture that encourages student engagement, curiosity and a desire to understand the world through scientific exploration, I elaborate on our learning by showing my students a slide show with different animal parts and different inventions that have been made by copying each part.

I show my students a picture of each animal part: beak, feather and claw. I ask my students to come up with ideas that people have created based on these different animal parts. As my students share their ideas we record them under the Human Invention Column of our anchor chart.

Human Inventions:

Wings - Airplanes

feathers - warm comforter or coat

claws - hand tillers or hand grabber

beaks - tweezers

We read this book to elaborate on our learning: About Birds: A Guide for Children, 2nd edition by Catherine Sill

Afterwards we have a brief discussion about everything we have learned about birds. 


10 minutes

The Science and Engineering Practice 4 asks students to analyze data. At the K-2 level this involves students collecting, recording, and sharing observations. In this lesson the students are recording information, thoughts and ideas in their science journals. I send my students back to their science journals and ask them to write the answer to our big question: "What do you think is the most important bird part and why?"

The Science and Engineering Practice 7 asks that students argue findings based on their evidence. As my students write I tell them to refer back to their research. I am looking for answers that appropriately argue why they think one part is more important than the other.  I encourage my students to include both illustrations and words that describe the different animal parts and functions and explain why they think it is the most important.