At the start of this lesson I ask students to answer these questions in their science notebooks:
Here are a few of their responses and how I check them to get a sense of what background knowledge they are relying upon. I'm looking for the following:
What I find is that despite having been exposed to this information in the primary grades, students often do not possess an ability to articulate anything specific. This is yet another example of the importance of developing precise scientific vocabulary. These students took this "pretest" much later in the year than I intended, and had already studied animals, yet are still unable to be precise in their definitions. Some of their definitions are rudimentary almost to the point at which they have little meaning. As the teacher, this falls upon me to insure that I continue to instruct in specific, precise vocabulary at a basic level even when their understanding may be at a higher level.
So, in the course of this overview of life cycles, which they also happened to study last year, I also make certain to post and refer to details about the characteristics of living things, the characteristics of animals, and the characteristics of plants.
I also mention the six kingdom system to my students because while DNA and cladistics is changing all of that, it still gives them a basic scaffolding to understand that living things fit into certain categories. The well know categories are the plants and animals. Fungi are often misunderstood and thought to be plants. Then there are the tiny and microscopic organisms that form the groups of archaebacteria, monera, and protista.
I talk to students as I show them the Animal Life Cycles Examples, which gives visual examples of the life cycles of the vertebrate classes as well as a few of the invertebrate groups. We discuss it as we go through it and I have them take notes (not write sentences) about key details. For example, under reptiles, I'd have them write "rubbery" eggs to differentiate those eggs from the thin brittle shells of bird eggs. This Animal Life Cycles Notes Page makes it easier for me to check on the specific vocabulary they are writing down as we discuss these examples.
I ask students to think and be prepared to share, with a partner, me, or a small group:
What do you understand now about a particular animal's life cycle that you didn't know at the start of this lesson?
What is something you already knew but were able to clarify further?
Is there something that surprised you? What? Why?
What is a characteristic that makes an animal an animal?