Extinct, Endangered or Threatened?

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SWBAT distinguish between the three terms: extinct, endangered and threatened.

Big Idea

The general public uses these words interchangeably. However, they each have specific meanings and they are important distinctions in science.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson is the last lesson in a the unit on the Rain Forests of the world. I want to teach this concept last because it not only addresses an issue that is highly important to the Rain Forest biome, but also establishes background knowledge that will be addressed again in the following unit...Earth's Past...How Did it Get Here? Extinction does not happen quickly, it moves through a progression...beginning with threatened species, moving to endangered and finally ending with extinction. This progression demonstrates the Cross Cutting Concept of Stability and Change.

I want the students to understand and see that not just dinosaurs have become extinct in the history of Earth, but that it can easily happen to any animal or plant on the planet. Teaching this lesson in a unit that does not focus on the Earth's past, but rather on any biome or ecosystem, I can demonstrate for my students that this possibility is real and can happen easily.  This lesson could easily be taught in any unit focusing on biodiversity. I chose to teach at the end of the Rain Forest, to lead into the final unit of the Earth's past.

This is a very simple lesson.  Clean and straight forward.  This lesson does take an entire day to complete.  Because it is close to the end of the school year, the routines of our days are becoming lesson routine and I have more freedoms to change things up a bit.  When the children arrive in the morning, I share with them that we are going to actually begin our day with a science lesson.  In this way, I am able to utilize my reading and writing block within the context of my science lesson.  

Scientists must be able to not only do research in the field, but also in the realm of reading and writing as well.  Second Graders must work hard to bring all the high level reading and writing skills they are learning during the course of the year to a point where they can integrate all those skills together.  Most students are able to do this with guidance and support from teachers.  Finding the skills and confidence to do this independently is the goal of this lesson.  


10 minutes

I begin the lesson with the power point ready on my screen. Slide one shows the title of the lesson and sparks interest in the children.  The title shows three words...."Extinct, Endangered or Threatened? What's the Difference?" (SP1) I leave the slide up for only a couple of minutes. Just enough to get the children's attention and quickly move to slide two.  

Slide two poses a question that I want to use as my lead in for the children to walk them through this lesson.  This slide asks, "Are all these words the same?" I leave the slide there for a minute or two and allow the children a few minutes to think through their ideas.  I ask them not to share any ideas, but to hold on to those thoughts. I do this because slide three suggests that the children will have team talk to share out their ideas about this concept. 

When I move to slide three, I encourage the children to share their ideas freely with each other in their teams. By this time of the school year, the children have experienced team talk often and do so easily and respectfully.  I spend my time circulating throughout the classroom as the teams are sharing their ideas.  


30 minutes

Slide four suggests that research is needed....I quickly move on to slide five and it shares with the children that the research is going to involve reading and they are welcome to take any notes they feel are important to their reading.  

I pass out three articles that come from the NewsELA website. I carefully have chosen three different articles that focus on three different animals that can each be classified as either: extinct, endangered or threatened (SP4). 

I make sure to choose an article that clearly describes an animal that is extinct. I have chosen an article about woolly mammoths that comes from the Los Angeles Times, dated May 6, 2015.  The article clearly discusses the mammoths being extinct and discusses the timeline of when they lived and roamed the Earth. (The idea of the mammoth also lends itself to the fact that Earth's Past will the next unit of study and mammoths existed during this time period). 

For the concept of endangered I chose an article about manatees. A sea creature that provides the children an opportunity to bring in background knowledge they built during the lessons on the ocean.  This article specifically uses the language of the animals being in danger.  This article came from the Miami Herald, dated March 22, 2015. 

The article focusing on the concept of threatened is about Orca Whales.  It is from the Seattle Times and is dated July 14, 2014.  I love this article because it explains the scientists concerns and questions surrounding the possibility of the whales being threatened and why. This article is especially exciting to the children because it discusses animals that they feel they know a lot about and also, it is from our geographic area. They always feel so much ownership when they can connect it to their personal world.  

I have copied all three articles and stapled them together in a rather large packet for each child.  I am prepared to hear groans from the children when they feel the size of the packet.  To my surprise, I hear no sounds, just excited voices asking...."Can we read these now?" 

I allow the children to read independently.  While I watch and circulate throughout the classroom. I make sure that the children have plenty of time to read and document any notes they feel are important.  Some students may struggle with the reading and I help those who have difficulty. 


20 minutes

When all the children have read the three articles, I ask them if they can determine which article addresses those three words we spoke about earlier in the lesson.  

The children have many opinions themselves about which they believe are correct.  Many of the children are accurate in their prediction of the mammoth being extinct.  It really is rather obvious.  It is the endangered and threatened descriptions that are a bit more complicated.  

I prompt the children to go back and practice what we have learned in our reading lessons....find the evidence!!! I remind them that scientists must do the same thing. This has become our credo all year, Evidence!! Evidence!! Evidence!! It is all about the evidence.  

The children reach for their highlighter pens and we begin looking.  Carefully, we read the articles together as a class. When one child sees or finds a phrase or word that triggers a thought, they raise their hand and share with the class their reasoning.  

After working through one article, it becomes evident that we do not know what we are really trying to find because we have not established the definitions of the three words.  We stop our reading and discuss the words: endangered, threatened and extinct (SP6).

I use these definitions to bring in the language to specifically define the language with the children.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines an endangered species as "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

The ESA defines a threatened species as "any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." 

Extinction is much simpler and as a class, we are able to determine that extinction simply means there are no animals of this class left on the Earth. 

With these definitions more clearly defined, we go back to the articles. The children continue reading and highlighting any words they believe are relevant to defend which animal is endangered and which is threatened. (The manatee is endangered and the whale is threatened). 


30 minutes

After allowing the children to discuss, I move to slide six and ask the question..."How can we ensure that we do not loose any more animals on the Earth?" 

The children have so many ideas and opinions on this. I am happy when I hear them discuss lessons from their own experience that support their thinking.  Examples, they share are preventing oil spills, not over fishing our waters, and protecting habitats of animals. 

Slide seven suggests to the children that they are going to write an opinion paper that explains how they believe we can help to save animals from becoming extinct, threatened or endangered.  Writing a a paper with their opinions and evidence to back their claims allows them to distinguish between opinions and evidence (SP7). As well as, also analyze what evidence to include that is relevant to the question (SP7).  

I explain to the children that this will be their opportunity to write their own article defending their thinking with evidence that they have gathered. Not only from the article, but also from any learning or experiences they may have.  

This is their chance to practice sharing their thoughts, just as the scientists in the articles we have just read. I move to slide eight and show them the rubric that helps to make a solid piece of writing for their thinking. 

Just to add a bit more empathy to their writing I show them this video clip that is filled with good music and beautiful pictures. 


I offer the children blank paper and the finished copy to publish their writing on.  Some of the students prefer to write their writing on writing paper rather than the other page. 


10 minutes

When the children complete their writing, I collect them to read.  I use them to check for their ability to share an opinion and also back up their opinion with evidence.  It is important to keep in mind that they are seven years old and the sophistication of their writing will be simple.  

If I see students who share a "why" followed by an example or elaboration of their thinking or evidence that supports their "why" I believe that student will have reached the goal I am looking for. My expectation is that a few students will be able to accomplish this type of writing, but most will be close to writing it.  

My experience has been that Second Grade students are much more articulate verbally and can very adequately explain their opinions and thinking. However, writing it is a bit more challenging. They are still on the cusp of writing quality sentences and tend to start out strong and become a bit bogged down in the grammar and conventions of their work. This tends to derail them from their point of writing.  It is a continuum and by Third Grade, they will be very competent writers.