Natural Selection in the Wild - Direct Instruction

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Students will be able to analyze the adaptations necessary for organisms' survival.

Big Idea

How can organisms survive the desert? Students study an extreme environment to analyze successful adaptations.

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Purpose of Lesson:

The purpose of this lesson is to learn about the adaptations of organisms trying to survive in the desert.  

Major Strategies to Watch for:

1) Structured Reading- Students use annotating and clarifying strategies to learn about desert organisms.

2) Thinking map- Students use a thinking map to process information from the reading and make connections to the concept of adaptation.

3) Writing to Think- Students use a writing to think time to summarize their learning and develop new ideas and connections.

Ready. Set. Engage!

5 minutes

Learning Goal:  Discover natural selection in the wild looking at animals and plants that live in the desert.

Opening Question:  Choose one of the animals or plants below and state what adaptations that help the organisms survive.

  • Lion
  • Hummingbird
  • Anaconda
  • Dragonfly

Today I am interested in finding out whether students are connecting adaptations with selective pressure. To find this out, I ask the student to tell me an adaptation they are thinking about. Then I ask them to state what dangers the organism faces and how that adaptation helps the organisms survive.

Students record their opening question on their learning goal sheet and are ready to start class 3 minutes after the bell has rung. I reward students who get started early with ROCK STAR SCIENTIST tickets.  

Follow the links to learn more about the beginning of class strategies and ROCK STAR scientist tickets.  


5 minutes

Before we watch the Adaptations to the Desert video, I let the students know that we are going to be looking at an "Extreme" environment. I ask them what they think an "extreme" environment is. Then I tell that that extreme environments often have some of the most interesting and unique adaptations because of the difficulty of surviving. I ask students to watch the video and look for "special" adaptations.  

Once the video is done, students quickly Think-Pair-Share with their partner. It is not necessary to share out loud because the students are going to do a reading on this topic later in the unit. 

Focus and Independent Work

15 minutes

The purpose of this section is to model the skills the students will be using with the reading. Today the students are annotating and clarifying the Desert Animal Survival text before making their graphic organizers. I do a brief focus lesson to show students how to annotate and write on the text.  In this video, I remind students about what the annotation rules are and show them how to annotate the first paragraph of the text.

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In my class we have a set annotation method for all readings. I got this idea from the book Close Reading by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. I find that it gives the students the right amount of structure and flexibility to be successful.

Clarifying simply means that the students are writing the BIG IDEA next to the paragraphs. I like this because it allows the students to practice writing on the text. I've attached an example of student work to this section. 

I give the students 10 minutes to read independently and annotate and clarify.  

Guided and Collaborative Practice

10 minutes

Now the students are ready to process the information that they read, by producing a thinking map. Today we are making a bubble map. The students write DESERT ADAPTATIONS in the middle circle. Then students make several other circles connecting to the center idea. Together, as a class we choose an adaptation from the text to put on the thinking map. Once I am certain that students understand the purpose of the map and how to get information from the text and put it on the map. I've included an example of student work

Independent Practice

7 minutes

Today's prompt is, "What did you learn about adaptations desert animals need to survive?" I project the prompt on the board and students write for 3-5 minutes. This time depends on where the class is in building stamina in writing.  

One of my favorite processing strategies to use with students is writing to think. It is a great way to double dip the need to process new learning and the need to grow fluent writers. My students have a Writing to Think notebook that stores their thoughts and growths. I use this anchor chart to help students understand our writing norms. 


3 minutes

Closing Statement: Today we studied the adaptations needed for organisms to survive the extreme environment of the desert.

Closing Question: How do you think the animals in the article developed their adaptations?

Closure depends greatly on timing and is not as easy to plan in advance as opening.  You can find more information about how I manage closure here.