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Animals in their Living Environments: 4 Week Unit Plan for Elementary Students

By Elaine Meleti-Gallagher

Students love learning about animals! This four week unit can be adjusted for grades 3-5 or younger grades if desired.

713 3573124 Students of all ages enjoy learning about animals. Animals are part of the study of our living environment, and this allows children to begin understanding the real “circle of life”.

In most units, students will focus on the six main animal groups of vertebrates (animals with backbones) in learning about habitat, interactions, food chains, and how an animal’s specific structure is an integral part of their survival in the world. An appropriate time period for this unit of study would be four weeks.

Unit Overview

Assess Prior Knowledge

This unit of study can begin with the question “What is the circle of Life?” and playing song from Lion King which is familiar to children. At this point, all questions of unit (see text box) should be displayed around classroom.

This can be followed with a concept splash (a splash of words on smart board or just pictures for lower grades) and have students put these in groups. This can lead to discussion of what criteria they used to make these groups (i.e. fur, backbones, water animals). Once students’ prior knowledge is apparent you can proceed to start an in-depth look at each animal group. This would be done during first week and would have to be differentiated for ELL students (more visuals) and age appropriately.

Introduce Texts

At this point it would be beneficial to show students different leveled texts in classroom library on various animals and animal groups. Each day you can focus on one book or a portion of one for a shared reading lesson. This gives you the opportunity to also do a quick review of Non-Fiction text features. Students should be encouraged to read an animal book independently.

It is important to have many levels of text so that all students can enjoy learning about animal groups. For the first two weeks of this unit, students should be exposed to various texts as well as videos/pictures of animals in their living environment. They should be ready to pick a book for their own animal focus in this unit (or paired with a partner depending on reading levels in your class). This is an opportunity to answer some essential questions and have students begin writing informational text. Some suggested texts would be:

  • Gail Gibbon’s series on Animals including Owls, Whales, Horses, Beavers
  • Seymour Simon animal books including Wolves, Gorillas
  • Bobbie Kalman books such as How Do Animals Adapt? And What Are Camouflage And Mimicry?
  • Time for Kids, National Geographic texts and Zoobooks
  • Big Book Collection on Animals by Marcia E. Freeman

Learning About Food Chains

Once students are familiar with animal groups, discussion can continue into what each animal group eats. You can look at their habitat, their teeth structures and discuss why certain animals are carnivores, herbivores or omnivores.

This discussion can lead to a food chain discussion. You should read text related material on food chains until students are ready to make their own food chain on chart paper. A culminating activity for understanding food chains is to have each child represent an animal (or plant/sun) in food chain, whether by dressing the part (K - 1) or drawing a poster with information on their animal (3-5) and have them form a “Circle of Life” in your classroom.

Overview of the Unit

Activities for this unit can be broken down by week:

Week 1: Concept splash on animals using words or pictures

Students can complete a KWL chart at this time so that they can ask more questions and be engaged in the learning process.

Week 2: Students will look at various texts in classroom and pick book for their own independent reading response. This can be used as their nightly reading log or you can require them to do a book report (upper elementary).

Week 3: Students will be able to make their own food chain diagram and be able to differentiate between animal groups in part of food chain. This can be done with a partner on chart paper or as a PowerPoint for upper elementary.

Week 4: This would be the culminating week when students can put together all their information on an animal in a presentation (poster board or PowerPoint) to include their animal’s group, habitat, adaptations, place in the food change and any interesting facts they learned. This should include drawings and diagrams to show their understanding.

At the end of their presentations, students can revisit the song Circle of Life and sing all together to celebrate their learning.

This animal study unit should be limted to a four week period to allow for scaffolding of learning in the next grade.

Synopsis of the Unit

In this animal unit, students will understand that:

1. There is a balance in nature.

2. Animals are organisms, which are interconnected with all living things in the circle of life.

3. All animals can be classified by a variety traits/characteristics.

4. Animals must adapt to changing environments.

5. Animals live in communities made up of interdependent and interacting populations.

The essential questions that will guide students in this unit and focus teaching and learning are:

1. What structures do animals have that help them survive?

2. What behaviors do animals exhibit that help them to survive?

3. What is the circle of life?

4. How many different ways can we classify animals?

Students will know:

  • Key vocabulary
  • Types of animals in each classification group
  • Where animals are in the food chain and in the natural world

Students will be able to:

  • Classify animals using different criteria
  • Understand how animal structures and behaviors affect survival and their role in the food chain
  • Demonstrate an animal’s role in the community