Biomes: Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Do you teach a unit on animals and their habitats? I've got a great (because it's so simple) lesson idea for you! Check it out....
Our new unit of inquiry falls under the "Sharing the Planet" theme. We will investigate how living things depend on a balance in their environment to survive. To get students thinking about what they thought they already knew about animals and where they live, my teammate and I planned the following tuning-in activity. First, I passed out a plastic animal to each student. Then I asked all of them to think about their knowledge of that animal. "Where does it belong?" Finally I asked them to silently (so everyone could make their own inferences as to why) place their animal on one of four posters placed in the center of the meeting area. The posters were labeled: "Arctic", "Grasslands", "Ocean" and "Desert". As part of the unit students will learn about different biomes, but I didn't introduce or mention this term yet.

Students were totally engaged, I mean they LOVE those animals! I also liked that I could differentiate for my EAL students without them really feeling different from anyone else; as I passed out the animals it seemed like it was totally random, but I was conscientious about who got what!

Here's the interesting part...The sorting during round 1 was pretty predictable, but then we went around the circle again (round 2) so that they could explain why they placed their animal. As they explained, I rephrased or questioned their knowledge. The more we talked, the deeper the thinking went. I guided the conversation by asking questions like, "Do ALL foxes live in the desert?" Even as first graders they realize very few things in life are absolutes! The discussion that was so rich that many students changed their first placement as they considered different factors.

Here's what the posters looked like right after the first round of sorting:

                  Here's what they looked like after our discussion:

Quite a difference, right? Love that! I think the best part of all this was that the students were getting so into it; they were really excited to share their ideas as well as challenge others'. Lots of great thinking going on! You'll notice that after the discussion a lot of animals are bridging between biomes which is a perfect way for us to take our first steps into research. Can some turtles live in arctic waters? Are lizards found only in deserts? Off to the library we'll go!
How do you jump-start your science units?

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