Synthesizing Research on Animals

It's May, so what better time is there than the present to teach first graders about research? Hmmm.... Well, we just dove in without another thought! (Take that, end-of-the-year countdown!)
The big understanding we are teaching for is, "All living things depend on a balance in their environment to survive." In order to inquiry into this idea, students picked an animal to research. I created a note taking packet to guide them as they collected information.
Click to check it out!
It follows a simple format that allows students to sketch or draw, as well as take notes in response to guiding questions that keep them focused on the central idea of our unit. I've already reworked the format a couple times, the last of which included enlarging the first page to allow for more space for information on the animal's characteristics. As students began their research, we found that many of them needed more lines to record important facts.

I think it's important to remember two things when teaching kids how to take notes, pacing and modeling. I plan to allow several sessions for my kids to conduct their research by responding to one or two guiding questions each time. I also plan to model (and model, and model) otherwise they will most likely copy word for word from a text. Taking notes is definitely a skill that requires higher level thinking; students must consider what they've read and synthesize that information into their own words, so we must show them repeated examples of what that process looks like.

I started by modeling this complex process with an actually pretty simple three-step process that I creatively like to call, "Read, Think, Write." Sounds complicated, right? I chose to use Penguins by Gail Gibbons as my resource text because of the reading level (2nd-4th grade) and the strong picture support.

On the first day, I only focused on researching my animal's characteristics  I showed students how I read a few pages (both the pictures and the text) and checked for understanding before writing ANYTHING. That meant I shared my thinking out loud, including questions and wonderings. I kept the mini-lesson interactive by inviting them to help me process the information, "What have I learned about my animal's characteristics from this part of the text?" I modeled that "notes" are just that, brief phrases that include only the most important words. Warning: this picture came straight from the trenches; my handwriting/drawing is not super-neat!
This was the first format. I added more space for notes on "characteristics"

And so it goes. We continue to research one day at a time for about another week. We plan to compile our findings by writing "All About" books (applying our learning from our last Writing Workshop unit).

How do you feel about teaching research? What strategies do you use in your class?
Signature photo ScreenShot2013-04-26at54143PM.png


  1. I love Gail Gibbons books. I'm using them now with my fourth graders to teach them about nonfiction text features.

    Hunter's Tales from Teaching

  2. Hi Bethany,
    I agree, her books are great for teaching NF, especially with fourth graders because the text isn't so hard for them!
    Thanks for your comment :)

  3. Hi Karli! Thanks for the comment you left on our blog. We would love to follow your blog too, but can't seem to find the "follow" button. Please let us know, so we can read more from you!

    The REAL Teachers of Orange County

    1. Thanks for stopping by! :) I think Google is phasing out the GFC followers and replacing it with google+/circles, but I've added it back. I have a follow by email gadget and I also added a blog lovin' button. PHEW! Hope one of those works for you! :) Thanks for the encouragement & support!!

  4. Hi Karli~I love this activity and I love penguins. :) Thanks for stopping by my blog and thanks for your sweet words about my button. ;)
    Brandee @ Creating Lifelong Learners


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