Vertebrates Unit: Classifying Animals

Now that state testing is over for fourth graders here in Massachusetts (and thanks to all the storms this year it's going to be a lonnnng June), I have felt the pressure of math and ELA lifted, and I've been fitting in more science and social studies into our days.  I also looked over my blog topics over this past year and I was shocked to find I have not posted a SINGLE piece on science!  I actually DO teach science, really!  So I decided to  start at the beginning share a topic that I love to teach the kids:  Animals!  More specifically we begin by studying the traits of, and classifying vertebrates. 
We start out with a study guide.  Instead of waiting until the end of the unit to tell kids what their test will be on, I give them a one page sheet at the beginning of the unit.  It has all the vocabulary concepts and examples that we are going to work on over the course of the unit.  Some kids like to check off each topic as we cover it.

Next, we talk about the stages of the life cycle for all vertebrates.  This eases kids into the year because who doesn't love to draw their favorite baby animal? 

Then we complete a concept map for vocabulary words including habitat, appendages, body covering,  and adaptations.  

My poster board is in sad shape unfortunately, but only because it's been so useful over the years for both science and social studies concepts.  I'm not sure yet if I want to create a new one on poster board (the kids complain that laminated posters are hard to read because of the glare, and I don't blame them) or some sort of shower board project from the hardware store.  We'll see!

But back to vertebrates.  Next we start our research, checking off which characteristics animals have when it comes to the above traits.


I often alternate colors to help students track on the board, and they've also let me know that the lines are helpful, so I started doing this consistently this year as well. 

One thing I love about fourth grade is some kids are starting to be able to verbalize what they need in order to be successful, and they advocate for themselves!

Then we begin research on student generated topics on adaptations, such as why birds can fly and why snakes don't need appendages other than their tails.  

I usually group students by their selected topics, and they do an oral presentation to the class about their findings.  

I'm not usually a fan of oral presentations, but when it comes to animals students are usually so interested in the topic that they can overcome their shyness to share. 

Finally, my favorite part of our unit is to create our own animals!  They need to decide if its a mammal, fish, amphibian, bird or reptiles, and have the correct traits, but otherwise they can be as creative as they like!  Yet I can still assess which students can apply what they know about the characteristics of each of the animal classes.

The unit that follows is on invertebrates, which I have written about over on my other blog.  So if you're interested in more animal activities, check out my post tomorrow!  Also, if you're interested in getting these activities and more in a package deal, I have this vertebrate unit over at my TPT store. 
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