I've always struggled with my Animals unit in Science. I pride myself in creating hands-on, engaging lessons--but it's kind of hard to make animals "hands-on." I mean I have a few feathers, a turtle shell and a snake-skin. But my unit was still just a lot of reading books and watching videos. This year, I decided to shake things up a little--by creating a Kindergarten Zoo!
Whenever I plan a unit, I start by looking at the standards for that unit and planning my learning objectives. The standards for "Animals" in Texas are fairly simple:
(A) sort animals into groups based on physical characteristics such as color, size, or body covering.
(B) identify parts of animals such as head, eyes, and limbs.
That's it! I don't have to teach about adaptations or habitats or food chains. I don't have to teach kids the difference between reptiles and amphibians. My job is simple. And rather than spinning my wheels trying to teach my kids material that is (possibly) developmentally inappropriate and (possibly) causing them to develop misconceptions, I make darn sure they develop a thorough and sound understanding of the concepts I am responsible for. And I make sure we have lots of fun doing it!
I started by reading one of my favorite books.
I asked the kids if they wanted to make a (pretend) zoo in our room and the answer was a very enthusiastic YES! After I calmed them down and explained that--no--they could not bring their dog to school--we hatched a plan. We decided that we wanted to bring stuffed animals (and other animal toys) to school. We would make sure they were as realistic as possible (so no pink leopards or red teddy bears). We would make signs to tell visitors all about the animals. To do that, we would have to learn all about the animals.
(Translation: I knew exactly what I wanted to do. But I made the kids think it was ALL their idea. I'm good.)
We started by sorting animals and listing/defining their physical characteristics. This is how I made it inquiry-based: I did not tell the kids how to sort the animals. I did not even tell the kids what the different physical characteristics are. I let the kids tell me!
I used these animal cards, which you can download for free in my TPT store.
First, I gave the kids a few minutes to explore and talk about the animals. Then, I let them work together in table groups to sort the cards any way they wanted to! They sorted them in some unexpected ways--like cute and gross (true story). I just let them do it and then eventually guided them to sort by the characteristics I wanted them to learn (again--making them think it was all their idea).
For example, I saw that one group sorted by color (YES!). So I had all the groups sort the animals by color. Then the kids listed all the colors they saw while I recorded them on an anchor chart. I pushed them to come up with any colors they missed through questioning: What animal is this? What color is it?
We took the vocabulary the kids came up with and worked together to create an Interactive Science Word Wall that the kids continued to use throughout the unit.
We used the word wall to write about our animals in our science notebooks.
On the next day, we repeated this process. Again--I had the kids choose a way to sort the animals. This time, they sorted by number of legs. I had to guide them to include all of the characteristics I wanted them to learn. For example, they pulled out the spider and all the animals that had 4 legs, then put all the other animals together in one big group. So I had to prompt them. Me: What about the bee? Kids: It doesn't have any legs! Me: Are you sure? If we're not sure, we look it up. We added "limbs" to our word wall and the kids wrote in their science notebooks.
All the while, we read lots of animal books...
We did a lot of comparing animals.
Here are a few examples of kid notebooks:
And then the kids made signs to tell visitors about their animals.
They wrote simple sentences describing their animal's physical characteristics using sight words, words from our word walls and phonetic spelling. Because most of the animals were plush, we had a few misconceptions about body coverings--some kids thought penguins have fur. So we had to double check a few things in books...
Finally, on the last day of the unit, we made our zoo!
We decided how to group our animals. Because we were not learning about habitats, I wasn't super concerned about where the kids put the animals. They decided on farm, arctic, savanna, forest, jungle, desert and ocean. I snatched a bunch of fake ficus trees from the library. We used butcher paper, leftover bulletin board fabric and whatever else the kids could find around the room. They had so much fun arranging the animals (they even hung monkeys from the trees).
We made tickets and invited our families...
And we had popcorn, but had to remind the visitors:
DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!
The kids were the zoologists and taught our visitors all about the animals.
The kids LOVED this unit. They were engaged every day throughout the 2 week unit and when it was all done, they knew so much about the physical characteristics of animals. Now, if only I can figure out a way to get some real pandas. They look so cute on YouTube...