But there I was in bed and from out of nowhere, I realized I needed to revamp my animal unit to make it just as great as my autobiography one. Ugh! I wanted to pop right out of bed and do it then, but it was already after 3am and I *do* sleep sometimes. However, Monday was all mine and I'm proud to say I did it!
Then we really zoom in on what we need to know to become an expert on our animals. We focus on eight key research points like appearance, habitat, and life cycle. Side note, here's a great way to differentiate for your students because you can assign them a different number of research points based on their abilities.
To help keep students organized, we use a big piece of construction paper folded into eighths. Each box on our paper is carefully labeled by research point. As students are researching their animals in books, online, and through magazines they are also taking notes in each of the eight boxes. This is a great visual and helps students clearly see where more information is needed.
After researching, we take our construction paper notes and turn them into separate pages of our report. I differentiate here too. Some students will write single paragraphs on each topic, while others develop multiple paragraphs for each point. I also provide a CLOZE format guide to get reluctant writers started.
When students finish their rough draft, they meet with a writing buddy and work through a checklist. I love this part! It takes a lot of modeling and guidance to teach students how to provide meaningful feedback, but they can totally do it! Afterwards, students revise their drafts based on their buddy's feedback. This often means they need to do more research, which is totally authentic to the actual writing process for many nonfiction texts.
We round out the research pages with poetry, a word search, venn diagrams, presentation notes. Students compare and contrast their animals in partners, and meet with small groups to do oral presentations about their animals. During these presentations, students take notes on each others' work on a grid. This is great for both listening and speaking standards!
Finally, at the end of the project students are given a printable book template so they end up with a "professional" final copy. They are so proud of their work! Our unit typically coincides with our Grandparents' Day, so I work in having students share their projects then too. It's so incredible to see my third graders tackle such a big project because it's structured so well to pull them through it step by step.
I also like to mix art in as much as possible, so we work on animal mosaics too. I set up a side table with the supplies and students work on their mosaics as they finish steps in our research and are waiting for others to catch up with them. I ask the local pizza place for their cardboard circles and have parents donate various beans and pasta. Then I print black/white pictures from the internet and students use those as templates. Sometimes students choose not to use a template, and that's fine too. For less mess, you could swap this for a torn paper collage.
How cute are those?! Seriously, the whole project is so much fun. So if you already own it, be sure to redownload it so you get the newest version. If you don't have it yet, here's your chance to win one!