I can't believe it took me so long to post about one of my favorite units to do with my students. I *love* animals, and most children do as well, which makes animal research projects so much fun to do with primary students. However, the thought of having over 20 students working on researching a different topic at the early primary level can be
a bit very stressful. I have worked through some tips and ideas to make it easier to allow students to choose their own animal to learn about, and to actually come out at the end with a product they are proud to show off!
I've used my Animal Research Printables for a few years now, and I love how easy it makes it to do animal research projects with primary students. My students love science, but even more than that, they love writing! They have been loving working on animal research, and I would love for your students to get in on the joy of learning about an animal through focused research, note-taking, and presentation. If you want to empower your students to choose a topic, organize their notes, and create a research booklet they will be proud of, this is a great way to go!
We start off by learning about animal classification. You can read books, use great websites (like the San Diego Zoo website) or use my Animal Classification powerpoint and printables to help teach about the different animal groups. I teach animal classification first and then we write down the different animals we are considering doing for our project. I stipulate that the students must write down at least one option from each of the six basic animal groups (invertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and amphibians).
One of the ways I have done this in the past is we have gone to the San Diego Zoo website (using the projector as a whole class) and we have cycled through the different animal types. Students write down the names of the animals that interest them. I also keep a running list up in the classroom for students to reference. The benefit to using this website is that you ensure that the students will be able to have an easy reference website to use later for their animal research.
After we have gone through all of the animal groups (which may have taken several days, depending on the class) the students choose the animal that they want to study. I never have the students decide on the same day that we start talking about the project. I want them to think about it, talk about it at home, and even go on some websites at home to make their decision. They do a short writing activity where they explain why they chose that particular animal. This can be a bit difficult for some students, so I model it very clearly.
If your school or classroom library is very limited, or if you do not have web-access for your students, you can have your students choose from books that you provide. If you have tables or desk groups, you can set out books about amphibians on one table, birds on another, mammals on another, and so on. Send your students around with clipboards and have them look briefly at the books to choose their animal from this limited supply to ensure that you will have research books available.
At this point in the research project, it is a good time to start a KWL chart (what I already Know, what I Want to learn, what I Learned) about each students' animal. If your students are very eager and have a hard time following directions, simply cover up the W and L columns with large sticky notes as a reminder. After all students have completed their K column, you can bring the students back, brainstorm some potential "Want to Learns" and send the students back to work on their W column. After this is done, you'll want them to tuck the KWL chart into a folder to be used at the end of the research project.
At the completion of the research project, students can finish their KWL chart, and also get together with a friend who studied another animal. They can compare facts, and create a Venn Diagram about their animals. Alternately, if your students are capable, they can complete a Venn Diagram about their animal and any other animal of their choosing.
For the bulk of the research, the students use books and kid-friendly websites. I photocopy my note-taking forms to guide their research. For very young learners, I have found it helpful to spend one day on each section. I model the whole project with my chosen animal, and we brainstorm general key words to look for in the students' books. For example, for the "diet" section, we discuss that it means the food the animal eats. We might look for words like herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore. Words like hunt and prey and forage might also indicate that we are reading about the animal's diet. This is a great opportunity to teach non-fiction text features as well. We dive into the table of contents, the index, the glossary, captions, labels, and more.
Students enjoy choice, and teacher need differentiation, so in this packet I have included a variety of forms to choose from for displaying the knowledge that students gain throughout the research process. You might choose to use one or more of them, depending on the needs of your students. Some teachers like to do a few animal research projects during the year, so they switch up what they use as the students' abilities increase. I have also put out extra blank booklets for students to use during Literacy Centers if they want to work on an additional research topic.
The layered flip book is a fun one and it looks great displayed on a bulletin board.
The Flap Book is a great way for young learners to display basic information. It does not require a lot of writing, so it is not intimidating.
The booklet pages are great for making a detailed book covering a variety of topics about a student's chosen animal. They are suitable for First and Second Grade.
I hope you are inspired to teach your students how to research an animal of their own choosing. My past students remember their animal research projects fondly, and I truly enjoyed working through the process with them!
Here are some comments from others who have used my printables:
"This is awesome! My students loved using these for their animal projects. The format is so easy for first graders to use!" -SLT
"Every year we do an animal research project with our second graders to go along with our Reading series. This packet has a lot of great resources to organize information and to help the students find a variety of information about their animal! Love it!" -MB
"Bought it and used it the next day in my classroom. My kids loved it and it was easy to use with many options." -B
"Great! I love the differentiation options so that all students can find success with a research project.
Thank you!" -JB
I hope you have learned some tips for how to do animal research projects with young students. If you need some printables to help you along the way, you can find them by clicking the picture below.