Exploring Habitats – A Peek at Our Unit

IMG_0319Just before Spring Break hit, I was able to wrap up our latest ELA theme unit on Habitats in our classroom. It was a full 6-week process, but my students really hammered away at everything I threw at them! Below is a glimpse of several things we got to do in our room. From science experiments to the final culminating task(s) – take a peek! Dissecting Owl Pellets As a part of our theme unit, we got a close look at the barn owl and its pellets. Once owls have ate, whether it be a mouse, a rat, a mole, etc., their digestive system is quite extraordinary in terms that they “throw away” the remains of their meals that their bodies cannot digest. Owls cough up the bones that remain from the animals they ate, which come back up in a pellet form, consisting of bones and fur of their prey. Owl pellets can be studied in order to learn about an owl’s diet, habitat and food chain, which is exactly why this dissection took place in our classroom! You can order your own Owl Pellet Dissection Activity from here. This is what came with my order:

  • Class set of owl pellets (all wrapped in tin foil)
  • Class set of wooden probes
  • Class set of plastic tweezers
  • Teacher/Student Owl Pellet Essential Guide Book (which included OBDK Bone Identification Charts you can photocopy for students to match up their bones to)

IMG_0316 Things I needed, but were not a part of the kit:

  • Magnifying glass
  • Plastic gloves (for the squeamish students)
  • Clean sheets of paper (to place extracted bones)
  • Tub of water diluted bleach (to whiten extracted bones)
  • Paper towels (to absorb excess water after bones extracted from beaker of bleach/water)
  • White glue (to secure bleached bones to bone chart)
  • Antibacterial wipes (to sanitize work area once finished)

Using the probes, students loosened the hairs of the owl pellet. As bones were uncovered, students then used their tweezers and placed them onto the clean sheet of paper provided. IMG_0315 After all bones had been extracted from the hair of the prey, we placed the bones into a beaker of diluted bleach to whiten them. I put students into pairs when dissecting and had small beakers for each pair. Students brought their bones carefully to me, I placed them into their labelled beaker, and then we let them sit for the whole day. At the end of the day, we used a strainer to separate the bones from the diluted bleach and put the bones onto a separate dry paper towel. IMG_0318 After the bones were dried, students took them back to their desks and started to match them up on the provided Bone Identification Charts I photocopied for them. Students could then begin identifying their bones by comparing them to the illustrations on the charts provided. Once all bones were matched up and students had identified what their owl’s prey was, they used white glue to attach the bones to the correct Bone Identification Chart.

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As an extension, we put our findings in plastic sheet covers and posted them on our wall outside of our room for other students to view as they walked by. We also started creating an All About Barn Owls bulletin board around our experiment findings. For my early finishers, I have something called The Research Bucket, which is a tub that sits in front of my desk. When students finish all tasks that I have assigned them (including any catch-up work), they can come over to this bucket. Inside I have research paper templates, books, informational handouts, etc. Students take the templates and are given free range of what they want to research and write about. They then do a small write up, something to add to our bulletin board outside that they feel is important for other students to know about the barn owl. This is the first time I have introduced The Research Bucket ever, and I have plans of implementing it into my room next year, so I am hoping it is a hit with the students!


Observation Journals Since it was in the middle of winter when we started this unit, and keeping in mind our geographical location and the surrounding habitats we have in our area, I could not realistically show my students each and every biome our wonderful world has…or could I? Thanks to Planet Earth, I showcased a different habitat each day for about 10-15 minutes to my students. During this time, students were responsible to observe what they saw on the screen, but they had to also document these finds.

   habitat_observations2 2

Final Culminating Assignment(s) As a final project for this unit, students got to research an animal and its natural habitat. I drew student names in order to select which habitat they would be responsible in researching, however they were free to pick any animal they wanted to do their research on. There were three (3) parts to this project in which students were assessed on: Research Papers Students had to research their assigned habitat and their animal of choice. They had to write an informational/research piece, whether it was in the form of  a research essay or informational brochure. This was assessed as an individual mark and completed independently in class. Dioramas Students were put into pairs with other students in the class researching the same habitat as they were. Students built a model of their assigned habitat, as well as they incorporated the plants and animals a part of this biome. Students were required to include the animals that they researched. These were a MUST to be seen in this dioramas.They constructed these dioramas by using either a shoebox or some form of a small box to frame them. Students were responsible to bring in any art supplies they felt they needed in order to construct their dioramas – some groups brought in modelling clay, others brought in figurines of the animals, and other various materials they could find.  This was assessed as a group mark.

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Oral Presentations In preparation for my students’ oral presentations, I felt it necessary to do a reading unit on HOW to present. Using my CAFE wall to guide students, we worked on (F)luency in conjunction with our Habitat unit. The key strategies we focused on were as follows:

  • Voracious reading
  • Read with expression
  • Adjust your reading rate
  • Pay attention to punctuation

To support these strategies, I bought the resource Book Talks off Life in Fifth Grade‘s TPT store. You can read about it and find it here. original-1643919-1   I used this resource to support my very own Nonfiction  Ecosystems Reading Comprehension Pack (you can get it here from my TPT store). Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 10.03.37 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-01 at 10.03.57 AM I introduced the handout from Books Talks  that was divided into three parts: opener, main content, closer. I gave my students a blank copy of this handout, but I also gave them a template copy I filled in. These handouts were used in order to help set up their oral presentation notes.

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After going through it with students, and doing a couple group practices, I had students practice presenting with these handouts being used as a foundation for their presentations. Students used my Ecosystems Reading Comprehension Package as the resource they were pulling information from for their practice presentations. It was a great hit! I struggled last year with finding ways to teach students HOW to present – what does it look like, what should it sound like, etc. I have found a wonderful solution that not only works, but the students love it! As students were presenting, I had students use the Peer Review sheets a part of the Book Talk resource as well. Students drew a name from the class and were responsible to peer review that individual as they presented – the student presenting had not clue who was assessing them though. Students handed in all Peer Reviews to me and I distributed them back to students so they could see what they did well on and what they still needed improvement with.

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For my students’ final oral presentation, they were presenting on their research papers they wrote, as well as they were going to present their dioramas. Students were expected to take 5-6 minutes presenting their habitat to the class and taking questions from classmates about the topic they researched. With all the work we did on how to present/reading with fluency to an audience during our reading periods, not to brag or anything, but my students nailed their presentations!

  Overall A very successful unit! I really enjoy covering habitats with my students – it is probably one of my most favourite topics to cover in the curriculum! I am so sad it is over, but excited to get into our new ELA theme unit. With spring just arriving, and soon going back to school just after enjoying a wonderful week break, I think both the students and I will be ready to dive into something new once more!

Thanks for reading!


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