Animal research can be a great topic for writing informational text because students tend to be curious about animals.
Nothing seems to spark interest in most kids like learning about animals in our world, so turn their enthusiasm into an engaging animal research writing project. Here you will find over 30 pages of anchor charts, lesson ideas, writing planners and graphic organizers to help you teach your students how to write their own pieces of informational text. The intended end product for students for this post is actually an animal booklet that they can staple together to share with others, but that product could also simply be used as one option since some of your students may be ready for something more advanced.
You will find the link to the entire download of resources described below at the bottom of this post in BOLD text.
Lesson 1: Introduction – Begin the unit by having the students brainstorm a list of animals that they would most likely see in their immediate or surrounding environment. Then push them further to brainstorm a list of those they have seen or heard about, but whose habitat might not be close by. You can do this on the blank anchor chart provided or on cart paper. For something a little different than a classic whole group brainstorming session, you might want to think about putting students into groups and assigning them each a continent to focus on. This would require the use of online resources or nonfiction books and we have provided a page where they can record their findings. After some time, pull the class together and have each group share what animals they found that live on the continent they were assigned.
Lesson 2: Noticings – Next you might want to get your students familiar with common characteristics about informational texts that teach about animals. Have them work in pairs or small groups to go through some books and record their “noticings” about the writing. Then come together in a community circle to discuss those noticings and create a class anchor chart. For this lesson we have provided an anchor chart you can use to put up in your classroom after the discussion or that you can use simply for guidance during the discussion. If you feel you would like for your chart to be more organically created, you can also use the blank one provided to hang up in your classroom after recording student ideas.
Lesson 3: Opinion vs. Facts – Before getting truly into this unit, you might need to conduct a lesson on opinions vs. facts. After a brief discussion you can use the giraffe paragraph provided in our resources to give your students some practice differentiating between the two. This paragraph contains both opinions and facts. With your class read through the paragraph and record facts and opinions on the T-chart. (There are various types of writing utensils that will work on the black background if you would like to mark on the paragraph during your discussion, but you could also use Post-its to mark specific sentences.) Discuss both sides individually and how they are different from each other. A black & white copy of this giraffe paragraph has also been provided if this will be a review for your class. You can have them work in pairs or groups to distinguish between the facts and opinions. If you need more resources for your students surrounding fact & opinion check out our Fact & Opinion Sort.
Lesson 4: Choosing a Topic – We want to help students to narrow their topic choices by giving them some guidance. Gather students and begin a discussion about choosing an animal research topic. Ask them to think of animals they already know a little about or that they have a genuine interest in learning more about. For this lesson we have provided two pages where students can individually brainstorm the animals they are interested in. You can circulate the room during this process to have short conferences with each student and help them to make choices. Don’t shy away from letting more than one student research about the same animal. This can be a great way to promote group work and help out with some of your literacy center choices throughout this unit.
Lesson 5: Good Places to Find Information about an Animal – At this age we want students to begin to understand that all they read online about animals isn’t necessarily true, even though it may sound “official”. Show students two possible places to find information online about their animal. One should be a trusted site with reliable and accurate information. Another should be a site that perhaps a child has created. (There are many that you can find if you search.) Pose these questions: Is everything on the internet true? Why? How can you tell? Why is it important for your research writing to contain accurate information?
Lesson 6: Taking Notes – Sometimes giving students resources and a blank sheet of notebook paper can be too overwhelming for them. You have students who simply copy everything from the text or you have others who have no idea where to start. We need to guide them to read and pull out facts & relevant information to use later in their writing. For this lesson we have provided four templates for note-taking that you might choose to use for your students. Some are fairly open and some are more guided in nature, so you might need to provide different organizers to students depending on their needs. Whatever method or template you choose for helping your students learn to take notes, be sure to model it several times – demonstrating how to write the notes as they read about a topic. After initial teaching, you may find that you need to pull small groups for extra practice and even conference with students one-on-one once you take a look at the notes they are taking.
Lesson 7: Word Choice in Research Writing – To help students think about making their writing more interesting, have them begin to brainstorm words about their research topic that could add some voice to their writing. Together brainstorm words that would be appropriate for animals (what they look like, their movement, their habitats, their life cycles, their diets, etc) and create a class anchor chart on the page provided. You might even think about using the real life picture of the wolf provided to get the students to begin thinking of more interesting words for animals (fierce, mighty, strong, etc). Then pass out the individual brainstorm pages and have students use the anchor chart as a guide to begin their own word choice pages about their animal. This might be a good partner activity as well.
Lesson 8: Writing Sketch – To help your students stay a bit more focuses you might want to think about modeling the Writing Sketch planner for them. One idea to help your students narrow down all of the information they have learned about their animals is to give them a specific number of animals facts that they can focus on. Each of these facts can serve as the actual text that they will put on each page of their animal research book or the facts could serve as a focus for each paragraph in their writing. You might decide that you need to teach two smaller group mini-lessons to model how to use this planner depending on the levels of the students in your classroom.
Lesson 9: Creating a Table of Contents – Another idea that can serve as a writing planner AND a page in their animal research book is to pull out one (or both) of the Table of Contents pages from the resources provided and model how to fill in those blanks with specific focuses for each page. This page will then serve as their Table of Contents (with a focus discussion on what that is and the purpose it serves) and also their writing planner so they know what they will put in the pages of their booklet.
Lesson 10: Creating a Glossary – There are two pages provided in the resources that might help your students to learn to pull out topic specific words to put into a glossary for the end of their animal research book. Be sure to model how you would like for your students to use these organizers (keeping in mind that you may need to copy more than one page if there are more words than the page provides for). If your students need a refresher on ABC order check out these links for some added practice/review: ABC Order Task Cards & Fry Word ABC Order Task Cards
Lesson 11: Writing Your Animal Research – You will decide on the best method for your students to showcase their published animal research. You may want your students to use their own creativity in the texts that they write and share, but if you’d like a first experience to provide a bit more guidance, we have provided two different sets of pages for booklets. One is more guided and the other has less structure and smaller lines for more writing. 15 pages are provided so that you can pick and choose which you would your individual students to use for each section. This “lesson” may actually become a series of lessons if you choose to model how each page can be used. (We have also included a page with simple writing lines in case you want your students to have much less guidance than the booklet pages provided.)
Lesson 12: Labeling Pictures – One final lesson idea that pairs well with writing informational text is to teach your students how to label pictures. Since most nonfiction writing has real photographs, we would encourage our students to find some pictures online to print out and label for their booklet (or other writing product). Hand-drawn pictures are also great if you would rather encourage some or all of your students in that direction. Whatever you choose, show your class how to effectively label a picture so that it teaches the reader something additional about the animal. You can use the picture of the polar bear provided to model how to add words or even short facts as labels. (For example if the simple label “fur” wouldn’t add additional information to the book, you might teach them to label it with a short fact such as “dense fur protects the animal’s skin from the weather”. To make this idea more user friendly for your students you might want them to use the page of blank white boxes provided to write their labels for their pictures. Then all they need to do is cut them out and glue them to a printed picture.
Lesson 13: Writing Celebration – As always, find a way to celebrate your students’ writing. Invite guests (younger students or special adults) to read the books with your young authors. You might simply want to pair or group them, or some students might choose to present their book to everyone. Provide some light snacks if possible to give it a party atmosphere and pass out the author certificates to each child for his/her hard work.
You will find all the resources we created to go along with this unit in one download here: Animal Research Writing Project Printables
***If you need additional resources that add challenge to this unit on animal research writing, you might want to take a look at our Writing Research post on our 456 site. You will find the link to this post here: Writing Research Papers