Friday, February 3, 2012

Animal Research, Part 1

One of our fourth-grade writing genres is a non-fiction report. This week, we kicked off our non-fiction writing unit by selecting animals to research. Students considered a few different animals, thought about which one made them wonder the most, and made their decision. Personally, I decided to research owls since I think they're beautifully mysterious birds! (And I also have a small obsession with owl jewelry and knick knacks!) While I want students to research authentic questions, for the sake of this project and the level of support most students require when doing research, I made the decision that all students would research the habitat, diet, and defense mechanisms of the animal they chose.
The next step of their research process was to brainstorm where a researcher can find information. We will be using three resources for our research. First, we discussed non-fiction books.

By reading chapter titles in a table of contents, a researcher will need to infer where to find the information he or she needs. I modeled for students how I inferred where there might be information about an owl's habitat, diet, and defense mechanisms.

Then I recorded those page numbers on my notes sheet. Essentially, this is pre-writing (creating a plan for what we will write about.) This also helped us eliminate pages that we inferred probably wouldn't have information about my three subtopics.

Students then went into their own books to write down the names of chapters/page numbers they inferred would have information about their animals' habitat, diet, and defense mechanisms.

Here is a short clip of our kiddos utilizing their table of contents to infer the location of information about the habitat, diet, and defense mechanisms of their animals.

I also modeled how to use an index when doing research. I circled topics that I inferred would have information about the habitat, diet, and defense mechanisms of an owl.

 Then I recorded all the topics/page numbers onto my notes sheet for each of my three sub-topics about owls.

Students applied their learning by using the index from their own books to find and record more topics and page numbers.

Using an index is a helpful way to quickly find the information you want!

Here is one student's sheet so far.  He also has the second page filled out with all the page numbers for each of the chapter names and the book topics that he inferred would have information on the habitat, diet, and defense mechanisms of moose.

By the end of writing, students had a plan for what pages they will search during our next writer's workshop.
Also, if you're interested in the sheets I created for students to use for this research project, visit my TpT store. I recently posted them! :)To see the next part of our process where students gather notes from a non-fiction book, an encyclopedia, and a website, visit this next blog posting (Parts 2, 3, & 4).


  1. I absolutely ADORE your blog and the practical and efficient way you teach! I have been using your sheets and it really is making a difference in my students application! Thank you for sharing so much!

  2. I love your flip charts. Where are they from?

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I recently took over a 5th grade class mid-year(I also have a newborn baby) and my kids are so unmotivated. I need things like this to keep their interest and to keep them organized. Thanks!!!

    1. You're all so very welcome! It was after a lot of "Ooh, that didn't work..." or "Yikes! They are so lost..." that I realized how step-by-step some things need to be. Research is definitely one of those processes! @Mrs. Shepard - Which flip charts are you referring to? I'm not sure I know what you're asking about... :)

  4. I just visited your TPT store and am planning on purchasing some items. I love the 6-trait rubric! I also loved the one you had your class use when they peer-conferenced. Is there anyway to get that rubric too? Thanks so much!!!

  5. Hi Miss Bongers i love doing my report on Poler Bears


  6. The 6-Trait Peer Conferencing Sheet is now posted on my TpT store. I revised it to make it better before I posted it. :) Hope you love it!

  7. I am interested in your flip charts that you showed on your smart board. Did you create them and if so, will you share?

  8. Your Smart Notebook charts are amazing! Is there any chance of you sharing those with us? :)

  9. I do not have access to a smartboard. Would it be possible to get your presentations as a powerpoint or using activestudio/promethean planet? Thanks in advance!

  10. I only have them as Smartboard files - shoot!

  11. Wow, this is great! I'm off to buy your packet from TPT but wondered if I could get your smartboard pages as well? thanks for sharing your ideas - this is perfect for our research unit we're starting soon!

  12. Kim - Email me at, and I will send you the files! :)

  13. Hi Leanne! This project looks like something I will definitely be able to use with my own students. I already have your files on TPT saved for downloading over the holiday break. I'm wondering if you'd still be willing to share the SMARTBoard files as well? Thanks so much for all your great ideas!! Jenn

  14. Hi Jenn - No problem! I would happy to share the files. What is your email address? OR, just email me at and I will get them to you!

  15. May I please have the smart notebook file? I love this! My email is