The purpose of this activity is to teach the text structure of descriptive writing in the science context of animal adaptations.
For each student:
- "Burrowing Owl"
Series No. 11
- Poster of Burrowing
For each group:
For the class:
- Transparency of "Burrowing Owl"
- Plant Genetics, by Ken Cameron (2002, Benchmark Education,
Item #9388, http://www.benchmarkeducation.com/);
- How Plants Survive, by Kathleen V. Kudlinski (2002, Newbridge,
Item # 820156, http://www.newbridgeonline.com);
- Extremely Weird Animal Defenses (Extremely Weird), by Sarah Lovett
(1997); ISBN 1-56261-358-8
- Sciencesaurus: A student handbook, (Great Source Education Group);
- Camouflage, by Bernard Stonehouse (1999); ISBN 0-439-09591-3
- Defenders, by Bernard Stonehouse (1999); ISBN 0-439-15347-6
- Partners, by Bernard Stonehouse (1999); ISBN 0-439-20658-8
- Showoffs, by Bernard Stonehouse (1999); ISBN 0-439-15346-8
Background for Teachers
The purpose of this activity is to teach the text structure of descriptive
writing in the science context of animal adaptations. It is assumed that
Introducing Text Structures in Science has already been taught
using descriptive text structure examples. This lesson is intended to be a
model lesson and is not expected to be the only occasion where students
write descriptive texts in science. The principles taught in this lesson
may be adapted for use in any of the Science Core Curriculum Objectives
where description is emphasized.
This activity is intended to mesh with the activities about heredity in
Standard V. You will be organizing physical and behavioral adaptations
of burrowing owls. The text for this activity is a four-page booklet from
the Project Wild Wildlife Notebook Series and can be downloaded from
their Web site (see Additional Resources). The Wildlife Notebook Series includes booklets for 18 different animals. Several books listed in
Additional Resources describe more animal adaptations.
Intended Learning Outcomes
1. Use Science Process and Thinking Skills
3. Understand Science Concepts and Principles
4. Communicate Effectively Using Science Language and Reasoning
Invitation to Learn
Show students a poster or drawing of a burrowing owl (you may
choose other animals as your focus for this lesson). Form groups of three
to five and have students work together to review the poster and identify
adaptations they see in this animal.
- Give students highlighters and copies of "Burrowing Owl" from
the Wildlife Notebook Series.
- Begin by reading the first section, Description, to the class and
thinking out loud as you read. Make note of the physical features,
especially those that are survival adaptations. Model thinking
about what is important and underline those observations.
- Next read the sections Food Habits and Behavior. Read it as a
shared reading where you read aloud and students follow along.
Have students look for food gathering behavior and underline
- Have students share the important ideas about food habits and
- Have students read the Reproduction section independently or
with partners. Look for breeding habits and underline these
- Show students a clustering graphic organizer.
Discuss how the graphic organizer helps organize descriptive
information in the text. Give each group a piece of chart paper
and the Burrowing Owl Word Strips. Have groups
organize word strips in a clustering hierarchy. Tape word strips to
- Compare the charts of the different groups. Adjust any errors in
organization. Discuss how these various features are adaptations
that help a burrowing owl survive.
- Choose one section of the cluster. For example, you may choose
the physical features cluster. As a class, write a short paragraph
that describes how a burrowing owl uses these adaptations to
- Have each group work together to write a second paragraph about
another section of the cluster, such as the food habits cluster.
Share the paragraphs with the class.
- Finally, have each student write a third paragraph about the third
cluster. Again, share the paragraphs.
- Look for additional opportunities to write about other ideas in the
science core using the description text structure. The word "describe" in the text of the core signals that descriptive writing
would be an appropriate activity.
- Rather than giving students all of the Burrowing Owl Word Strips,
use a list generated with the class. Ask students to look for and
make a list of adaptations in the following categories: physical
features, food habits, and breeding habits. Have them organize
the pieces of information and write paragraphs.
- If students are experienced with organizing and finding details in
text, have them make their own categories and text strips based on
their reading. Organize them in clusters and write corresponding
- Have students choose an animal and investigate its adaptations.
Have them make a cluster to organize their thinking about the
animal. Next, have them write a three-paragraph description
about the animal’s unique adaptations. Make a class book of the
- Visit Hogle Zoo, Tracy Aviary, a natural history museum, or other
animal site to observe different animals. Have students choose an
animal and make a list of its adaptations. Have them use this
information to write their description about the animal’s
- Investigate different plant adaptations such as roots, leaves, stems,
etc. Bring in plant samples to investigate adaptations. Organize
and write about these adaptations.
- In the other fifth grade Science Core Curriculum standards,
descriptive text structures would be useful in describing physical
and chemical changes, explaining Earth’s surface changes, or
describing static electricity.
- Modify the graphic organizer to show other ways of organizing
the text. For example, you may use a hierarchal chart rather than
a web or cluster diagram.
- This activity could be taught in a small, guided reading or writing
group with more teacher scaffolding. The teacher could also
model writing by thinking aloud.
- Use descriptive writing in social studies and other content areas to
reinforce the text structure.
- Use informal assessment strategies to determine if students
understand this text structure.
- Use the Science Writing Rubric. Adapt as necessary for