Animal Tracks

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.2

What you Need: In the Snow: Who’s
 Been Here?, by Lindsay Barrett George; small and medium plastic animal toys; white Play-Doh and sand; magnifying glasses; paper; rulers; pencils

What to Do: Adaptable animals, although scarcely seen in cold weather, do make an appearance now and then. How can we tell? By their tracks in snow!

Liz Smallwood, a kindergarten teacher at Indian Hill Primary School in Cincinnati, Ohio, introduces the topic of animal tracks by reading In the Snow: Who’s Been Here? She then discusses animal tracks and the clues animals leave behind.

Next, to provide an opportunity for her students to explore the ways that animal tracks are made, Smallwood sets up a discovery station with small- and medium-size plastic animal toys, white Play-Doh and white sand (to serve as makeshift snow), magnifying glasses, paper, rulers, and writing tools for documentation. (Be sure to choose animal figurines that leave realistic-looking prints when pressed into Play-Doh). Smallwood encourages her students to create tracks in the “snow” with the animals and measure the prints.

As they work, students document observations about the animals, including the size and shape of their footprints. Bonus: Divide students into groups and have them make “mystery” prints and challenge other groups to guess what sort of animals made those tracks.

To Hibernate
 or Not to Hibernate?

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.3

What you Need: Photos of animals (see list below), labels, contact paper, writing tools

What to Do: The idea of animals hibernating through the winter is an intriguing concept to young learners. Most of us know that bears sleep a lot over the winter, but there are many other types of animals that actually hibernate. Introduce your students to a few by playing “To Hibernate or Not to Hibernate?”

Before you begin, prepare by printing photos of the following animals: queen bee, hedgehog, silkworm moth, bat, goose, dog, owl, and orca. Label the front of each photo with the animal’s name. On the back of each photo, note whether the animal “Hibernates” or “Does Not Hibernate.” (To protect the printed photos, cover them in contact paper.)

In class, share a few videos on hibernation to get students thinking outside the box about hibernating animals
 (try After watching, work as a class to create a chart listing animals that hibernate (e.g., queen bees, bats, and hedgehogs).

Finally, you’re ready to play! Hold 
up each photograph, one at a time,
 and have students guess whether or not the animal pictured hibernates
 in winter. If an animal does not hibernate, ask your students what they think it does during the winter months instead. Answers may range from accurate to silly, but the idea is to get kids thinking! Extend the activity by having students research the animals that do not hibernate to find out what these creatures do during the cold winter months.

Craft a Killer Whale

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.3

What you Need: White and black butcher paper, white crayon, stapler, scissors, fishing line, packing tape

What to Do: Traci Clausen, a first-grade teacher at Chaparral Elementary School in Chino Hills, California, gets her students excited about marine life and migration patterns by having them work together to craft a nine-foot model of an orca, or killer whale. In creating this large-scale model, the students integrate fine and gross motor skills, science, and language skills while developing an understanding of the role that size plays in cold-weather behavior.

Clausen, who blogs at Dragonflies in First, preps for the craftivity by sandwiching a long piece of white butcher paper between two equally long pieces of black butcher paper. Using a white crayon, she draws an outline of a whale minus the flippers. (Templates are online; drawing freehand also works.) Then, she staples the sheets along the long edges, so the papers will not shift while being cut. Clausen begins by explaining that, during the change of seasons, animals migrate for two main reasons: to survive the change in weather and to find food. Orcas, for example, go searching for food in cooler waters. She then divides students into groups: One group works together to cut out the shape
 of the whale; another group loosely balls up pieces of butcher paper; and 
a third group places the balls of paper between the white and one of the black pieces of butcher paper to add dimension to the whale. Finally, a fourth group staples all around the whale shape to keep the “stuffing” inside.

While students work, Clausen displays photos of real-life orcas and guides kids to make observations 
and inferences about the whales. She brings attention to their size, explaining that the model they are creating is the average size of a baby orca. As students make observations, she asks them to consider why orcas prefer cooler water. (The answer: Their large size and the layer of blubber beneath their skin help minimize heat loss.)

Next, Clausen cuts off the black paper where appropriate to reveal the white markings underneath. Finally, she makes a flipper-shaped piece and asks students to adhere it to the whale. She then hangs the whale overhead with fishing line.

Owl Adaptation

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.6

What you Need: Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr; paper; pencils

What to Do: Though many birds migrate to warmer climates during the winter, most species of owls, like the great horned owl, are able to adapt to the cold weather. To illustrate the concept of adaptation, discuss how humans adapt to cold weather by asking: “What are some things that we human beings do to stay warm?” (Answers may range from building fires to wearing warmer clothes.)

Then, read Owl Moon, the story of a father and daughter who venture outdoors to track a great horned owl one winter night. As you read aloud,
 have students call out characteristics 
of the great horned owl (such as its deep hooting voice), as well as the clues the father and daughter use to track and find the bird. Write these characteristics and clues on chart paper.

Once you’ve completed your charts, have students work in groups of
 three or four to study owls in real time. One good source comes from 
the International Owl Center, which features live feeds of two rescued owls, Iris and Rusty, on its website. Help students log on and record the behaviors they observe on a separate sheet of paper. You can create premade checklists of common owl behaviors or have students jot down what they see in their own words.

Finally, have your students share what they have found with their classmates. Create a new chart highlighting recurring or common behaviors that students noticed, and compare these behaviors with the ones they spotted in Owl Moon.

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Photo: Courtesy of Liz Smallwood