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February 26, 2016

Owls Across the Curriculum: From Books to Pellet Dissection

By Genia Connell
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Over the past few years, owls have become trendy classroom décor, adorning learning spaces across the country. When I think of owls, however, bulletin board borders don’t come to mind. Instead, I think of all the academic mileage we get from these beautiful birds of prey in our third grade curriculum.

    In reader’s workshop, we learn about owls through fiction and nonfiction books, and we further our knowledge of food chains with an owl pellet dissection. Finally, we put writing skills to work with elaboration pieces in which students explain their learning. This week, I’m excited to share with you how a high-interest topic like owls reaches across the curriculum with my third graders.

     

    Step-by-Step Owl Pellet Dissection

    As part of our science curriculum, students learn about food chains and food webs. We begin by reading several books (see below) on food chains then we begin to focus specifically on owls, a bird commonly heard in the woods by our school. Below are the steps we follow in our school for the culminating activity to our unit, an owl pellet dissection. 

    1. Acquire owl pellets for your students

    Our school district provides enough owl pellets each year for every student to dissect one. If you need to purchase your own owl pellets, an online search will result in many resources for purchasing owl pellets that have been heat sterilized and are safe for students to handle. Ideas to help fund an owl pellet purchase include writing a small grant proposal, asking your PTO, or using an organization like Donors Choose. One owl pellet can easily be shared between two student lab partners. 

    owl pellet

    2. Reach out to a local expert if possible, then decide on a time and date for your dissection.

    If possible, contact a local nature center to see if a naturalist would be willing to come out to help with your owl pellet dissection. We are very fortunate to have expert naturalists from the Stage Nature Center in our town who will visit our school to teach students about our local owls and what they typically eat. Their expertise comes in very handy to help students identify what type of rodent or bird their owl may have eaten. The naturalist's availability may help you decide when you want to plan this lesson.

    owl pellets


    3. Invite parent volunteers.

    Each year we ask for three or four parent volunteers to join us during our owl pellet dissection lab. It's nice to have many hands and eyes on students to help out as students take apart their owl pellets. 

    4. Gather materials you will need for dissection day.

    We use the following:

    • owl pellets

    • newspaper to cover tables

    • foam plates or trays for the pellets

    • plastic safety goggles

    • plastic forks

    • tweezers (optional for students to bring their own)

    • trash cans to collect the leftover "fluff" and discarded aluminum foil

    • manila tag paper to mount the bones on afterwards

    • liquid school glue

    Our naturalist brings bone identification charts to help students sort the bones. 

     

    5. Set up the area you will be using ahead of time.

    For years we dissected the owl pellets in our classrooms, but now we use a large group instructional space in our school which allows all three third-grade classes to share materials. Our parent volunteers help cover tables with paper and set out the plates, forks, and pellets before each class arrives. 

    6. Model an owl pellet dissection for your students.

    Before students take their own owl pellets apart, demonstrate how to break the pellet apart and start the search for bones. Some students may be apprehensive about "digging into" an owl pellet, but seeing me get excited about all the cool discoveries inside the pellet helps break down some of their squeamishness. 

     

    7. Let the students explore!

    After the naturalist does a brief presentation, students open their owl pellets and get started. They spend the next 30 minutes dissecting the pellet and sorting the bones as they go. Students are always excited to discover what their owl had eaten. The contents of each pellet is unpredictable. This past year we had one pellet with four rodent skulls and skeletons and another pellet that had very little inside. (We fortunately had another pellet to give the student with the dud pellet.) When the dissection is over, students take their bones back to the classroom on their foam plates.

    owl pellets

    8. Sort and glue the bones.

    Students sort their bones onto a piece of tagboard and label them. Students are told they can sort any way they choose as long as they label their findings. Some students sort by animal type, but many others like to sort by the type of bone.

    owl pellets

    Once students have placed the bones where they want, they use liquid glue to affix the bones to the paper permanently. Students used a good amount of liquid glue (which dries clear) to keep their bones in place.

     

    Owl Pellet DissectionOwl Pellet Dissection

    owl pelletsowl pellets

    9. Write about it.

    Following our owl pellet dissection, students write about how their thoughts and perceptions about owl pellets changed.

    Owl Pellet

    I used to Think and Now I think

     

    Next, students make a claim about their owl pellet, then elaborate on the claim by providing evidence to back it up.

    Claim Evidence Support Writing

    10. Display it.

    All of our work is shown off in a display in our hallway. 

     

    Try a Virtual Owl Pellet Dissection

    Not able to do the real thing in your school? Check out this virtual owl pellet dissection hosted on the website, KidWings.

     

     Favorite Books to Read About Food Chains and Owls

    There are several books available to use with students to learn more about these great birds of prey. Below I've listed the books that were favorites with my class before we take part in our culminating activity, the dissection of an owl pellet!

    What are Food Chains and Webs
    What are Food Chains and Webs? by Bobbie Kalman and Jacqueline Langille

    I use this book as a resource for introducing food chains and food webs to my third graders while helping them understand the difference between the two. 

    Who Eats What? Food Chains and Food Webs by Patricia Lauber

    This book helps illustrate how all living things are part of the food chain. I find this helps my students understand that owls eat a variety of other small animals in order to survive. 

    Owls by Gail Gibbons

    This book is a great starting point for introducing your students to the 21 different owls that live in North America. My students are always surprised to learn how many different types of owls there are and how different real owls can look from the clip-art style images they are used to seeing.

    Owls (Usborne Beginners) by Emily Bone

    Usborne books are great for introducing any topic and this one on owls is no different. The simplistic language and full-color photographs help all readers understand how owls live and hunt. My students enjoyed following the links provided by the author to find out even more about owls.

    Owls by Nancy Ellwood and Josh Gregory

    They say don't judge a book by its cover, but that's exactly what my class did with this nonfiction book. Everyone wanted to know who had "that book with the funny looking owl on it?" when it was independent reading time. Inside this popular book, students learn about adaptations that help owls survive in their environment as well as how owls work together to raise their young. 

    All About Owls by Jim Arnosky

    Part of Arnosky's All About nature series, this book covers all the basic information about owls that your students need to know or are simply curious about. 

    Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

    This is one of the most popular books in any elementary classroom and for good reason. The beautiful, Caldecott-winning illustrations Yolen uses in this fictional book draw my students in, while the wonderful language used throughout makes perfect mentor text during writer's workshop. The book's theme works wonderfully for meaningful conversations and to inspire opinion pieces. See below for several free resources I use along with this book. 

    Free Resources to Go with Owl Moon

    Owl Word Wall

    owl word wall

     

    Other Resources to Learn About Owls and Owl Pellet Dissections

    Overboard for Owls

    Overboard for Owls by Marissa Ochoa

    Owls and Raptors Unit Plan by Ruth Manna

    "Covering Objectives Across the Curriculum with Owl Moon" by Meghan Everette

     

    Animal Group Mini-book

    Animal Group Booklet

    Owl Crafts

    Owl Craft Project

    Owl handprint craft    

    "10 Fall Handprint Crafts With Book Pairings"

    Pinecone Cotton Owl

    Snowy Owl Craft

    Owl Journal Jar

    Owl Journal Jar

    O is for Owl

     

    I'd love to hear about your experiences teaching your class about owls and food chains. Please share in the comment section below!

    Over the past few years, owls have become trendy classroom décor, adorning learning spaces across the country. When I think of owls, however, bulletin board borders don’t come to mind. Instead, I think of all the academic mileage we get from these beautiful birds of prey in our third grade curriculum.

    In reader’s workshop, we learn about owls through fiction and nonfiction books, and we further our knowledge of food chains with an owl pellet dissection. Finally, we put writing skills to work with elaboration pieces in which students explain their learning. This week, I’m excited to share with you how a high-interest topic like owls reaches across the curriculum with my third graders.

     

    Step-by-Step Owl Pellet Dissection

    As part of our science curriculum, students learn about food chains and food webs. We begin by reading several books (see below) on food chains then we begin to focus specifically on owls, a bird commonly heard in the woods by our school. Below are the steps we follow in our school for the culminating activity to our unit, an owl pellet dissection. 

    1. Acquire owl pellets for your students

    Our school district provides enough owl pellets each year for every student to dissect one. If you need to purchase your own owl pellets, an online search will result in many resources for purchasing owl pellets that have been heat sterilized and are safe for students to handle. Ideas to help fund an owl pellet purchase include writing a small grant proposal, asking your PTO, or using an organization like Donors Choose. One owl pellet can easily be shared between two student lab partners. 

    owl pellet

    2. Reach out to a local expert if possible, then decide on a time and date for your dissection.

    If possible, contact a local nature center to see if a naturalist would be willing to come out to help with your owl pellet dissection. We are very fortunate to have expert naturalists from the Stage Nature Center in our town who will visit our school to teach students about our local owls and what they typically eat. Their expertise comes in very handy to help students identify what type of rodent or bird their owl may have eaten. The naturalist's availability may help you decide when you want to plan this lesson.

    owl pellets


    3. Invite parent volunteers.

    Each year we ask for three or four parent volunteers to join us during our owl pellet dissection lab. It's nice to have many hands and eyes on students to help out as students take apart their owl pellets. 

    4. Gather materials you will need for dissection day.

    We use the following:

    • owl pellets

    • newspaper to cover tables

    • foam plates or trays for the pellets

    • plastic safety goggles

    • plastic forks

    • tweezers (optional for students to bring their own)

    • trash cans to collect the leftover "fluff" and discarded aluminum foil

    • manila tag paper to mount the bones on afterwards

    • liquid school glue

    Our naturalist brings bone identification charts to help students sort the bones. 

     

    5. Set up the area you will be using ahead of time.

    For years we dissected the owl pellets in our classrooms, but now we use a large group instructional space in our school which allows all three third-grade classes to share materials. Our parent volunteers help cover tables with paper and set out the plates, forks, and pellets before each class arrives. 

    6. Model an owl pellet dissection for your students.

    Before students take their own owl pellets apart, demonstrate how to break the pellet apart and start the search for bones. Some students may be apprehensive about "digging into" an owl pellet, but seeing me get excited about all the cool discoveries inside the pellet helps break down some of their squeamishness. 

     

    7. Let the students explore!

    After the naturalist does a brief presentation, students open their owl pellets and get started. They spend the next 30 minutes dissecting the pellet and sorting the bones as they go. Students are always excited to discover what their owl had eaten. The contents of each pellet is unpredictable. This past year we had one pellet with four rodent skulls and skeletons and another pellet that had very little inside. (We fortunately had another pellet to give the student with the dud pellet.) When the dissection is over, students take their bones back to the classroom on their foam plates.

    owl pellets

    8. Sort and glue the bones.

    Students sort their bones onto a piece of tagboard and label them. Students are told they can sort any way they choose as long as they label their findings. Some students sort by animal type, but many others like to sort by the type of bone.

    owl pellets

    Once students have placed the bones where they want, they use liquid glue to affix the bones to the paper permanently. Students used a good amount of liquid glue (which dries clear) to keep their bones in place.

     

    Owl Pellet DissectionOwl Pellet Dissection

    owl pelletsowl pellets

    9. Write about it.

    Following our owl pellet dissection, students write about how their thoughts and perceptions about owl pellets changed.

    Owl Pellet

    I used to Think and Now I think

     

    Next, students make a claim about their owl pellet, then elaborate on the claim by providing evidence to back it up.

    Claim Evidence Support Writing

    10. Display it.

    All of our work is shown off in a display in our hallway. 

     

    Try a Virtual Owl Pellet Dissection

    Not able to do the real thing in your school? Check out this virtual owl pellet dissection hosted on the website, KidWings.

     

     Favorite Books to Read About Food Chains and Owls

    There are several books available to use with students to learn more about these great birds of prey. Below I've listed the books that were favorites with my class before we take part in our culminating activity, the dissection of an owl pellet!

    What are Food Chains and Webs
    What are Food Chains and Webs? by Bobbie Kalman and Jacqueline Langille

    I use this book as a resource for introducing food chains and food webs to my third graders while helping them understand the difference between the two. 

    Who Eats What? Food Chains and Food Webs by Patricia Lauber

    This book helps illustrate how all living things are part of the food chain. I find this helps my students understand that owls eat a variety of other small animals in order to survive. 

    Owls by Gail Gibbons

    This book is a great starting point for introducing your students to the 21 different owls that live in North America. My students are always surprised to learn how many different types of owls there are and how different real owls can look from the clip-art style images they are used to seeing.

    Owls (Usborne Beginners) by Emily Bone

    Usborne books are great for introducing any topic and this one on owls is no different. The simplistic language and full-color photographs help all readers understand how owls live and hunt. My students enjoyed following the links provided by the author to find out even more about owls.

    Owls by Nancy Ellwood and Josh Gregory

    They say don't judge a book by its cover, but that's exactly what my class did with this nonfiction book. Everyone wanted to know who had "that book with the funny looking owl on it?" when it was independent reading time. Inside this popular book, students learn about adaptations that help owls survive in their environment as well as how owls work together to raise their young. 

    All About Owls by Jim Arnosky

    Part of Arnosky's All About nature series, this book covers all the basic information about owls that your students need to know or are simply curious about. 

    Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

    This is one of the most popular books in any elementary classroom and for good reason. The beautiful, Caldecott-winning illustrations Yolen uses in this fictional book draw my students in, while the wonderful language used throughout makes perfect mentor text during writer's workshop. The book's theme works wonderfully for meaningful conversations and to inspire opinion pieces. See below for several free resources I use along with this book. 

    Free Resources to Go with Owl Moon

    Owl Word Wall

    owl word wall

     

    Other Resources to Learn About Owls and Owl Pellet Dissections

    Overboard for Owls

    Overboard for Owls by Marissa Ochoa

    Owls and Raptors Unit Plan by Ruth Manna

    "Covering Objectives Across the Curriculum with Owl Moon" by Meghan Everette

     

    Animal Group Mini-book

    Animal Group Booklet

    Owl Crafts

    Owl Craft Project

    Owl handprint craft    

    "10 Fall Handprint Crafts With Book Pairings"

    Pinecone Cotton Owl

    Snowy Owl Craft

    Owl Journal Jar

    Owl Journal Jar

    O is for Owl

     

    I'd love to hear about your experiences teaching your class about owls and food chains. Please share in the comment section below!

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