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December 6, 2018

Teach Animal Adaptations with a Reindeer Lesson!

By Denise Boehm

Seasonal science content that gets second graders involved.

Grades 1–2

    Key Takeaways

    • Explore animal adaptations with a Scholastic News article about reindeer and their ability to survive long migrations in frigid conditions.
    • Dive deeper into animal adaptations with an eye-opening activity that shows students how hares, seals, and foxes adapt to different seasons.
    • Try a reindeer-themed movement activity that will help students appreciate the amazing adaptions of these animal survivalists

    Second graders love animals. That’s why I knew this issue of Scholastic News for grade two about how reindeer migrate in winter was going to be a favorite.

    (Try it free here.)

    When I opened the Big Issue that comes with my subscription, I was met with a chorus of oohs.

    I knew this was going to be a great lesson. And it was perfect timing because we’re doing a science unit on animal adaptations right now!

    Here is what we did:

    Step 1: Built background knowledge
    We watched the Scholastic News video on animal adaptations.

    Step 2: Whole class instruction
    We projected the issue onto my SMART board and used the audio read-
    aloud feature.

    Step 3: Small group instruction
    The kids read the magazine with partners to really comprehend the material.

    Step 4: Class discussion
    We discussed ways in which arctic animals adapt to live in such a harsh environment. We then imagined how tropical animals would fare in such conditions.

    Then we turned it around: How would a reindeer live in a tropical climate? Engaging their imaginations really draws the kids into the content and gets them excited to dive even deeper. When a child pictures a flamingo in the middle of a blizzard, the idea of animal adaptations suddenly becomes concrete.

    Step 5: Lesson extension
    I extended the learning about adaptations with the following:

    • For inspiration, I asked students to look at the diagram of a reindeer’s body on the back of the magazine. (This paired perfectly with our ongoing review of text features.)

    • I assigned each group an arctic animal that undergoes some sort of change or adaptation. I chose:

    - the snowshoe hare
    - the arctic fox
    - the northern fur seal

    • Then I further divided the groups — into summer and winter. Each group had to present a diagram of what its animal looked like in either summer or winter.

    • Although they should have suspected that the animals would be different in summer and winter, considering what we’d already learned, actually seeing the same animal represented so differently was actually quite surprising to them!

    The fox and the hare are both white in winter to blend in with the snow and then turn grey or brown in the summer. One group made a diagram of each version. When the group that did the fox in summer saw the fox in winter in an entirely different color, they were amazed. The seal is a darker color in the water than on land, which was another difference they noted in their diagrams.

    I’ve taught this concept for years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the point of adaptation understood so clearly and quickly as I did with this simple activity.

    Additional ideas:

    • Incorporate geography by providing an outline map of Alaska and having students track the journey the reindeer take during their migration.
    • While at the playground, let your students use their hands to mimic the shape of the reindeer’s hooves. Have them spread their fingers and see how easily they can sink their hands into sand. Then, have them
      put their fingers together to resemble the reindeer hoof. (I told my students to think of the Star Trek greeting.) Ask students to describe sinking their hands as a hoof compared with their open hands.
    • Get the whole body in motion! Throughout the article, the reindeer’s movements are so clearly described: An icy wind stings the reindeer’s eyes. They use their antlers to dig up tasty plants. Their hooves work like snowshoes to keep them from sinking into the snow. Write some of these descriptions on index cards, or cut them out of the magazine. Have a volunteer act out the movements like a game of charades with other students guessing the action.
    • Alternatively, just have the whole class pretend to be reindeers and act out whatever action you read aloud!

    I hope your students enjoy this lesson as much as my second graders.

    (To try Scholastic News free for 30-days, click here.)

    – Denise Boehm teaches second grade in Florida. She also writes the blog Sunny Days in Second Grade.

    Key Takeaways

    • Explore animal adaptations with a Scholastic News article about reindeer and their ability to survive long migrations in frigid conditions.
    • Dive deeper into animal adaptations with an eye-opening activity that shows students how hares, seals, and foxes adapt to different seasons.
    • Try a reindeer-themed movement activity that will help students appreciate the amazing adaptions of these animal survivalists

    Second graders love animals. That’s why I knew this issue of Scholastic News for grade two about how reindeer migrate in winter was going to be a favorite.

    (Try it free here.)

    When I opened the Big Issue that comes with my subscription, I was met with a chorus of oohs.

    I knew this was going to be a great lesson. And it was perfect timing because we’re doing a science unit on animal adaptations right now!

    Here is what we did:

    Step 1: Built background knowledge
    We watched the Scholastic News video on animal adaptations.

    Step 2: Whole class instruction
    We projected the issue onto my SMART board and used the audio read-
    aloud feature.

    Step 3: Small group instruction
    The kids read the magazine with partners to really comprehend the material.

    Step 4: Class discussion
    We discussed ways in which arctic animals adapt to live in such a harsh environment. We then imagined how tropical animals would fare in such conditions.

    Then we turned it around: How would a reindeer live in a tropical climate? Engaging their imaginations really draws the kids into the content and gets them excited to dive even deeper. When a child pictures a flamingo in the middle of a blizzard, the idea of animal adaptations suddenly becomes concrete.

    Step 5: Lesson extension
    I extended the learning about adaptations with the following:

    • For inspiration, I asked students to look at the diagram of a reindeer’s body on the back of the magazine. (This paired perfectly with our ongoing review of text features.)

    • I assigned each group an arctic animal that undergoes some sort of change or adaptation. I chose:

    - the snowshoe hare
    - the arctic fox
    - the northern fur seal

    • Then I further divided the groups — into summer and winter. Each group had to present a diagram of what its animal looked like in either summer or winter.

    • Although they should have suspected that the animals would be different in summer and winter, considering what we’d already learned, actually seeing the same animal represented so differently was actually quite surprising to them!

    The fox and the hare are both white in winter to blend in with the snow and then turn grey or brown in the summer. One group made a diagram of each version. When the group that did the fox in summer saw the fox in winter in an entirely different color, they were amazed. The seal is a darker color in the water than on land, which was another difference they noted in their diagrams.

    I’ve taught this concept for years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the point of adaptation understood so clearly and quickly as I did with this simple activity.

    Additional ideas:

    • Incorporate geography by providing an outline map of Alaska and having students track the journey the reindeer take during their migration.
    • While at the playground, let your students use their hands to mimic the shape of the reindeer’s hooves. Have them spread their fingers and see how easily they can sink their hands into sand. Then, have them
      put their fingers together to resemble the reindeer hoof. (I told my students to think of the Star Trek greeting.) Ask students to describe sinking their hands as a hoof compared with their open hands.
    • Get the whole body in motion! Throughout the article, the reindeer’s movements are so clearly described: An icy wind stings the reindeer’s eyes. They use their antlers to dig up tasty plants. Their hooves work like snowshoes to keep them from sinking into the snow. Write some of these descriptions on index cards, or cut them out of the magazine. Have a volunteer act out the movements like a game of charades with other students guessing the action.
    • Alternatively, just have the whole class pretend to be reindeers and act out whatever action you read aloud!

    I hope your students enjoy this lesson as much as my second graders.

    (To try Scholastic News free for 30-days, click here.)

    – Denise Boehm teaches second grade in Florida. She also writes the blog Sunny Days in Second Grade.

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Susan Cheyney

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