Author Archives: Amy McInerney

Revised 3-5th Art Lesson

After running the collage art lesson this week, we learned that the introduction needs to be cut way back to leave enough time for 3-5th grade students to create their collage art. 

Marie suggests NOT reading the book or handing out pictures of the characters. Rather, simply point to the food chain hanging on the wall and give a brief introduction of food chains & food webs using the artwork around the room as examples. Then, get started on the art project! 

Trail Engagement Ideas

Occasionally our lessons out in the forest or trails include long-ish “hikes” from station to station, and it is always a good idea to be prepared to engage your students with a relevant trail activity during those times. You may have experienced that it is difficult to instruct from the front of a line of 14 students along the trail, so these activities are best explained while stopped and gathered. Try a few out and see which works best for you!

  • “I’m so Hungry” game (recommended for Fall 2019)

Choose a volunteer to run up front, students are not allowed to pass the front volunteer. You are in the back of the line of students. Introduce yourself as a predator animal, such as a coyote, and the students are all the prey animals, such as rabbits. You all walk along the trail, but explain that as soon as you yell “I’m so hungry!” the rabbits must freeze and stay silent so that you (coyote) can’t eat them. If you see a student move or talk, you  send them to the back of the line. 

  • Decomposer BINGO (recommended for Fall 2019)

Tell students their goal throughout their hike is to seek out 1 nurse log, 1 mushroom, and 1 slug. They should keep track in their head, or on their fingers, and call out “BINGO” when they find all three! Be sure to check in at the end of your “hike” to see who found everything! 

  • Slug counting (recommended for Fall 2019)

Simply ask students to be on the lookout for slugs, and to count on their fingers silently as they find them. Be sure to check in at the end of your hike to see how many slugs were found!

  • A fistful of sounds

Simply ask students to use their “Deer Ears” to listen very carefully for sounds in the forest. You can suggest counting bird calls, squirrel chatter, or forest sounds in general like leaves rustling, stream flowing, etc. Have them count on their fingers, and be sure to give them a chance to share. 

  • Color search

Carry a handful of natural-colored paint chips (greens, blues, browns, etc.) and pass them out to students to borrow during their hike. Their goal is to match colors in nature to the colors on their paint chip! Give students a chance to share what they found. 

  • Shape search

Carry a handful of cut out shapes in silhouette (circles, ovals, hearts, stars, squares, palms, etc.) and pass them out to students to borrow during their hike. Their goal is to match shapes in nature to their cut out shape. Give sutdents a chance to share what they found. 

  • Riddles

Content-releated riddles are fun for a quick transition, or to break up lots of content:

— I cannot hear or even see, but sense light and sounds there may be. Sometimes I end up on the hook, or even deep into a book. What am I? (A worm)

— What has no arms, hands, or legs but moves the earth? (A worm)

— What did the mother worm say to her teenage worm? (Where in earth have you been?)

— What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? (Finding half a worm in your apple!)


Ideas for Older Grades (3rd-6th)

May 20, 2019

We’ll be teaching some of the older students (3rd, 5th, and 6th) in the next couple weeks, so here are some ideas to help keep older students engaged at each of the stations this season. 


All About Birds

  • Emphasize how Birding is more than an occasional hobby for some – some people spend lots of time and money traveling the world to complete their Bird List, or to see one particular species!
  • Ask students why people might choose to study birds? What are some real life scenarios where birding information may be helpful? (E.g. If wind turbines are being constructed, engineers might want to know which bird species migrate through the area, and when, and for how long.) 
  • What characteristics might an ornithologist observing a species want to describe in detail for future observers? What if you were tasked with describing the last hummingbird on Earth before it went extinct, what would you want future generations to understand about the hummingbird?
  • Present more opportunities for student bird observations – Be intentional about quiet time for bird watching (where even you, the instructor, is silent). 
  • Give students multiple opportunities to share with one another —  example: “Turn to your neighbor and take turns sharing observations about this bird”
  • After sharing a few species’ facts, ask students to repeat a few facts they remember at the end of the lesson
  • Let students take turns describing the features of a bird of choice (using as many descriptive adjectives as possible!) so that other students can take guesses what they’re describing.


Nest Building

  • Emphasize how students need to pay attention to real birds’ building techniques in order to build theirs “correctly”
  • More student observation during show & tell of real nests. (E.g. “Tell me what materials you see in this nest. How is it different than this nest in its materials/composition, or in its construction?” 
  • Engage students in deeper discussion about different nest styles and their functions: Where might one see a cavity nest? Which birds, in which habitats, might create mound nests? What plants could a water bird, such as a loon, use to create a floating nest
  • “Test” the nests with our plastic eggs to make sure they pass the criteria (i.e. a nest must: keep eggs protected, keep eggs warm, and keep eggs together) 
  • More discussion about birds’ innate ability to build nests. “Innate” means the animal does not have to practice the behavior in order to get it right or become better at it. Innate behaviors are also predictable. All members of a species perform an innate behavior in the same way. 
  • More discussion about urban nests, like the one with cigarettes.


Fill the Bill

  • Use the skulls/beaks that are in plastic containers from the Audubon specimen boxes to engage in deeper adaptation discussion, while exploring the pictures of birds’ and their beaks. 
  • Engage students in discussion about natural selection, and about Darwin’s Finches. Background information includes:
    • Habitats and ecological niches change all the time. New species can arise as populations adapt to changes and new opportunities or challenges in the environment. 
    • Naturalist Charles Darwin brought the finches living on the Galapagos Islands to the attention of scientists after observing 13 distinct finches, each adapted to living in different habitats and eating different diets. These 13 varieties originated from one common ancestor. 
    • An adaptation is a structure or function that gives the species greater ability to survive and reproduce in its environment.
    • When two groups within one species become geographically isolated (separated by a physical barrier like a river, canyon, or mountain range), genetic changes in one group will not be shared with the other group. Over many generations, the two groups diverge as their traits change. 
  • Use updated worksheet that erases the names of the birds each station is trying to mimic. Have students make educated guesses about which bird is being portrayed at each station.
  • Food for the Brood game: Make the older students use the teeny tiny spoons, and have them walk a longer distance. 


Build A Bird

  • Focus discussion on “adaptations“, the structures and functions that allow birds to thrive in their particular environment. 
  • When doing show & tell with Audubon specimens, engage students in  higher level discussion by asking thoughtful questions like “Can someone explain why this bird’s body might be shaped this way?” Or, “Who can describe a habitat that this bird would be suited for?” 
  • Describe the activity as “building a bird model,” and encourage students to create models that meet all the particular criteria (bird model must illustrate how the bird moves around, how it eats, how it is suited to its particular habitat, etc.) 
  • Encourage writing descriptions on notecards with all these details. 

Ideas for Shortened Lessons

May 15, 2019

Here are some suggested tips for shortened lesson plans for the days we are crunched to 30 minutes!


All About Birds Tour – Shortened

  • Remove the Fallen Maple stop (Station B), and instead: Start at Forest Benches, and next go to pick up binoculars (Station D). Then to the stream (Station E), and then finally to the Pump House (Station C) on your way to switching with the Fill the Bill group! (If you’re really pressed for time, you may need to leave out Station C, also!) 
  • Do not review every single bird at every station, and don’t feel the need to share facts about every bird! The primary goal is to get students to describe what they observe about the birds while viewing them (real and on posters), so only take the time to introduce/share facts about the ones they mention! 
  • Get kids to move quickly along the trails by playing the “I’m Hungry” game. The leader can speed walk to get the kids to follow quickly as the hungry eagle brings up the back of the line. A great way to get from the Stream to the Pump House Trail for switching with the next group. 


Fill the Bill – Shortened

  • Remove the sunflower seed activity in the introduction, and focus on showing pictures of different bird beaks and having students describe beak shapes and purposes.
  • Remove a beak station or two (we suggest you remove the flying insects station, and the sipping nectar station). 
  • Don’t review every single station on the worksheet. Instead, focus on 2-3 stations to review and discuss to get group consensus on which tools worked best for those ones. 
  • Do still try to leave time for the game! 


Nest Building – Shortened 

  • Do a very brief introduction and show & tell of real nests, and get right into nest building right away. Once nests and presentations are finished, then you can go back to the show & tell, as well as the discussions about birds that don’t build nests, how nest building is instinctual, and interesting facts about urban nests, etc. 


Build a Bird – Shortened

  • Skip white board introduction. Instead, start with Audubon Specimen show & tell, and pick only a few specimens to compare/discuss adaptations. Get right into bird building, and come back to discussion at the end after bird models have been presented by students! 

Lesson Update: All About Birds

May 6, 2019:

For anyone who may feel uncomfortable with the flexible “choose your own adventure”-style of the All About Birds lesson, I’ve written an example script/outline for the first two stations, below. You can extrapolate how this might go at stations C, D, and E!


Hello! My name is _____, and I’d love to learn your names! [Gesture to each student to hear their name]. At this activity, we’re going to learn all about birds! By the end of this activity, you may be able to identify some birds that visit the Outdoor Classroom, and perhaps learn their names!

With a quiet, raised hand, can someone tell me why you think birds are important to this forest? What job do birds have in this forest? [Seed dispersal, creating habitats for other birds and other species, insect control, etc!] Yes! Birds are a very important part of every habitat, and there are lots of different types of birds that have adapted to different habitats! Can you estimate how many different types of birds there are in the world? [Over 10,000!] With a quiet, raised hand, can someone name a bird that lives in a cold habitat? A rainforest habitat? A desert habitat? Good job – it sounds like you already know lots of different types of birds!

Well, today, you get to practice being a bird scientist. There is a big word for a bird scientist – they are called “ornithologists.” Can you say ornithologists? [repeat.] Ornithologists look for a few very particular things when they’re observing birds in nature. Take a look at the vest I’m wearing – as we visit different habitat stations today, this vest will remind you what to look for when observing birds! [Point out all the various vest parts.] I, myself, am not really an expert on all birds, but because I do enjoy observing birds, I call myself a “Birder.” Give me a thumbs up if you enjoy observing birds at home, or at school, or at the park?

Keep your thumb up if you want to share one observation about the bird on this poster [point to American Goldfinch. Call on student to share observation… perhaps they’ll say that it’s yellow and black.] Great! You observed it’s color & pattern, just like it says here on the vest. Can someone else describe something else about this bird? [Call on a few more students for a few more observations.] Nice work, that is very good practice being an ornithologist! Now that you’ve observed what it looks like, I’ll introduce you to it – it’s name is the American Goldfinch. The American Goldfinch is actually the Washington State bird! A cool fact about its behavior is that the female bird can weave its nest so tight using spider web silk that it can be filled with water and won’t leak. Males are bright yellow in the spring and summer but much duller in the fall and winter.

How about some observations about this next bird? [and so on… Students’ observations first, and then describe some cool facts or its name.]

Ooh, quiet! Do you see that bird that landed on the bird feeder? It’s so fast I couldn’t see all the details, but I noticed that it had a black head! By the end of this lesson, maybe we’ll be able to tell which bird it is!

Now I’m going to give you a quiz to see how well you can match your listening with your observations. Try to guess which of these four birds I’m describing:

  • I use my short thick beak to break apart seeds.  I replace my feathers twice a year. If I’m a male I get brand new bright yellow feathers in the spring. (American Goldfinch)
  • My feet help me balance on the sides of trees. I drill holes into trees to capture tasty insects.  I sometimes use the holes I’ve made as a nest for my young.  I’m a large bird and I have bright red feathers on my head. (Pileated Woodpecker)
  • When I arrive you can hear my wings buzz.  I’m able to sip nectar with my long probing beak. I love the blossoms on the Salmon Berry bushes at the Outdoor Classroom. (Hummingbird)
  • I love to eat earthworms and fruit.  My favorite habitat at the Outdoor Classroom is the big open field. I carry mud in my bill that I use it to build my nest that protects my blue eggs.  My red breast and yellow beak are hard to miss! (Robin)

Now let’s walk to the next station, another Forest Habitat, to meet some new birds. I’ll be the leader, so please get in a single file line behind me! Could a chaperone be at the back, please? While we walk, let’s put our owl eyes and our deer ears on, and walk like foxes so that we can observe some real birds in the trees!

STATION B – Fallen Maple:

Gather around this area, and let’s take 20 seconds to observe this habitat quietly. Show me a thumbs up if you notice evidence of birds! [Just be quiet, and model the observation you want students to do!] I see lots of thumbs, so I’ll call on someone to share what evidence of birds they observed here! [Call on student, perhaps they’ll say they see holes in the bark? nest? bird feeder?] Very good! Even if you don’t see a bird right away, there is usually some good evidence that birds have been here, or will be back!

Let’s practice using the options on the vest again. Give me a thumbs up if you want to share an observation about this bird [point to a bird poster, and have students share observations & descriptions… then you may share facts & names!]

OK! Time for another quiz. Try to guess which bird I’m describing:

(And so on!)

Lesson Update: Nest Building

April 27, 2019:

I noticed while teaching 4th graders that setting out boundary cones may be helpful to keep nest placement more manageable. Students were venturing a bit too far into the woods to place their nests, which resulted in a few nettle stings, too much time required for each pair’s nest placement, and also difficult to retrieve materials at day’s end. Try setting out orange boundary cones and instruct them to only take “one step outside the cones” to place their nests, or something that makes sense to you! -Amy

Lesson Update: Build a Bird

April 27, 2019:

After a few days of teaching, we learned that it’s best to limit the number of foam balls per student to 2 when they are crafting their ultimate birds!

Also, a friend of Marie’s generously lent us some bird call CDs to use in the classroom this season. I brought in a CD player that is back by the sink. Turn it on at the beginning of your day for a bird-call filled lesson!

Some volunteers found it to work best if they started the lesson with the Audubon Society species Show & Tell, instead of the “what is a bird” and adaptations discussion. This may be a good way to start with the younger grades to engage them right away in the classroom! Try it both ways if you’d like.

Fun Hand Gestures for Engaging Young Students

April 17, 2019

Mic Kisinger had some great suggestions for engaging younger students in these bird lessons. Younger students typically respond best with lots of acting out, repetition, pneumonics, etc. Sometimes adults tend to forget their audience and begin to “lecture,” especially in scientific topics like ours. While you’re teaching little ones about birds at any lesson, try using these fun, active gestures to break up all the talking! (Remember if you appear to be having fun, kids will have more fun!)

Mentioning a hummingbird? Ask students to hold out one thumb to show size of hummingbird.

Hummingbirds can fly all sorts of directions – can YOU fly backwards? Ask students to flap their wings and walk backwards.

Carry a dime in your pocket to let students see how lightweight a hummingbird is!

Carry Tic-Tacs in your pocket to show students how small a hummingbird egg is!

Mentioning a robin? Ask students to stack 2 fists together to show size of robin.

Mentioning bird feet? Have them show you their talons (big clawed hands). Have them show you their perching feet (curled fingertips). Have them show you their webbed duck feet (paddle hands).

Some birds always stand on one foot. Can you stand on one foot while I’m giving instructions?

Mentioning a flicker or woodpecker? Everybody show me how fast you can peck (hold up your left hand like a flat board, and “peck” at it with the pointer finger of your right hand)

Mentioning a chickadee? Can you make the sound that a chickadee makes? Their name is in their call! (Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!) If they’re in danger, they add on a few more dee-dee-dee’s!