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.