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Trouble at the Nature Center

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 

Subject: Science

Topic: Animal Habitats

Focus questions:

  • How do physical characteristics and behaviors of animals help them meet their basic needs in a specific environment?

  • How can we use inferencing skills to observe, record and compare physical characteristics of animals?

  • How can we work together to successfully solve a problem?

Context: Students will already have a basic understanding about environments and animal characteristics.  

Goals: To help students use inferencing skills to observe animal characteristics and categorize them into appropriate environments.  An additional goal is to foster teamwork, collaboration and justification of categorization.

Materials: 4 large pieces of paper with Arctic, Wetlands, Desert and Forest written on them with a corresponding color picture of this environment (w/ no animals). 4 Ziploc baggies with pictures of: Arctic hare (close-up of fur, ears, legs), Egret (close up of webbed feet, long legs, bill), Brown Bear (close up of snout, claws, fur), and desert hare (close up of fur, legs, ears). Nature Center assistant costume (perhaps a jacket, badge, keys, etc.). Boss costume (perhaps glasses, suit, etc.).

Space: Start with students on carpet or at seats where they can easily see large papers for brainstorming on habitats. Then move students into a large open space where they can make a large circle around the papers and form small clusters in the room.


Today we’re going to learn some more about animals, their characteristics and their environments. My co-teacher and I will be going into role and we will all be participating in an activity that will help us think about which environments animals’ belong in, why, and how we can tell. When you see my co-teacher put on her hat, that will be your sign that she is going into her role. When you see me put on these glasses, you will know that I am going into my role.

Before we get started we will invite you to look at our first environment: Arctic. Look at the picture and let’s brainstorm 3 words that can describe this environment. Continue this for Wetland, Desert, and Forest environment (encourage participation from multiple voices). When finished, take the big papers off the wall and lay them out on the floor.


Teacher In Role/Students as experts

Okay, students. I’m glad that we finished brainstorming because we’ve got something much more important to attend to. My friend Millie, who works at the nature center has a serious problem. This morning, she forgot to close the enclosures and 4 animals escaped. They were on their way out the door when Millie grabbed her camera and took some quick pictures of these animals. She tried to get them back but couldn’t. Her boss, Finklemeyer, was able to find the animals and now has them in some cages. She told her assistant Millie that she has 15 minutes to get the animals back into their correct enclosures. The nature center has 4 enclosures: Arctic, Wetland, Desert, and Forest. The problem is….the problem is….

Enter co-teacher as Millie:

“Oh hi friends. I’m so nervous, I’m frantic. I’m Millie. I work at the Nature Center/Animal Rescue Center. Does anyone know what that is? [Take student answers] You see, I need to get these animals back in the right place, but I don’t know where to put them! I’m worried I’m going to put the wrong animal in the wrong place. Can you help me? Please can you all help me?”

“Luckily, I took these pictures as the animals were running away.”

Millie pulls 3 pictures out of her pocket and shares them with the students. These all came from the same animal. First can you tell me what you see? My eyesight is not so good. (Have students explain what they see—white fur, ears, etc.)

Where do you think this animal belongs?

Do you all agree? How did you know?

Why couldn’t it go in the desert?

“Thank you so much [glances at watch] Yikes! We’re running out of time. There are still 3 more animals that need to be put in their enclosures. Let’s get in 3 groups, quick. And please make sure you can tell why the animal goes there—my boss, Finklemeyer will be here soon!”

[She passes out baggies w/ pictures. Students work together to put them in the enclosure]. Students will be given ample time [with reminders of the urgency of the situation] to put their animal characteristic pictures into the correct environment.

The boss will barge in!

“Millie! Millie! Did you get this mess sorted out?” Millie: Well I got these excellent helpers to… Finklemeyer: WHAT? I’ve heard enough. You—why did you put those there?

[boss will question the students as to how/why/what clues allowed them to put the animals in their environments]. After each environment, she will “call” the office and tell them to put the animal in the correct environment (restating what the students have done/and relying on the students to produce the name of the animal if they can).

Side-Coaching Questions

  • How can we make sure everyone’s voice/opinion is heard?
  • What in the picture made you think that went there?
  • What animal do you think these pictures could be from? Why?
  • What other animals do you think could also be in this environment? Why?
  • What would happen if you put this animal in a different environment?

Describe what happened in this role-play. What was Millie’s problem?

What techniques did you use to figure out where the animals belonged?

What different characteristics do animals have to help them survive in different places?

When/where else do we have to make inferences in our real-life? (sports, meeting people, when to speak Spanish/English, etc.)

What was fun/frustrating/challenging? What did/could you do if 2 people had different opinions?