What do snakes do in winter? They sleep. When the ground begins to warm up, snakes begin to move, making snakes an important sign of spring. For a seasonal study, or any time, try some science-based lessons on snakes. This study really lends itself to the use of video, and we’ve included several at different levels of complexity. This study can be a good opportunity to explore different aspects of visual literacy, since it uses graphic organizers, charts, diagrams, and video, as well as written text and discussion.
Ask students to list scary animals. Chances are, snakes will be included in the list. Prepare a KWL Chart that expresses what students believe about snakes. Some of the ideas they may have:
- Snakes are slimy.
- Snakes are always poisonous.
- Snakes attack people.
- Snakes are scary.
Students may also know facts about snakes. Include all they know or believe on the K (things we know) section of the chart.
Help students list what they want to know on the W (things we want to know) chart. Leave the chart up while the class undertakes some research.
If you haven’t studied classification before, use our pasta sorting video to introduce the idea:
You can also download the PowerPoint. With the idea of classification clearly in mind, explain that all living things have been officially classified in a particular way. Nature in Your Own Backyard has a clear chart, and Trend makes a great scientific classification chart for your bulletin board.
Now, how are snakes classified?
Have students use classroom computers or resource books to find the answers to these questions:
- Are snakes plants or animals? (Students should all know that snakes are animals; if there are uncertainties, ask whether snakes can move.)
- Do snakes have spines? (Students may need to research this question, but should conclude that snakes are vertebrates.)
- Are snakes mammals or reptiles? (Students can discover this by researching whether snakes are warm blooded — no; whether snakes have live babies — no, they lay eggs; whether snakes have fur or hair — no. Snakes are reptiles.)
Older students can learn that snakes are members of the order Squamata, which includes lizards and snakes, and the suborder Serpentes, which includes all snakes.
Snakes move on land in the same way that fish move in water, with a side-to-side movement of their spines. In a way, snakes swim on land. See a simple look at snake movement:
Or a more complex discussion of some fascinating scientific and mathematical research:
Learn more about snakes’ movements:
- How Stuff Works has a nice explanation of how snakes’ morphology (the way they’re shaped and put together) connects with their movements.
- Wilderness College adds snake tracks to the discussion.
- Limbless Locomotion discusses ways in which snakelike motion could be beneficial (and possible) for robots. This is not an easy read, but should be intriguing for high school students, and classes which have studied robotics.
Have students try out the various movements of snakes, either as whole body movement or with ropes (one student can hold each end of the rope and they can cooperatively try to replicate the movements).
Compare snakes’ movements with the movements of mammals and other animals. Robert Full’s TED talk on animal locomotion is another great video to share.
As a class, discuss how morphology (shape, form) affects the behavior of animals.
Now it’s time to fill out the L (what we’ve learned) section of the chart. Check the W section and see if there are questions remaining. If so, have students continue researching till their curiosity is satisfied.
Have students revisit the things they “knew” about snakes. Were there some misconceptions? Do students feel more or less positive about snakes now that they know more?