When we study animals, we always cover these elements:
- Morphology: the physical characteristics of animals, including body parts and adaptations.
- Life cycles: how animals are born, live, and reproduce.
- Habitats: the places where animals live.
- Relationships with humans: how humans affect the animals and how they affect us.
Some of our favorite wild animal lesson plans:
- Sort animals according to their scientific classifications, size, habitat, or other criteria suited to your class. Let students use Animal Photo Cards, cards on which they’ve written animal names, or mindmapping software. With upper elementary and older, we like to put students in groups and challenge them to sort animals in as many different groupings as possible to help them gain insight into the issue of taxonomy.
- Have each student choose an animal to report on, do research, and plan a project or presentation to share the information with the class.
- Learn about the food chains or food webs of the habitats you’re studying. Use paper chains to show the connections among as many creatures as possible.
- Visit a zoo or animal park to observe wild animals directly. Before you go, watch some films, read some books, and have some conversations about the kinds of animals you might see. Develop hypotheses — for young children, that might mean having the class decide whether they think they’ll see all the animals awake during the day, while in older classes you might ask each student to develop a hypothesis to test. Make observations that allow the students to decide whether their hypotheses are confirmed or disconfirmed.
- Ask each student to choose an animal. Find descriptions in literature of the animals they’ve chosen and have students write and illustrate a report on the image their animals have among people. Then have them research their animals to determine, for example, whether wolves really are big and bad.
- Watch this video list of the Top Ten Beastliest Beats and have students make their own. If you upload them at YouTube, please leave the URL in the comments — we’d love to see them!
Check out some online resources:
- Jan Brett’s rhythm band uses recyclables to make rhythm instruments with images of lions, elephants, giraffes, and more. Use this as an activity for following directions, coloring, and environmental awareness (the “reuse” section of “reduce, reuse, recycle”), and end up with lots of great rhythm instruments to use all year.
- First School has preschool ideas for all kinds of different animals.
- Wikibooks Animal Alphabet combines great photos into an online alphabet book for your early childhood computer center.
- Check out animal live cams at Explore, the San Diego Zoo, and the Smithsonian National Zoo.
- Animal Planet has lots to explore. Set the site up for open exploration in your computer center. There are some ads.
More fun stuff for the classroom:
- Jungle bookmarks encourage reading. Have kids keep a list of unfamiliar words they encounter on the back of the bookmark to look up later.
- National Geographic’s Really Wild Animals Gift Set Check your school’s policy about video use. If you can use DVDs, I prefer that for the classroom because you have more options and can avoid ads, but if DVDs aren’t allowed, you can find a lot of good animal clips at National Geographic’s website. National Geographic is also a great source of wild animal lesson plans, such as People and African Animals or Wildebeest Migration.
- National Geographic is also coming out with a new animal atlas for kids, Nat Geo Wild Animal Atlas: Earth’s Astonishing Animals and Where They Live
- Wild Animal Puppets are great for acting out animal-based folktales, for whole-body lessons on animal interactions, or for play. The link in the previous sentence is a class set of assorted simple wild animal puppets that’s great for kids. If you want one or two special puppets to use in your classroom for drama or to gain attention, check out Folkmanis puppets like Baby Hippo Puppet. These are very realistic puppets.
- Animal Kingdom Poster shows current classifications.