Learning to Read Informational Texts: Building Background Knowledge about Birds | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G1:M3:U1

Learning to Read Informational Texts: Building Background Knowledge about Birds

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In this unit, students launch their learning about birds by focusing on their physical features. Students consider the unit guiding question, "What makes a bird a bird?", as they begin to grow their research skills as they research the different physical characteristics of birds. In the first part of the unit, students read an engaging Mystery Riddle and explore mystery pictures to stir their inquiries about the topic of birds. As the unit progresses, students begin their research about the physical characteristics of birds as they listen to the texts, Just Ducks by Nicola Davies and Birds (Scholastic Discover More) by Penelope Arlon and Tory Gordon-Harris. As students read these two texts, they build background knowledge and develop their skills as readers of informational texts. In addition to reading, students participate in structured conversations, observational drawing, role-play, music, and movement to demonstrate their emerging understanding of birds.

Students are also provided opportunities to display their growing knowledge of birds as they write and create scientific drawings in their Birds Research notebook. Along the way, students learn about empathy and its place in the feedback process. For the Unit 1 Assessment, students answer a series of questions after a read-aloud of two pages in Birds (Scholastic Discover More) (RI.1.5 and RI.1.3). This assessment mirrors exercises completed as a class with other pages in the book.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What makes a bird a bird?
  • Birds are animals with beaks, feathers, wings and feet.
  • There are many different types of birds, and they use their body parts to help them.
  • Despite their differences, there are key features that all birds have in common.
  • How do we build our research skills and share our learning?
  • To write informative texts, writers must read, collect evidence, and discuss their knowledge.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Birds' Bodies
  • Task: Informational Text Reading Assessment
  • Targets (standards explicitly taught and assessed): RI.1.1, RI.1.2, RI.1.3, RI.1.4, RI.1.5, RI.1.7
  • Text: Birds (Scholastic Discover More)


Each unit in the K-2 Language Arts Curriculum has one standards-based assessment built in. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the integrated literacy block of the school day. The module also intentionally incorporates science content that many teachers across the nation are expected to address in first grade. These intentional connections are described below. (Based on your state or district context, teachers may also choose to address additional specific social studies or science standards during other parts of the school day.)

Science (based on NGSS):

  • LS1.A
  • LS1-1
  • LS1-2
  • LS3.B

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this module/unit, students work to become ethical people: habits for how we treat others. Throughout Unit 1, students practice showing empathy (one specific habit of character) toward classmates as they are guided through the process of giving kind and specific feedback to a partner that takes into account the feelings of their partner.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Accountable Independent Reading

The ability to read and comprehend text is the heart of literacy instruction. Comprehension is taught, reinforced, and assessed across all three components of this primary curriculum: Integrated Module Lessons, Integrated Labs, and the Reading Foundations Skills Block (see Module Overview).

For Unit 1, during the independent reading in the Skills Block, reinforce the comprehension skills and standards that students are practicing during the Integrated Literacy Block:

  • RI.1.1: Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • RI.1.2: Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
  • RI.1.3: Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
  • RI.1.4: Ask and answer questions to help determine or clarify the meaning of words and phrases in a text.
  • RI.1.5: Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text.
  • RI.1.7: Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
  • RI.1.9: Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

Supporting English Language Learners

The Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and some supports can serve a wide range of student needs. However, ELLs have unique needs that cannot always be met with UDL support. According to federal guidelines, ELLs must be given access to the curriculum with appropriate supports, such as those that are specifically identified as "For ELLs" in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • New: ELL supports now labeled and condensed. Beginning in Module 3, ELL supports within the Meeting Students' Needs column are labeled and explained in detail the first time they are used. Supports repeated in subsequent lessons are also labeled but condensed for easier reading, and at times adjusted to provide lighter support. Attend to the detailed supports and labels early in the module to more easily apply them as the curriculum progresses. Note that a number of the supports may seem familiar, as they have been suggested repeatedly in Modules 1-2.
  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 3 through 7, which establish reading routines to support comprehension of the anchor text, Birds (Scholastic Discover More), include Language Dives, and introduce shades of meaning among verbs and adjectives to include in their informational writing. If necessary, consider placing less focus and condensing instruction in Lessons 1, 2, 8, 9, and 10, which provide helpful background, practice, and repetition, but don't introduce as many new concepts.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in a Language Dive in Lesson 3, and ELLs participate in an optional Language Dive in Lesson 7. These Language Dives support ELLs and all students in understanding and practicing the meaning and structures of sentences from Birds (Scholastic Discover More). Many lessons also include optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. Be aware that in Modules 3 and 4, Language Dive goals remain the same: to empower students to analyze, understand, and use the language of academic sentences; however, beginning in this unit, and continuing throughout Modules 3 and 4, the Language Dive Guide and the Mini Language Dive formats have been modified. The modified format follows the Deconstruct-Reconstruct-Practice routine, which should seem familiar as a general process (see the Language Dives document on the Tools page). Additionally, beyond the teacher-led questions and answers as in Modules 1 and 2, there are suggested language goals that students should try to understand and apply for each chunk. Thus, this modified format goes beyond teacher-led questioning. It attempts to encourage students to take more of the lead in the conversation and build greater independence by taking an inquiry based approach to language in general, and the selected sentence in particular. Although students should briefly discuss all chunks in each Language Dive sentence, the new format invites them to slow down during one chunk, called the focus structure, to investigate and practice a particularly compelling language structure. For more context, consider reviewing the Language Dive Guide in Lesson 3 of this unit, as well as a range of questions students might ask one another in Questions We Can Ask During a Language Dive on the Tools page.
  • Goal 4 Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goal 4 Conversation Cues, which are questions teachers can ask students to help achieve four goals: (Goal 1) encourage all students to talk and be understood; (Goal 2) listen carefully to one another and seek to understand; (Goal 3) deepen thinking; and (Goal 4) think with others to expand the conversation (adapted from Michaels, Sarah and O'Connor, Cathy. Talk Science Primer. Cambridge, MA: TERC, 2012. Based on Chapin, S., O'Connor, C., and Anderson, N. [2009]. Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn, Grades K-6. Second Edition. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications). Refer to the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 4 Conversation Cues are introduced in Lesson 1. Heightened language processing and development is a primary potential benefit for ELLs.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Investigate the routines, practices, rituals, beliefs, norms, and experiences that are important to ELLs and their families. Integrate this background into the classroom as students explore the anchor text, Birds (Scholastic Discover More) which presents information about birds and describes birds' variety and adaptations. Research to make sure the topic of birds, a bird in particular, or parts of birds (e.g. feathers) are not taboo for students. Consider whether the topic or text is too sensitive for a student to discuss in front of the class. Invite students and their families to have private conferences, or simply allow students to reflect silently. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Reading Aloud to Research Birds: During the reading aloud to research in Lessons 3 to 7, students build their research skills around informational text and practice using informational text features to help build their understanding of the Unit 1 guiding question, "What makes a bird a bird." Students will participate in a series of reading sessions during which they will hone their comprehension and interpretive skills by asking and answering questions. Through these lessons students begin to build knowledge about the physical characteristics of birds. Starting in Lesson 3, students read an excerpt from Birds (Scholastic Discover More) to gain information about birds. In these reading aloud to research sessions, students continue to learn how to use various text features to gain information from the text efficiently.
  • Birds Research Notebook: In Lessons 5, 6, and 7, students write a sentence in their Birds Research Notebook using descriptive adjectives to describe the bird they are observing in a photograph (L.1.1f, i). Students are also asked to label the beak on their their drawing and to add a caption next to the beak. These are meant to reinforce their growing knowledge of text features in informational text. Students benefit from explicitly modeled lessons that support students, step by step, as they write captions and sentences in their Birds Research Notebook. Some students may need additional modeling before feeling confident enough to complete the task independently. Students who have trouble with writing may also benefit from having an adult scribe their ideas initially.
  • Learning About Adjectives: Students use adjectives and distinguish shades of meaning among adjectives using the poems "Bird Walk" and "Wandering Through the Zoo". Students learn how to distinguish and use adjectives based on the shades of meaning and then engage with using adjectives and with distinguishing shades of meaning among adjectives as they begin to write a class poem about birds. Students help create a second Shades of Meaning Adjectives chart that will also include teacher suggestions. ELLs may find the work with shades of meaning challenging, particularly if they do not know the meaning of the words being presented. Support them by ensuring new vocabulary is introduced and reviewed throughout the Lessons.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills that ELLs bring to the classroom.

Texts to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
by Kevin Henkes
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780061363047
Just Ducks
by Nicola Davis
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780763670511
Birds (Scholastic Discover More)
by Penelope Arlon
One per pair
ISBN: 9780545667739

Preparation and Materials

For basic lesson preparation, refer to the materials list and Teaching Notes in each lesson. The following are unusual materials that may take more time or effort to organize or prepare.

  • Lesson 1: Bird Word Wall card: bird
  • Lesson 2: Bird Word Wall card: beak, feathers, wings

Technology and Multimedia

  • Google Drawings - Students draw online: Students can draw their responses online rather than on paper to share on classroom blogs or websites with families.
  • Seesaw - Create student learning portfolios to share with other students, families: Video/audio record students at play to share with families and other students.
  • Cornell Ornithology - Additional research: Students view pictures of birds for additional research (whole group, small group, or independent


Labs are 1 hour of instruction per day.  They are designed to promote student proficiency and growth.

There are 5 distinct Labs: Explore, Engineer, Create, Imagine, and Research. Each of the Labs unfolds across an entire module and takes place in four stages:  Launch, Practice, Extend, and Choice and Challenge.

During their Lab time, students break up into smaller Lab groups and go to separate workstations (tables or other work spaces around the classroom). This structure creates a small collaborative atmosphere in which students will work throughout their Labs experience. It also supports the management of materials (since each workstation has its own materials).


Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • If you have a number of English language learners speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs in their native language about birds.


  • Invite local ornithologists or zoologists to visit the classroom.
  • Contact and invite local bird-watching groups to discuss local birds with the students.


  • Take the class to a local park to observe birds in their habitat.
  • Take the class to a zoo to learn more about birds around the world.


  • Create and set up bird feeders in places around the community (e.g., nursing homes).


  • Consider doing a deeper dive of ducks and incorporating eggs and an incubator in the classroom to study.

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