Building Research Skills: Birds’ Bodies | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G1:M3:U2

Building Research Skills: Birds’ Bodies

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During Unit 2, students engage in a variety of experiences as they answer the unit guiding question, "How do birds use their body parts to survive?" Throughout the unit, students read, write, talk, draw, experiment, and sing about two key bird body parts: feathers and beaks. In the first part of the unit, students continue to build their skills as researchers through whole group research anchored by the text Feathers, Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart. This whole class research process involves listening to the text read aloud, generating group notes and creating a shared writing piece in response to the research question: "How do birds use their feathers to survive?" In addition to the research about feathers, students continue to hone their scientific drawing skills through the process of close viewing. Students further build their content knowledge and speaking and listening skills through a Science Talk.

In the second part of the unit, students engage in small group research using the text Beaks by Sneed B. Collard III. Again, students read, write, and talk about the text as they answer the research question: "How do birds use their beaks to survive?" Students continue close viewing and scientific drawing, and they engage in series of "beak challenges." Their learning from this portion of the unit culminates in a heavily supported individual writing piece about bird beaks, which is a scaffold toward the Unit 2 Assessment. For the Unit 2 Assessment, students show their learning by writing an informational paragraph about a specific body part and how that feature helps birds survive (W.1.2, W.1.7).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How do birds use their body parts to survive?
  • Birds have specially designed body parts that help them survive.
  • How do we become researchers and share learning?
  • To write informative texts, writers must read, collect evidence, and discuss their knowledge.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Birds' Bodies
  • Task: Integrating Writing: Informational Writing Task
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): W.1.2, W.1.7,
  • Text: Feathers: Not Just for Flying; Beaks!


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, students work to become ethical people by treating others with compassion. Throughout Unit 2, students practice showing compassion when collaborating with classmates during group research.


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 K-2 Reading Foundations Skills Block (see Module Overview).

For Unit 2, during the independent reading in the Skills Block, reinforce the comprehension skills and standards that students are practicing during the Integrated Literacy Block:

  • RI.1.2: Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
  • R1.1.4: Ask and answer questions to help determine or clarify the meaning of words and phrases in a text.
  • R1.1.5: 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.1.6: Distinguish between information provided by pictures or other illustrations and information provided by the words in a text.
  • RI.1.7: Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.

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.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 6 through 14 to support students in writing their individual informative paragraphs about bird beaks in preparation for the assessment that occurs in Lessons 15 and 16. In these lessons, students engage in a second research cycle, this time in small groups using the text Beaks!, in part through a Language Dive. Consider placing less focus and condensing instruction in Lessons 1 through 6 in which students engage in a whole class research process which involves listening to text read aloud, generating group notes and creating a shared writing piece using the text Feathers, Not Just for Flying. However, be sure to complete the Language Dive in Lesson 2.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in Language Dives in Lessons 2 and 8. These Language Dives support ELLs and all students in deconstructing, reconstructing, and practicing the meaning and structures of sentences from Feathers Not Just for Flying and Beaks! Many lessons also include optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. The Language Dive goals remain the same as in previous modules; however, the new format goes beyond those goals by encouraging students to take more of a lead in the conversations and to build greater independence by taking an inquiry-based approach to language in general, and the selected sentence in particular. Refer to the Tools page for additional information.
  • Conversation Cues: Continue to encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goals 1-4 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. 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 an informational text taking place across different cultures and countries. The anchor texts, Feathers Not Just for Flying and Beaks! Give information about different kinds of birds that inhabit different parts of the world. Investigate to make sure the topic of birds, a bird in particular, or parts of birds (e.g. feathers) are not taboo for students. The guiding questions and texts in this unit focus on the function of bird's body parts, which may raise sensitive issues for some students, such as in cultures that believe that souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in birds and in their feathers. Create a safe space for students to express themselves without putting them on the spot if they choose not to by inviting them to share experience or feelings they have regarding birds in general or any bird in particular. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Working with similes and shades of meaning in verbs and adjectives: Students will participate in a series of activities during which they will learn about similes and deepen their understanding of shades of meaning in adjectives and verbs. Some students may grapple with recalling the meaning of recently learned vocabulary and figurative language as the activities progress throughout the unit. Provide additional support with this work when possible by using home language and keeping a class vocabulary log.
  • Habits of character: Students practice showing compassion when collaborating with classmates during group research. It might be challenging for some students to use the Learning Plan anchor chart to set goals and track their progress, as the chart contains some wording which can pose an extra demand for ELLs. Ensure students understand each bullet in the Learning Plan anchor chart as they reflect on their learning and set goals. Provide opportunities to process in home language groups and preview the information in the chart before using it to set or assess goals as necessary.
  • 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
Feathers: Not Just for Flying
by Melissa Stewart
One per pair
ISBN: 9781580894319
Flight School
by Lita Judge
One per classroom
ISBN: 9781442481770
by Sneed Collard
One per pair
ISBN: 9781570913884

Preparation and Materials

As students work in small groups, each student will need to be able to work independently with texts. Until all students in the group are confident independent readers, audio versions of the texts can serve as useful scaffolding. Teachers are encouraged to provide audio recordings of these texts whenever possible.

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 2: Audio recording of a familiar song
  • Lesson 3: Several examples of feathers for display
  • Lesson 6: Materials for Volley for Vocabulary protocol (seven to eight words from the Bird Word Wall, written on separate index cards and taped to a beach ball)
  • Lesson 12: Class set or more of sunflower seeds; group set of tweezers, pliers, and pasta servers (one of each per group of three students)
  • Lesson 13: Class set of cubes or other floating manipulatives
  • Lesson 14: Class set or more of rubber bands; bin/bucket of dirt per group; paper towels for each group

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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