Learning through Science and Story: Fossils Tell of Earth’s Changes | EL Education Curriculum

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Learning through Science and Story: Fossils Tell of Earth’s Changes

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Replacing The Big Dinosaur Dig - Unit 3

We have designed a new version of Grade 2, Module 2, Unit 3, which is included on this website and in print materials as of Spring 2019. This change involved removing references to the trade book The Big Dinosaur Dig (978-0756655952, DK Publishing, $3.99), which was previously required as a one-per-classroom purchase. No new trade book purchase is required to replace The Big Dinosaur Dig; we created a new text which can be found in the Unit 3, Lesson 1 supporting materials

The updated Unit 3 is fully optional, and covers the same content and CCS standards as the original unit. Schools that have already purchased The Big Dinosaur Dig can continue to use it along with the original unit, or can switch to the updated version of the unit and use The Big Dinosaur Dig as a supplemental text. If you will be using the new text, please download the new supporting materials for this unit and use the updated lesson plans on the website.

An archived version of the original Unit 3, including lessons and teacher supporting materials, is available here2017 2M2 Unit 3. For more details about this change, please see the Frequently Asked Questions.

In this module, students build their literacy and science skills as they engage in a study of fossils. Students begin the module by participating in a close read-aloud of Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt to explore the Unit 1 guiding questions: "What do paleontologists do?" and "How do characters respond to major events?" Students learn about Mary Anning and her role as a fossil hunter as they engage with key literature standards. Students focus on how Mary Anning responds to major events and challenges, and the overall structure of narratives through structured retells. In Unit 1, students are also introduced to the skill of answering selected response questions. Students also begin to learn about what fossils are and the work that paleontologists do. In Unit 2, students make a pivot to informational texts and engage more deeply in the study of fossils. Students' learning is centered around the Unit 2 guiding questions: "What can we learn from studying fossils?" and "How do readers learn more about a topic from informational texts?"

Students begin the unit by engaging in a close read-aloud of various excerpts from the text Fossils by Ann O. Squire. Students then make the important transition of closely reading complex texts independently. Students are gradually introduced to close reading strategies as they read a few different nonfiction articles on fossils, such as how fossils can teach us about changes that have happened on Earth. In Unit 3, students take on the role of being authors as they work toward completing the performance task: adding detailed illustrations to a narrative produced during unit 3 about discovering a fossil. The unit begins with a focused read-aloud of The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard. Through their analysis of the text, students begin to answer and unpack the Unit 3 guiding question: "How do authors write compelling narratives?" Students then imagine they are a character from this story and practice writing a narrative. The unit culminates as students write, revise, and illustrate their own narratives from the perspective of a paleontologist who has just discovered a fossil. This performance task centers on CCSS ELA SL.2.5.

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

  • What do paleontologists do?
    • Paleontologists are people who look for, unearth, and study fossils.
  • How do characters respond to major events?
    • Characters respond in different ways to major events and challenges in books.
  • What can we learn from studying fossils?
    • Fossils can help us understand what plants and animals lived long ago and how the earth has changed.
  • How do readers learn more about a topic from informational texts?
    • Readers use different strategies to learn about a topic from informational text.
  • How do authors write compelling narratives?
    • Writers use various writing techniques to tell compelling stories.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Fossils Tell of Earth's Changes
  • Task: Writing a Narrative about Discovering a Fossil
  • Targets (priority standards): SL.2.5
  • Text: Stone Girl, Bone Girl; Fossils; Fossils Tell of Long Ago; Paleontology: The Study of Prehistoric Life; Curious About Fossils; The Dog That Dug for Dinosaurs; The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard

Content Connections

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

Science (based on NGSS) or NGSS:

2-ESS1-1: Use information from several sources to provide evidence that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly.

3-LS4-1: Analyze and interpret data from fossils to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.

Note: This module uses second- and third-grade NGSS standards. Since the topic of fossils is compelling and concrete, students are learning about fossils and what they can teach us about what life was like long ago, and what slow changes have happened. In order to fully address the second-grade standard, students would need to study other slow changes on Earth, such as the erosion of rocks, and earth events that can happen quickly, such as the eruption of a volcano.

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 effective learners by developing the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life.


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.

Performance Task

Adding Detailed Illustrations to a Narrative about Discovering a Fossil

For this performance task, students carefully and accurately create detailed illustrations for each part of the narrative they wrote, revised, and edited for the Unit 3 Assessment. Students orally present their books to visitors at a Celebration of Learning at the end of the module. This task addresses CCSS ELA SL.2.5.

Texts to Buy

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

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Curious about Fossils
by Kate Waters
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780448490199
by Ann O Squire
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780531262504
The Dog That Dug for Dinosaurs
by Shirley Raye Redmond
One per student
ISBN: 9780689857089
Paleontology: The Study of Prehistoric Life
by Susan Heinrichs Gray
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780531282748
Stone Girl, Bone Girl
by Laurence Anholt
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9781845077006
Fossils Tell of Long Ago
by Aliki Brandenberg
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780062382078


Each module is approximately 6-8 weeks of instruction broken into 3 units. The "week at a glance" chart in the curriculum map gives the big picture, breaking down the module into a detailed week-by-week view. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.


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).


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