Listening for Details: Learning about Paleontologists | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G2:M2:U1

Listening for Details: Learning about Paleontologists

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In Unit 1, students launch their learning about the study of fossils and paleontologists through the unit guiding question, "What do paleontologists do?" In the first part of the unit, students engage in a close read aloud of the text Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt. Because this is a narrative non-fiction text, students interact with the literacy standards as they learn about Mary Anning, her love for discovering fossils and her significance as a fossil hunter. Throughout the close read aloud, students engage in questions and activities that help them understand how Mary Anning responds to different challenges in her life, and particularly the habits of character she uses to overcome these challenges. They also engage in speaking and listening and writing activities to help them retell the story.

In the Unit 1 Assessment, students will engage in a 2 day focused read-aloud of the first half of the text The Dog That Dug for Dinosaurs by Shirley Raye Redmond. This assessment asks students to retell the beginning, middle and end of the first half of the text, as well as answer selected response questions. (SL.2.2, RL.2.1, RL.2.2, RL 2.3, RL.2.5, RL2.7). In the second part of the unit, students delve more deeply into the unit guiding question, "What do paleontologists do?" Students develop a basic understanding of what a fossil is and what paleontologists do through engaging videos and a focused read aloud over several days using the text Curious about Fossils by Kate Waters. Through these experiences, students learn about the tools that paleontologists use to find and study fossils, as well as famous paleontologists and their discoveries. Students also begin to use an individual Paleontologist notebook to track their learning.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • 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.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: How characters respond to major events in stories
  • Task: Retelling of The Dog That Dug for Dinosaurs and answering selected response questions
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RL.2.1, RL.2.3, RL.2.7
  • Texts: Stone Girl, Bone Girl; The Dog That Dug for Dinosaurs


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 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 unit, students work to become effective learners: develop the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life. Throughout Unit 1, students engage with two habits of character: perseverance and initiative. Students are invited to analyze how various characters in Stone Girl, Bone Girl use initiative and perseverance to address challenges they encounter. Students also practice perseverance as they engage in various retelling activities, and show perseverance as they tackle the new skill of answering selected response questions.


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:

  • RL.2.3: Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
    • Invite students to use sticky notes in their books to indicate when and how a character has responded to a challenge.
  • RL.2.2: Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral
  • RL.2.5: Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
    • Create copies of the BME organizer for students to use as they complete the beginning, middle, and end of their books.
  • RL.2.7: Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
    • After completing their book, challenge students to write a character biography that includes explanations of where in the text or illustrations they got their information.
  • RI 2.1
    • Invite the students to read aloud a portion of an informational text and ask comprehension questions.
    • After a student reads aloud the first few pages of an informational text, ask:

"What questions do you have?" 

"What are you wondering?"

Supporting English Language Learners

Whereas the Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), 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 identified for ELLs in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritize lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 2-7 to support comprehension of the anchor text, Stone Girl, Bone Girl, to complete two Language Dives, and in preparation for the assessment, which occurs at the end of a series of close read-alouds. The assessment requires students to retell and answer selected-response questions, and the instruction in Lessons 2-7 provides important support and preparation for that work. Lessons 10-12 build on the knowledge and learning students acquire during the first half of the unit, transitioning to reading informational texts on the same topic and inviting students to write about what they learn. If necessary, consider condensing Lessons 10-11, having students write about paleontologists' tools over one lesson rather than two.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in Language Dives during the close read-alouds in Lessons 3 and 5. Many lessons also include optional Mini Language Dives for ELLs. To maximize language practice and accommodate time, consider dividing or reviewing each Language Dive over multiple lessons. Beginning in Module 2 and going forward, create a "Language Chunk Wall"--an area in the classroom where students can display and categorize the academic phrases discussed in the Language Dive. At the end of each Language Dive, students are invited to place the Language Dive sentence strip chunks on the Language Chunk Wall into corresponding categories, such as "Nouns and noun phrases" or "Linking language." Consider color-coding each category. Examples: blue for nouns and subjects; purple for pronouns; red for predicates and verbs; yellow for adjectives; and green for adverbs. See each Language Dive for suggested categories. Students can then refer to the wall during subsequent speaking and writing tasks. For more information on Language Dives, refer to the Supporting English Language Learners Guidance on the Tools page.
  • Goals 1 and 2 Conversation Cues: Continue to encourage productive and equitable conversation using Goal 1 and 2 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). See the Tools page for the complete set of cues. Goal 2 Conversation Cues are introduced in Unit 3 of Module 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 informational texts taking place across different cultures and countries. The guiding questions and texts focus on fossils, bones, and paleontology, which may raise sensitive issues for some students, such as in cultures that wish to leave animals and objects from the past undisturbed. In addition, the anchor text, Stone Girl, Bone Girl, explores feelings of loneliness that may be familiar to ELLs, especially if they are newcomers. Prepare students for this content. Create a safe space for students to express themselves without putting them on the spot if they choose not to. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Strategic grouping: As students are invited to pair up for various tasks and protocols, seriously consider matching ELLs to a partner who has greater language proficiency. The conversations that happen as a result of such strategic grouping will greatly serve the language development of both partners.
  • Identifying character responses to events and retelling: In preparation for the Unit 1 Assessment, students participate in a series of close read-aloud sessions, during which they will hone their comprehension by identifying character responses to important events and by retelling the story. Retelling may be challenging for ELLs, as it requires students to interpret the text and use the irregular past tense. As you read the anchor text, explicitly point out examples of the irregular past tense and use illustrations and visual information as much as possible to support student comprehension. Give students opportunities to act and to move as they practice retelling. Check for comprehension frequently and ask probing questions to elicit details from the text. Use Conversation Cues to foster discussion among students.
  • Writing and collaboration: In the second half of the unit, students will have several opportunities to synthesize their learning from informational texts and share their thinking with a partner before writing. This social interaction is beneficial for ELLs because it will allow them time to verbalize their ideas with a peer before writing. It may be difficult for students to write independently after working closely with a partner. If there are students who speak the same home language, consider grouping them together and allowing them to discuss their learning first in their home language, then in English.
  • 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
Curious about Fossils
by Kate Waters
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780448490199
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

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:  Mystery Journal Entry #1 and Photo Clue #1
  • Lesson 2: Number the pages in the text Stone Girl, Bone Girl; preview the Close Read-aloud Guide: Stone Girl, Bone Girl
  • Lesson 3: Create wall space for the Curiosities Museum (eight pictures and accompanying sentence strip captions)
  • Lesson 8: Create wall space for Fossils Word Wall (added to throughout the module); prepare Fossils Word Wall card for fossils
  • Lesson 9: Prepare Fossils Word Wall cards for paleontologist and study.
  • Lesson 10: Prepare a Paleontologist's notebook for each student; prepare Fossils Word Wall card for discover and site.
  • Lesson 11: Prepare Fossils Word Wall cards for laboratory.
  • Prepare technology necessary to play videos in lessons 8 and 9.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Map of Europe - Additional research: Display the map of Europe and indicate where Lyme Regis, England is to help students understand the setting in Stone Girl, Bone Girl.
  • Fossils for Kids - Additional research: Students research to learn important foundational knowledge about fossils.
  • Dig In To Paleontology - Additional research: Students research to learn important foundational knowledge about paleontology.
  • BBC News article - Additional research: Read the article aloud to students to provide more information about fossil discovery.


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


  • Talk to the local geological, archaeological, and historical societies in your community, and inquire about local places in your community where students can dig for fossils.
  • Make sure to invite staff, students, families, and other people from the community whom students have interacted with to the Celebration of Learning.


  • Invite librarians to talk about and read about famous paleontologists.
  • Invite a local paleontologist to talk to students about the work paleontologists do and to show them examples of tools they use in the field.
  • If there are no paleontologists in your community, consider setting up virtual communication (email, Skype, etc.) with a paleontologist to answer students' emerging questions about the work that paleontologists do.
  • Consider collaborating with the art teacher at your school or an artist from the community to support students in creating detailed drawings for their performance task.


  • Visit a local park to look for impressions in rocks and hardened mud.
  • Visit a science museum to learn more about fossils and paleontologists.
  • Consider holding the Celebration of Learning at a local museum where students visited or the library where students learned more about fossils.


  • Invite students to revise and edit a page from their Paleontologist's notebook, and combine the pages and publish into a book titled "What We Have Learned about Paleontologists." Present this book to a kindergarten or first-grade class at your school.
  • Invite students to create a how-to guide for people interested in looking for fossils, including information such as what tools they need and how they should care for the environment when caring for fossils.
  • Invite students to create invitations for the Celebration of Learning. Encourage students to deliver the invitations to different classrooms, as well as to their families at home.
  • Consider combining students' narratives into one book and delivering them as gifts to various classrooms in the school.


  • Read a different version of the story of Mary Anning.
  • Read a recommended text about another paleontologist. Study this paleontologist in depth and share the learning with the class.
  • Invite students to research a different paleontologist, and write an informative paragraph about this person.
  • Consider ordering a fossil collection. Invite students to examine the fossils using a hand lens and describe the fossils.
  • Consider displaying the following video that describes the process of fossilization. Citation: Video. How Fossils Are Formed. YouTube, May 2009. Web 8 July 2016. <>.
  • Consider displaying the following video to help students further understand the concept of what fossils can teach us about how the earth has changed over time. Citation: Video. Making North America: Origins. PBS, June 2016. Web 8 July 2016. <>. Focus on minutes 43:32-46:29.
  • Consider having students produce narratives about any fieldwork done at a local museum.
  • Consider having students record their narratives, and presenting these recordings at the Celebration of Learning.

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