Reading Informational Texts: Studying Fossils Closely | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA G2:M2:U2

Reading Informational Texts: Studying Fossils Closely

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In Unit 2, students delve more deeply into their study of fossils, and specifically focus on the unit guiding question, "What can we learn by studying fossils?" Students pivot from their reading of narrative nonfiction texts in Unit 1, now focusing specifically on nonfiction texts that build their understanding of fossils. Through a combination of close read-alouds, independent reading, hands-on experiences, and authentic writing tasks, students take on the role of paleontologists and learn about the different kinds of fossils, the process of fossilization, and how fossils can teach us about how the earth has changed, as well as the plants and animals that lived long ago.

In the second part of this unit, students begin to transition from close read-alouds to close reading of complex texts more independently, as they continue to focus on the other guiding question for this unit: "How do readers learn more about a topic from informational texts?" Students begin to learn strategies to tackle complex texts, such as reading to determine the gist of a passage and working with a partner to read a complex text. The Unit 2 Assessment asks students to independently read a passage about fossils and then respond to selected response questions by referring to their own copy of the text, using illustrations, and rereading as needed (RI.2.1, RI.2.2, RI.2.4, RI.2.5, RI.2.6, L.2.4a, L.2.4c).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What can we learn by 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.

The Four Ts

Topic: Study of Fossils

Task: Students read and answer questions from the article "Digging Up the Past."

Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RI.2.1, RI.2.2, RI.2.4, RI.2.5, W.2.8, RI.2.6, L.2.4a, L.2.4c

Texts: Fossils, "What Can We Learn from Fossils?", "Different Ways Fossils Are Formed"


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 2, students engage with two habits of character: responsibility and collaboration. Students are invited to think of the different ways they can be responsible for their actions, work and space. Students practice the habit of collaboration as they engage in the meaningful work of reading complex texts with their reading partners.


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 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 2.2: Identify the main topic of a multi-paragraph text, as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.
    • Provide sticky notes and invite students to write the gist of the paragraphs or pages from a chapter.
    • Prepare reading partners with timed check-ins to review the gist of their reading so far.
  • RI. 2.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 2 topic or subject area.
    • Invite students to highlight new words with highlighter tape or to write new words in a personal dictionary. Provide classroom dictionaries for words for which they are unable to figure out the meaning.
  • RI 2.5: Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.
    • Create a "text feature map" with various text features listed so that students can find the ones they have used and label how they used those text features while reading their book.
  • RI 2.6: Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
    • Prepare a book swap at a designated time. Invite students to share what their book was about and why their book was written with other students.
    • Invite students to create a brochure to "sell" their book with details about it, including the author's purpose.

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, Fossils, including a Language Dive, and in preparation for the assessment. The assessment requires students to answer selected response questions, and the instruction in Lessons 2-7 provides important content knowledge necessary for their success. If necessary, consider condensing Lessons 8-9, forgoing some independent time answering selected response questions for whole-class practice unpacking and thinking through some questions.
  • Language Dives: This unit includes only an optional Language Dive for ELLs during the close read-aloud in Lesson 4. 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.
  • Goal 3 Conversation Cues: Encourage productive and equitable conversation with 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 3 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 informational texts taking place across different cultures and countries. The guiding question 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. 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.
  • Using text features and evidence to describe the process of fossilization: In preparation for the Unit 2 Assessment, students participate in a series of close read-aloud sessions, during which they will hone their comprehension by using evidence from informational text to describe the process of fossilization. Comprehending and describing the steps of fossilization may be difficult for ELLs as it requires students to absorb an abundance of new content knowledge and academic vocabulary. Provide students with sentence frames and authentic opportunities to practice using academic vocabulary, such as evidence and infer. Prominently display illustrations from the text to clarity the concepts within. Guiding students through the included Language Dives and Mini Language Dives may facilitate their acquisition of academic vocabulary and comprehension of content knowledge.
  • Notetaking and Science Talk protocol: Throughout the close read-aloud, students will record information in their Paleontologist's notebooks in preparation for sharing their ideas in a Science Talk. As students record their notes, provide prompts and sentence frames to facilitate writing. During the Science Talk protocol, students will respond to and build on one another's ideas. Provide additional practice using the prompts from the Science Talk protocol so students are comfortable expressing their ideas. Students may need support using evidence from their notebooks as they share their ideas. Support students with this process by modeling and thinking aloud the required cognitive functions.
  • Reading independently and answering selected response questions: In Lessons 8-11, students will prepare for the Unit 2 Assessment by independently reading articles about fossils and answering a series of selected response questions. Students may find it challenging to comprehend and answer the selected response questions. Help students unpack the language in the questions by encouraging them to rephrase each question and by guiding them through Mini Language Dive conversations based on some questions and passages from the articles. Encourage students to use the strategy of "chunking" tricky sentences and questions on their own as they work independently during Lessons 8-11 and on the Unit 2 Assessment.
  • 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 Ann O Squire
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780531262504
Fossils Tell of Long Ago
by Aliki Brandenberg
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780062382078

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: Create five or six Bone Envelopes; prepare Mystery Journal Entry #2 and Photo Clue #2
  • Lesson 2: Preview the Close Read-aloud Guide: Fossils; prepare a Fossils Word Wall card for clue.
  • Lesson 3: Gather 25-30 impression objects and small pieces of play-dough for each child; prepare Fossils Word Wall cards for excavate and excavator.
  • Lesson 4: Prepare Fossils Word Wall cards for fossilization and decay.
  • Lesson 5: Prepare a Fossils Word Wall card for petrified.
  • Lesson 8: Cut out pictures of fossils
  • Lesson 9: Prepare wall space for the museum display labels
  • Lessons 8-10: Prepare the interactive word wall cards and arrow cards for the Interactive Word Wall protocol.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Science Talk - Students watch the video to help better understand the Science Talk protocol.
  • Interactive Word Wall - Students watch the video to help better understand the Interactive Word Wall protocol.
  • 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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