Writing Narratives: Becoming Paleontologists | EL Education Curriculum

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Replacing The Big Dinosaur Dig - 2M2 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 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An archived version of the original Unit 3, including lessons and teacher supporting materials, is available here2017 2M2 Unit 3.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 Unit 3, students shift from learning about fossils to taking on the role of being paleontologists from a narrative perspective. They do this primarily through the creation of their performance task: a narrative that captures the moment they discover a fossil as a paleontologist. Students begin the unit by reading The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard, and portions of this story serve as a mentor text for narrative writing. Students work toward answering the unit guiding question, "How do writers tell compelling stories?" as they analyze the different techniques that the author uses in her writing. Students then hone their narrative writing skills by writing a narrative from the point of view of Holly, the paleontologist in The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard.

This narrative serves as scaffolding to prepare students for the unit assessment, a two-part assessment that also serves as part of the performance task for this module. For the unit assessment, students choose a picture of an interesting fossil and craft their own narratives of the moment they discovered this fossil. For Part I of the assessment, they draft their narrative, and in Part II, they revise it based on teacher feedback. Students then complete their performance task by adding detailed drawings to the beginning, middle, and end of their narratives (W.2.3, W.2.5, L.2.1d and L.2.2).

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How do authors write compelling narratives?
    • Writers use various writing techniques to tell compelling stories.

The Four Ts

Topic: Learning about narratives

Task: Students write a narrative from the point of a view of a paleontologist about the moment they discovered a fossil.

Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): W.2.3, W.2.5, L.2.1d and L.2.2.

Texts: The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard


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 Unit 3, students work to become effective learners: develop the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life. Throughout Unit 3, students engage with the four habits of character: initiative, responsibility, perseverance, and collaboration. In the first part of the unit, students are invited to reflect on how the character Holly from The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard uses these habits of character during different parts of the story. As students craft their narratives, they are encouraged to use collaboration as they work with their writing partners, and perseverance to revise and edit their narratives.


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 3, 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. Students can also indicate how a character is responding (actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.).

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 2-9 to support comprehension of the text, The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard, and in preparation for the assessment in Lessons 11-12. The assessment draws on the processes introduced in Lessons 2-9, including describing actions, describing responses to events, using temporal words and irregular past tense, and planning, drafting, revising, and editing the three sections of a narrative. If necessary, consider condensing Lessons 13-15, thus placing less emphasis on celebration and presentation and more on reading and writing skills.
  • Language Dives: This unit includes only 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 document on the Tools page.
  • Goals 1-3 Conversation Cues: Continue to encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goal 1-3 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 Unit 2, 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. Consider supplementing the text, The Maiasaura Dig: The Story of Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard, with stories from international paleontologists from different backgrounds. 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.
  • Writing and collaboration: Beginning in Lesson 5, students will have several opportunities to synthesize their learning from informational texts and share their thinking with a partner before writing. They will be exposed to explicit conversation about the U.S. writing format and process, including beginning, middle, end, planning, drafting, giving feedback, revising, and editing. This interaction is beneficial not only because ELLs will have the opportunity to better understand U.S. writing conventions, but also because the conversations allow them opportunities to negotiate their ideas with a peer (another ELL or a native speaker), helping both partners adjust their language to make sure they are understood. 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. They can also note similarities between the U.S. conventions and those of their country of origin.
  • Irregular past tense and temporal words: Students can learn the various irregular past-tense forms of common verbs, as well as select temporal words, as part of their efforts to retell stories and write past-tense narratives. Invite students to compare and contrast their home language systems with the English past-tense system and the English system of cohesion through temporal words. Explain how important both irregular past-tense and temporal words are in producing classroom English that is both appropriate and clear to the listener and reader. See the lessons, beginning with Lesson 2, for specific supports for irregular past-tense and temporal words.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills that ELLs bring to the classroom.

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 3 and Photo Clues #1, #2, #3
  • Lesson 4: Prepare temporal words card sets
  • Lesson 6: Assign writing partners
  • Lesson 7: Word ball with attached words for the Volley for Vocabulary protocol
  • Lesson 9: Revising and Editing Checklists for each student based on his or her narrative writing
  • Lesson 10: Fossil photos for assessment writing
  • Lesson 12: Revising and Editing Checklists for each student based on his or her narrative writing, Prepare Guest invitations for Celebration of Learning

Technology and Multimedia

  • 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. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVwPLWOo9TE>.
  • 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. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/making-north-america.html#north-america-origins>. 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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