Researching to Build Knowledge and Teach Others: Animal Defense Mechanisms | EL Education Curriculum

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Researching to Build Knowledge and Teach Others: Animal Defense Mechanisms

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ARKive Website

On February 15, 2019, the website was discontinued. This website was used as a resource in the Module Lessons and ALL Block of Grade 4, Module 2. 

To address this, we have recreated the content from these pages on this website; please see the links below. We have also refreshed the lesson plans and supporting materials on the site to include the links to these pages. The curriculum has not been altered in any significant way, other than the replacement of videos with slideshows, so if you have printed materials of this module, you will just need to replace the website links with those below:

Date updated: 7/12/19

In this eight-week module, students explore animal defense mechanisms. They build proficiency in writing an informative piece, examining the defense mechanisms of one specific animal about which they build expertise. Students also build proficiency in writing a narrative piece about this animal. In Unit 1, they build background knowledge on general animal defenses through close readings of several informational texts. Students read closely to practice drawing inferences as they begin their research and use a research notebook to make observations and synthesize information. Students will continue to use the research notebook, using the millipede as a whole class model. They begin to research an expert group animal in preparation to write about this animal in Units 2 and 3, again using the research notebook. In Unit 2, students continue to build expertise about their animal and its defense mechanisms, writing the first part of the final performance task--an informative piece describing their animal?s physical characteristics, habitat, predators, and defense mechanisms. With their new knowledge about animal defenses from Unit 1, students read informational texts closely, using the same research notebook to synthesize information about their animal. In Unit 3, students apply their research from Units 1 and 2 to write a narrative piece about their animal that incorporates their research. This narrative takes the format of a choose-your-own-adventure. For their performance task, students plan, draft, and revise the introduction and one choice ending of the narrative with the support of both peer and teacher feedback. The second choice ending is planned, written, and revised on demand for the end of unit assessment. This performance task centers on CCSS ELA RI.4.9, W.4.2, W.4.3, W.4.4, W.4.6, W.4.7, W.4.8, and W.4.9b.

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

  • How do animals' bodies and behaviors help them survive?
  • How can writers use knowledge from their research to inform and entertain?
    • To protect themselves from predators, animals use different defense mechanisms.
    • Writers use scientific knowledge and research to inform and entertain. 

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Animal Defenses
  • Task: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Animal Defense Mechanisms Narrative
  • Targets (standards explicitly taught and assessed): RI.4.9, W.4.2, W.4.4, W.4.3, W.4.6, W.4.7, W.4.8W.4.9b
  • Texts: Animal Behavior: Animal Defenses, Venom, Can You Survive the Wilderness?

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block. But the module intentionally incorporates Science content that may align to additional teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.


Note: also consider using EL's 4th grade Life Science Module, a separate resource that includes approximately 24 hours of science instruction. This life science module explicitly addresses 4th grade NGSS life science standards, and naturally extends the learning from this ELA module.

Next Generation Science Standards  

Life Science Performance Expectation: 

  • 4-LS1-1: Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
    • LS1.A: Structure and Function: Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction. (4-LS1-1)

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 contribute to a better world: put their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service). Students also focus on working to become effective learners, developing the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration).


Each unit file includes lessons, teacher materials and student-facing materials.


Each unit in the 3-5 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. 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

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Animal Defense Mechanisms Narrative

This performance task gives students a chance to blend their research of animal defense mechanisms with narrative writing. In this task, students use their research about a specific animal as the basis for a choose-your-own-adventure story. The narrative opens with a short informative piece describing students' animals and their defense mechanisms. Then students write a narrative in which their animal is featured as the main character facing a dangerous predator, thus having to use a defense mechanism. The choose-your-own-adventure format lets students envision and write two different variations of the plot, with each variation featuring the use of a different defense mechanism. The first variation will be scaffolded during writing instruction throughout Unit 3, with students using teacher feedback and peer critique to improve and revise their work. The second variation will serve as the on-demand End of Unit 3 Assessment. After this assessment, students compile and publish work from the module, including the informative writing from Unit 2 as an introduction and the choose-your-own-adventure narrative with two choices of ending. This task addresses CCSS ELA RI.4.9, W.4.2, W.4.3, W.4.4, W.4.6, W.4.7, W.4.8, and W.4.9b.

Texts to Buy

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

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Animal Behavior: Animal Defenses
by Christina Wilsdon
1 per student
ISBN: 9780816085125
by Marilyn Singer
1 per class
ISBN: 9781467749091
Can You Survive the Wilderness?
by Matt Doeden
1 per class
ISBN: 9781429679961


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.

ALL Block

The Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block is 1 hour of instruction per day. It is designed to work in concert with and in addition to the 1-hour Grades 3-5 ELA "module lessons." Taken together, these 2 hours of instruction comprehensively address all the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

The ALL Block has five components: Additional Work with Complex Text; Reading and Speaking Fluency/GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics); Writing Practice; Word Study and Vocabulary; and Independent Reading.

The ALL Block has three 2-week units which parallel to the three units of the module.


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