Reading as Research: A Study of Trees and the Living Things that Depend on Them | EL Education Curriculum

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Reading as Research: A Study of Trees and the Living Things that Depend on Them

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In Unit 2, after students have gained sufficient background knowledge about living things and their needs, they are invited to wonder how different living things depend on trees to meet their needs. This provocation invites students to learn about the importance of trees as food for people and animals. Students engage in a variety of experiences as they answer the unit guiding question, "How do living things depend on trees to meet their needs?" and learn about different parts of trees that are food for people and a variety of animals.

In the first part of the unit, students continue to build their skills as researchers through whole group shared research as they answer the research question, "How do people depend on trees to meet their needs?" Students participate in research by reading a section of the text Be a Friend to Trees, creating class notes, and contributing to shared writing about the information they gather.

After completing whole group research, students use a similarly structured section of the same text, Be a Friend to Trees, to answer the research question, "How do animals depend on trees to meet their needs?" Students engage in small group research on different animals that get food from trees and organize their researched information into shared notes, followed by the creation of more specific, individual notes. Students' learning and research will culminate in the Unit 2 Assessment: an informational research writing piece in which students explain how different animals depend on trees to meet their need for food. (W.K.2, W.K.7, W.K.8)

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How do living things depend on trees to meet their needs?
  • Living things depend on trees for shelter.
  • Living things depend on trees for food.
  • People and animals eat food from trees.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: A Study of Trees and the Living Things That Depend on Them
  • Task: Writing an Informational Research Text
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly assessed): RI.K.1, RI.K.2, RI.K.4, RI.K.7, W.K.2, W.K.7, W.K.8, SL.K.1a, SL.K.1b, SL.K.2, SL.K.3, L.K.5b, and L.K.5d
  • Texts: Be a Friend to Trees, The Trees in the Ancient Forest


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 literacy block of the school day. The module also intentionally incorporates science content that many teachers across the nation are expected to address in first grade. These intentional connections are described below. (Based on your state or district context, teachers may also choose to address additional specific social studies or science standards during other parts of the school day.)

Science (based on NGSS):

  • K-LS1-1

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to the EL Education 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: develop the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life. Throughout Unit 2, students practice collaboration as they work together to research in small groups (one specific habit of effective learners) as they engage in a cycle of research, note-taking, planning for writing, and sharing their writing. This cycle employs a gradual release of responsibility as students take on more ownership of their understanding, learning, and ability to be an effective collaborator.


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: Module Lessons, Labs, and the Reading Foundations Skills Block. See module overview for details.

For Unit 1, during the independent reading in the Skills Block, reinforce the comprehension skills and standards that students are practicing during the Literacy Block:

  • RI.K.1: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • Invite students to listen to a portion of a text read aloud and respond to questions about key details.
    • After a student listens to a text read aloud, ask:

"What questions do you have? What are you wondering?"

  • RI.K.2: With prompting and support, identify the main topic and retell key details.
    • When conferencing with a student, have him or her recall the main topic and some details about that topic.
    • Ask:

"What is the main topic of this text? What details does the author provide about the main topic?"

  • RI.K.3: With prompting and support, describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
    • Invite students to listen to a portion of a text read aloud.
    • Ask:

"How does this idea connect to the ideas that_________?" and "Where have we read similar information before?"

  • RI.K.4: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.
    • When conferencing with a student, have him or her identify unknown words and aid them in defining the words based on prior knowledge, context clues, or the use of a dictionary.
    • Ask:

"Are there any words you do not know? How can we work to define them?" and "Let's reread to try and figure out what this word means."

  • RI.K.6: Name the author and illustrator of a text and define the role of each in presenting the ideas or information in a text.
    • When conferencing with a student, have him or her identify the author and illustrator and their roles.
    • Ask:

"Who is the author of this text? What does the author do?" and "Who is the illustrator of this text? What does the illustrator do?"

  • RI.K.7: With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the text in which they appear (e.g., what person, place, thing, or idea in the text an illustration depicts).
    • When conferencing with a student, have him or her connect the ideas presented in the text to those presented in the illustrations.
    • Ask:

"How does this illustration represent what the text says?" and "Which part of the illustration shows _________?"

Supporting English Language Learners

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 2-4 and Lesson 7 to support comprehension of the anchor text, Be a Friend to Trees, in part through a Language Dive, and to demonstrate how to collect evidence from the text to answer a research question. Students may benefit from additional time with writing in their Living Things research notebooks, as the unit continues instruction on how to take notes and create sentences from them. Consider placing less focus on and condensing the Opening and Work Time A instruction in Lessons 9-10 to offer students the maximum amount of time to demonstrate learning in the assessment.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in a Language Dive in Lesson 7. The Language Dive supports ELLs and all students in deconstructing, reconstructing, and practicing the meaning and structures of sentences from Be a Friend to Trees. Recall that the Language Dive goals remain the same as in previous modules; however, the new format goes beyond those goals by encouraging students to take more of a lead in the conversations and to build greater independence by taking an inquiry-based approach to language in general, and the selected sentence in particular. Refer to the Tools page for additional information.
  • Conversation Cues: Continue to encourage productive and equitable conversation with Goals 1-4 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). Refer to the Tools page for the complete set of cues. 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 an informational text that takes place across different cultures and countries. Seek out supportive literature that represents the ethnic, linguistic, and geographic diversity of your class. Are there books that show trees and animals more common to cityscapes or suburban areas? Is this book or one like it available in the languages the students speak? Throughout the lessons, share ways you use trees or see animals using trees. Create space for students to share about the unique ways they use trees and see animals using them near their homes, communities, and to/from school. As an extension, students can query their extended family or neighbors for information about the uses of trees in countries of origin. Consider creating a class museum of how people and animals use trees: Students can bring a photo, video, or artifact connected to the guiding question from their neighborhood or country of origin and explain how it is connected in their home language. Consult with a guidance counselor, school social worker, or ESL teacher for further investigation of diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Reading aloud to research: Students will participate in a series of reading sessions during which they will hone their research skills by focusing on collecting evidence to reveal how trees help living things meet their needs. Through reading and discussing Be a Friend to Trees, students will be asked to consider how animals and people depend on trees. Some students may grapple with using details from the text to explain how animals and people depend on trees. Provide additional support with this skill when possible. Use the Language Dive sentence, realia, riddles, and think-alouds to reinforce the skill.
  • Research notebook: Using photographs, video, an anchor text, and the Unit 2 Guiding Question anchor chart, students will collect information and record observations about how animals and people depend on trees in a research notebook. Before writing, students gather evidence from multiple sources to inform their ideas. Students benefit from explicitly modeled lessons that support them, step by step, as they collect evidence and describe how animals and people depend on trees. Some students may need additional modeling before feeling confident enough to complete the writing task independently. Students who have trouble with writing may also benefit from having an adult scribe their ideas initially.
  • Science Talk protocol: In Lesson 12, students prepare for and participate in a Science Talk protocol in small groups where they will be asked to present evidence to support their ideas about how living things depend on trees to meet their needs. This activity is inherently supportive of ELLs by providing a small, supported context for them to share their knowledge while practicing newly acquired syntax and vocabulary. Even so, some students may be hesitant to participate. Ensure they are placed in heterogeneous groups to offer peer models. Practice the sentence frames and hand gestures that support language expression. Empower students to speak up if they need support from teachers or peers.
  • Celebration: Celebrate the courage, enthusiasm, diversity, and bilingual skills that ELLs bring to the classroom.

Texts and Resources to Buy

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

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
The Tree in the Ancient Forest
by Carol Reed-Jones
One per Classroom
ISBN: 9781883220310
Be a Friend to Trees
by Patricia Lauber
One per pair
ISBN: 9780064451208

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 organizing.

  • Lesson 1:  Mystery photos; Living Things Word Wall card: depend
  • Lesson 2: Living Things Word Wall cards: sap, twig, bud, and bark
  • Lesson 3: Living Things Word Wall cards: shelter, oxygen
  • Lesson 4: Living Things Word Wall cards: nut, fruit, seeds
  • Lesson 5: People Depend on Trees booklet on chart paper
  • Lesson 6: Gather materials for puppets: puppet pictures, popsicle sticks
  • Lesson 7: Living Things Word Wall cards: flower, inner bark
  • Lesson 9: Prepare technology necessary to play "Giraffe" video clip; Unit 2 Assessment booklet
  • Lesson 10: Prepare technology necessary to play "What Do Animals Eat?" video clip
  • Index cards for Living Things Word Wall

Technology and Multimedia

Google Drawings - Students draw online: Students can draw their responses online rather than on paper to share on classroom blogs or websites with families.

Seesaw - Create audio recordings of texts for students' individual and small group research: Audio record yourself reading the various research texts throughout the module to serve as an extra support for those students who may need it.


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


  • If you have a number of English language learners speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs about living and nonliving things.
  • Invite families to collect and bring in different foods that grow on trees to share with the class (e.g., bananas, coconuts, tamarind, mangoes, apples, almonds, etc.).
  • Invite cafeteria workers and/or the nurse to the classroom to share the healthy foods included in students' lunches and snacks that come from trees (e.g., apples, bananas, cherries, etc.).
  • If you have a number of ELLs speaking the same native language, invite family members to come into the classroom to talk with ELLs about different food they eat from trees and different animals that eat food from trees.


  • Invite people who are experts or have experience with life science to share their experiences and tools used for studying living and nonliving things.
  • Invite produce experts such as farmers and grocery store employees to share their knowledge about fruits and nuts that come from trees with the class.
  • Invite foresters, park rangers, and other tree-related community experts to share their knowledge on local trees and of how different animals depend on trees.
  • Invite community educators, tour guides or scientists from local arboretums to share and answer questions about trees.  Brainstorm questions beforehand, students interview and then write what they've learned.


  • Take walks around the community and observe different living and nonliving things. Use the criteria to help determine whether something is alive or not.
  • Visit a local park or forest to observe the animals or evidence of animals that live among and depend upon trees. Sketch and take notes about different animals you see and the parts of the tree they are eating.
  • Visit local farms, orchards, or arboretums that grow fruits or nut trees to learn more about the foods that grow on trees (i.e., apple orchards, orange groves, peach orchards, etc.).
  • Take a community walk to notice the kind of trees around the school and identify, classify, compare and contrast trees.
  • Collect leaves, bark and branches/sticks to describe and use in a collage.
  • Students consider where they could plant trees and why.


  • Connect with other classes in the school and have students share learning about living and nonliving things with them.
  • Create a guide of all the living and nonliving things that can be found in the school playground. Post it in the playground to teach others about what is living around the school.
  • Create bird feeders for animals to eat from when trees no longer have leaves, seeds, buds, and nuts in the winter.
  • Visit other classrooms in the school to share writing booklets and to teach others about the different animals that depend on trees.
  • Visit other classrooms in the school to share Informational Collage created and why trees are important.
  • Create a local tree field guide to post in the community to share knowledge about trees, their needs, and what they provide.


  • Create an observation center where students can observe real living things (e.g., fish, worms, best bugs, etc.) or videos of living things.
  • Create a collage using leaves, bark and branches/sticks collected and discovered during the community walk.

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