Reading to Research and Discuss: A Study of How Living Things Meet Their Needs | EL Education Curriculum

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Reading to Research and Discuss: A Study of How Living Things Meet Their Needs

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In Unit 3, students continue to hone their research skills by combining their understanding of the needs of all living things with information about specific trees and the animals that depend on those trees. Students engage in focused research as they become experts on one tree. They describe the tree and learn about the needs of the tree, as well as what foods the tree provides to different animals. Students engage in a variety of small group and whole group experiences, research, and discussions as they work to answer the unit guiding question, "What patterns can we observe in how living things meet their needs?" In the first part of the unit, students continue to build their skills as researchers through whole group shared research to answer the research questions, "What do trees need to live and grow?" and "What do trees provide to help other living things live and grow?" with the text "Sugar Maple." After completing the whole group research about the sugar maple, students engage in small group research about a new tree using the same questions.

For the Unit 3 Assessment, students participate in a series of three Science Talks to demonstrate progress toward SL.K.1a and SL.K.1b. Each discussion addresses a different research question from the unit. Students' research culminates in the performance task: an informational tree collage that is a mixed media piece of art with descriptive writing.

As mentioned in the Module 3 Overview, the knowledge that students build in Module 3 lays the foundation for its application in Module 4. So even though this unit includes a final performance task, the end of Module 3 is more like the end of Act I of a two-act play. Continue to reinforce for students that they will go deeper with this topic in the subsequent module.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What patterns can we observe in how living things meet their needs?
  • Living things have needs to live and grow.
  • Plants (trees) need water and light to live and grow.
  • Animals get food from plants (trees) or other animals or both.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Study of how living things meet their needs
  • Task: Science Talk
  • Targets (CCSS explicitly taught and assessed): RI.K.1, RI.K.2, RI.K.3, RI.K.4, RI.K.6, RI.K.7, SL.K.1a, SL.K.1b, SL.K.3, W.K.5, W.K.7, W.K.8
  • Text: Tree texts: "Sugar Maple," "Paper Birch," "Live Oak," "Quaking Aspen," "Weeping Willow," "Coast Redwood"


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 3, students practice demonstrating perseverance (one specific habit of effective learners). They learn to challenge themselves and when work is hard, to keep trying or ask for help if they need it. They practice perseverance as they engage in two cycles of reading, note-taking, discussion, collage, and writing. This cycle employs a gradual release of responsibility as students take on more ownership of their understanding and learning.


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 the 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 Literacy Block:

  • RI.K.1: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • Invite the students to point to a picture in an informational text or use a familiar text previously read aloud to the class and then answer questions about the illustration.
    • Read aloud the first few pages of an informational text or use a familiar text previously read aloud to the class and 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 of a text.
    • When conferencing with a student, have him or her recall key details of a text.
    • Ask:

"What is the main topic of the text? What is the text all about?"

  • RI.K.3: With prompting and support, describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
    • When conferencing with a student, have him or her identify how two individuals, events, or ideas are the same within a text.
    • Ask:

"How is _____ the same as _____ ?" (e.g., "How are the cat and bird the same?" "They are both alive.")

  • RI.K.4: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.
    • When conferencing with a student, read aloud a page of the text. Choose a word in the text that may be unfamiliar to the student, but its meaning is implied through the text.
    • Read aloud a page of the text. Ask students if they have questions about the meaning of any words on the page.
    • Ask:

"Listen to what this page says. What do you think ______ means on this page?"

  • 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, read aloud a page of the text. Have the student identify the work that the author and illustrator added to the text.
    • Ask:

"What does an author do? Can you point to the work that the author did in this text?"

"What does an illustrator do? Can you point to the work that the illustrator did in this text?"

  • 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 students, read aloud a page of the text. Ask them to explain how the illustration helps them understand the words on the page.
    • Ask:

"How do these illustrations help you understand the text?"

Supporting English Language Learners

The Meeting Students' Needs column in each lesson contains support for both ELLs and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and some supports can serve a wide range of student needs. However, 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 specifically identified as "For ELLs" in the Meeting Students' Needs column.

  • Prioritizing lessons for classrooms with many ELLs: Consider prioritizing and expanding instruction in Lessons 10-13 to support students in developing and revising their Performance Task Writing booklet, and in Lessons 1 and 7 to complete the Language Dive. Students may benefit from additional time to practice how to give, receive, and apply feedback. Consider placing less focus on and condensing the instruction in Work Time B in Lessons 11-12 to offer students the maximum amount of time to demonstrate learning in their Performance Task Writing booklet.
  • Language Dives: All students participate in a two-day Language Dive in Lessons 1 and 7. This Language Dive supports ELLs and all students in deconstructing, reconstructing, and practicing the meaning and structures of sentences from Are Trees Alive? ELLs participate in an optional Mini Language Dive in Lesson 10. 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 the informational texts about what trees need and how living things depend on them. Seek out supportive literature that represents the ethnic, linguistic, and geographic diversity of the class. Are there books that show different trees and their needs more common to cityscapes, or rural or suburban areas? Are additional books about the trees in the unit available in different languages? Throughout the lessons, share patterns you see in trees around your school and neighborhood. Create space for students to share about the unique attributes and needs of trees near their homes, communities, and to/from school. As an extension, students can query their extended family or neighbors for information about types of trees in their countries of origin. Consider creating a class museum of trees and their needs: 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 the needs of trees and patterns between different trees. Through first reading and discussing "Sugar Maple," students will be asked to consider what a particular tree needs and how specific animals depend on it. Then they will read informational text and conduct small group research on different trees, coming together in structured discussions to illuminate patterns. Some students may grapple with using details from their tree text to explain patterns among trees. Provide additional support with this skill when possible. Use the Language Dive sentence, realia, and think-alouds to reinforce the skill.
  • Performance Task Writing booklet: Using photographs, informational text, and the All about Trees anchor chart, students will collect information about what trees need that will support their completion of a Performance Task Writing booklet. Before writing, students are guided through research and shared writing on the sugar maple. Then they gather evidence from a tree text to inform their ideas in independent writing. Students benefit from explicitly modeled lessons that support them, step by step, as they collect evidence and describe what trees need and how living things depend on them. 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 Lessons 6, 8, and 9, students prepare for and participate in a Science Talk protocol where in small groups they will be asked to present evidence to support their ideas about what trees need to live and grow, what trees provide to other living things, and what patterns they observe in all living things. 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 and monitor for equitable participation. 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
Are Trees Alive?
by Debbie Miller
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780802788016

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 photos; create both a model and non-model of informational collage
  • Lesson 2: Living Things Word Wall cards: trunk, branch; construction paper (variety of colors, pre-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes)
  • Lesson 3:  Describing the Sugar Maple booklet; prepare construction paper (variety of colors, pre-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes)
  • Lesson 4: Gather leaves; prepare construction paper (browns, grays, blacks, pre-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes)
  • Lesson 5: Mystery images; prepare copies of tree texts
  • Lesson 7: Living Things Word Wall card
  • Lesson 8: Jar of soil; Tree: Individual Notes Symbols 2
  • Lesson 10: Prepare construction paper (browns, grays, blacks; pre-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes); Performance Task Writing booklets
  • Lesson 11: Prepare construction paper (browns, grays, blacks; pre-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes)
  • Lesson 12: Prepare construction paper (browns, grays, blacks; pre-cut in a variety of shapes and sizes)
  • Lesson 13: Prepare animal puppet templates
  • Lesson 14: Assemble students' completed informational collages by typing their writing from the Performance Task Writing booklet, attaching their animal puppet templates to Popsicle sticks, and affixing both to their completed tree collages.

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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