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Science Lesson Plan: Animals, Grades K-1

Science Lesson Plan: Animals, Grades K-1

This lesson serves as an introduction to an animal unit for grades K-1. The featured informational text, Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, peaks students’ curiosity and provides a natural segue into further study of animals, classification, habitats, diet, and ecosystems. Included are elements of complex nonfiction text, vocabulary, close reading, image/graph interpretation, text-dependent questions, companion texts, research, and cross-curricular activities. These elements relay foundational science content; weave in math, social studies, art, and more; and meet many K–1 ELA CCSS.

Featured K–1 ELA Common Core State Standards

  • RI.K.2/RI.1.2: Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text (with prompting and support).
  • W.K.8/W.1.8: With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • SL.K.1/SL.1.1: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade K/1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
  • L.K.4/L.1.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade K/1 reading and content (choosing flexibly from an array of strategies).

Lesson Content Objectives

  • Make predictions and inferences about the biggest, smallest, strongest, fastest, and slowest animals
  • Identify and categorize different types of animals, and compare/contrast two animals
  • Explain why the author includes particular animals as ‘record holders’
  • Conduct research and assert why other animals should be included as ‘record holders’

Duration: 1–3 days (may be completed during science, language arts, and/or other related blocks)

Materials: Copies of Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins; KWL worksheet/ chart paper; markers; copies of companion text What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (optional)


(may be used to create word clouds)

  • Animals: blue whale, African elephant, ant, giraffe, dinosaur, Etruscan shrew, bee hummingbird, sun jellyfish, bird spider, cheetah, antelope, electric eel, horse, land snail, anaconda, deer, goat, flea, Galapagos tortoise
  • Animal groups: mammal, bird, insects; animal body parts: tentacles, filaments, shell
  • Animal movements/actions/descriptive words: crawl, walk, run, hop, swim, fly, drag, drop, leap, flexible, grazing, acrobatic, flier, stun, catch, bite, spins, trap, wait, swallow, jumper
  • Measurement/math words: microscope, biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, strongest, longest, record, measured, feet, weighed, pounds, size, times, tallest, height, long, teaspoon, ounce, dime, largest, faster, speeds, 60 miles an hour, hundred, 650 volts, voltage, inches, minute, mile, large, whole, 65-story, years, twice, average


  • Share the title, title page, cover, and author/illustrator of Biggest, Strongest, Fastest with students.
  • Ask: “What animal do you see on the cover? What body parts do you see on the title page? By looking at this title and these images, what do you think this book is about? Do you think this book is fiction or nonfiction?”
  • Create a KWL chart and have students share what they know about cheetahs and other animals. Have them make predictions about the biggest, smallest, strongest, and fastest animals, and share what they want to know about animals. Tell them you will revisit the chart after reading the text.
  • Read the book aloud. Pause as needed to explain or repeat certain words or phrases. Ask again: “Is this book fiction or nonfiction? How do you know?” Point out the sidebar and graph information on each page.
  • Create a list together of all of the animals mentioned in the book (vocabulary list above).
  • Ask students to work with a partner or group to sort the animals into categories. Guide students as needed to group animals under these categories: mammals (blue whale, elephant, horse, cheetah, antelope, shrew, deer, goat); reptiles (dinosaur, tortoise, anaconda); fish (electric eel – not a snake); insects (flea); bird (bee hummingbird); and others (jellyfish – not a fish, spider – not an insect, snail). You may wish to ask students which main animal group is not included (amphibians). Tell students that as they learn more about animals and different groups, they will understand better how they are classified, e.g., why jellyfish and whales are not fish. (For more basic grouping, animals may be categorized by size, color, etc. For more advanced grouping, animals may be categorized as vertebrates or invertebrates.)
  • Ask: “What words does the author use to describe the many ways different animals move?” (vocabulary list above) Say: “Let’s move around the classroom like one of these animals!” (Have students stretch and move around before the next reading. Circulate and ask each student what animal they are representing.)
  • Tell students that you are going to reread certain sections of the book together to try to answer this question: “What is the smallest animal in the world?”
    • Read the first paragraph on page 1. Ask: “What does a microscope do? Why do you think the author did not include animals in this book that are too small to be seen without a microscope?”
    • Flip to page 11 and read the page. Ask: “Is the Etruscan shrew the smallest animal in the world?” Guide students to infer that the shrew is the smallest mammal, not animal. (Some scientists claim the bumblebee bat, the shortest mammal, has tied with the Etruscan shrew, the lightest mammal, for the record of smallest animal. Students may research these animals in more depth in the extension.)
    • Flip to pages 26–27 and read the pages. Ask: “Is the flea the smallest animal in the world?” Guide students to examine the evidence and to infer that although the flea is very small, it is not the smallest animal since you can see it without a microscope (and the text does not say it is the smallest animal).
    • Ask: “Does the author tell us what the smallest animal in the world is?” Explain that this evidence is not included in the text. Tell students that they will need to research this later to find out the answer. You may wish to have students make predictions.
  • Revisit the KWL chart and correct predictions/information in the K column as needed. Ask: “Which ‘record holder’ were you most surprised about, and why?” Add new things learned to the W and L columns.
  • Tell students they are going to reread the text to answer some important questions. Give each child or group a copy of the book. Answer the following text-dependent questions together by way of modeling/thinking aloud and/or guided group discussion/writing/dictation. Model for students how to closely read for evidence and how to cite evidence from the text in answering questions.
    • What is the main topic of this book? (Some animals have special abilities or characteristics that make them record holders of the world- page 1.) How is the title a clue to this main topic?
    • Read this sentence on page 7: “With their long, flexible necks, giraffes can eat leaves that other grazing animals cannot reach.” What does the word flexible mean in this sentence?
    • What is the largest land animal? Why does the author include the word land in front of animal? (Guide students to infer that the African elephant is the largest land animal, and that because the blue whale is the overall largest animal, the author does not need to say ‘largest water animal’.)
    • What clues can you find in the names of some of these animals that tell us where the animals are from? (African elephant; Galapagos tortoise; Etruscan shrew)
    • How do the images and graphs show information about each animal? Choose an image and describe it in detail.
    • Choose two animals from the text and describe them, including key details and reasons the author uses to support his claim that these are animals are ‘record holders’. Tell how these two animals are alike and how they are different. (You may use a Venn diagram to compare/contrast.)
    • Which animal would you like to add as a record holder, and why? (Students can revisit after research.) Differentiation: Instead of sorting animals into broad or specific categories, have students focus solely on observing various animal characteristics. You may assign various extension activities to different groups of students by ability.

Differentiation: Instead of sorting animals into broad or specific categories, have students focus solely on observing various animal characteristics. You may assign various extension activities to different groups of students by ability.

Featured Extensions (optional)

Reading: As a companion text, read What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (featured as a complex informational text in the CCSS). Have students add to the list of animals/categories they began earlier, and compare and contrast the two texts. Again, you may use a Venn diagram for this exercise.

Research: Revisit the KWL chart and determine what students would still like to know about animals. Assign groups to research books and online resources to answer questions. Challenge students to find another ‘record holder’ animal.

Conduct research about the smallest animal in the world. Many scientists agree this is the microscopic yet multicellular tardigrade, also known as the water bear. Research these and other sites to find out why the tardigrade is so important to scientific study and why scientists call it the toughest animal.

Have students research the other animal that vies for the record of smallest mammal, the bumblebee bat:

Here are a few other interesting websites about ‘record holders’:

You may also wish to have students research amphibians to see if they can find a ‘record holder’ among them. Here is a fun video about animal classification that describes amphibians (and also mentions the tiny bumblebee bat): http://www.brainpopjr.com/science/animals/classifyinganimals/

Cross-Curricular Connections

Book Collections, Worksheets, Lesson Planning Resources
Background Information About Animals