To learn about the forest habitat, food chains, food webs, and the relationships between various organisms in a habitat.
This lesson uses the book Because of an Acorn, by Lola Schaefer and Adam Schaefer with illustrations by Fran Preston-Gannon. It was a finalist for the 2017 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
The book paints with a broad brush the ecological relationships within a forest. It starts with an illustration of an acorn and proceeds to connect to a tree, a bird, a seed, a flower, a fruit, a chipmunk, a snake, a hawk, a cautious squirrel, and back to an acorn, and then finally to a forest. Each two-page spread contains at most six words; the action is in the illustrations.
According to the Benchmarks for Science Literacy, lower elementary school students can understand simple food links involving two organisms. Yet they often think of organisms as independent of each other but dependent on people to supply them with food and shelter. This book shows students how different organisms in a forest ecosystem, such as plants, insects, and animals, depend on each other for survival.
For this lesson, you will read the story aloud and ask students questions about what is happening on each page, have them predict what will happen next, and then create their own questions. Through reading the book and asking questions about it, students should gain an understanding of the relationships in an ecosystem, as well as achieving the literacy goals of learning how the illustrations and text impart information to gain an understanding of the details and main ideas of the book.
After the lesson, students will draw or otherwise illustrate a food chain to assess their learning.
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:
With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
With prompting and support, identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
With prompting and support, describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
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).
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.
Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
If possible, you should get one or more classroom copies of Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer.
Students will need to use devices and web browsers capable of running Adobe Flash in the interactives on the esheet.
Explain to students that with this lesson they will read and discuss a book about the relationships between living things in a forest. Before the reading, however, you should gauge what your students know about forests and the living things in them.
Discuss characteristics of a forest with students. Ask students questions such as:
- What is a forest?
- Where do trees come from?
- (Students should understand that it is an area of land mostly covered with trees.)
- (Students' answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
Students may not know that trees can grow from something as small as an acorn or maple seed. If possible, bring some examples of seeds and nuts to class to show the students.
You can also show students the Acorn to Oak video, showing an oak tree growing from an acorn, filmed over an eight-month period. After you and your students have watched the video, ask them questions like these:
- What kinds of animals live in a forest?
- What else lives in the forest?
- What do animals who live in the forest eat?
- How do trees help the animals of the forest?
- How do animals of the forest help the trees?
- (Animals that live in a forest include birds, frogs, snakes, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes, skunks, and deer.)
- (Insects, worms, moss, shrubs, and trees are some other things that live in a forest.)
- (Squirrels eat nuts, birds eat seeds and insects, owls and hawks eat mice and chipmunks, and bears eat insects and berries.)
- (Birds nest in trees, woodpeckers eat insects that live in trees, chipmunks eat nuts from trees, and chipmunks escape foxes by climbing trees.)
- (They help the trees by spreading their seeds to other places. For example, chipmunks and squirrels bury nuts to eat later, but some of them are not eaten and grow into trees.)
For this lesson,you should do a class reading of Because of an Acorn. As you read the book aloud with the class, hold up each page and let students discuss and ask questions about what is happening on each page. Have them predict what will happen next, and create their own questions. In addition to doing this, you can use the guidelines below to help you go through the book with your students.
The book's pages are unnumbered, but we'll say that the page that says "Because of an acorn" is page 2.
Pages 2-3: What is an acorn? Where does an acorn come from?
Pages 4-5: What kind of tree grows from an acorn? What is coming out of the bottom of the acorn?
Page 6-7: How do trees help birds? Point to the nest in the tree, and ask students, What is this in the tree? Who made it, and what is it used for?
Pages 8-9: What do birds eat? Ask students if they have a bird feeder at home, and what is put out for the birds to eat. Point out that some birds eat seeds, and some eat insects.
Pages 10-11: What's happening in this picture might not be as obvious as some of the others. Birds and insects disperse seeds by eating them, landing on stems and knocking them loose, and even storing them in places to eat later. Many seeds are dispersed by birds eating them and pooping them out later. Because birds can fly, they can help disperse seeds over great distances. Ask students, How might birds help to spread seeds?
Pages 12-13: How does a flower come from a seed? Ask students if they've ever planted a seed and watched it grow into a plant. This might be a good activity to do with children in your classroom!
Pages 14-15: How does a fruit come from a flower? Ask students if they've seen apple or orange trees. What comes first, the fruit or the flower?
Pages 16-17: What animals do you see in the picture? What does each animal eat?
Pages 18-19: What kinds of fruit might be found in the woods that chipmunks could eat? (Examples include blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples found on ground, etc.)
Pages 20-21: This spread shows a few predators that eat chipmunks. Ask students, What is a predator? What is prey? What predators can they find in the picture?
Pages 22-23: Often, some animals are both predator and prey. What is happening to the snake? What other animals do you see in the woods? Which might be predators and which prey?
Pages 24-25: What animals are in this picture? What kind of tree are they on? How is each animal using the tree?
Pages 26-27: Can an acorn grow into a tree if it's still on the tree? How does a hawk help an acorn grow into a tree?
Pages 28-29: What is a forest? This is a good place to discuss the overall concept of habitat, and how a habitat is a community of organisms that all depend on each other. Why are forests important for the earth?
Pages 30-31: These pages provide good background reading to the teacher to guide the students through the story.
Next, tell the class that they will also create their own questions while reading Because of an Acorn. Explain that sometimes asking questions about what you are reading helps to check for understanding. If you are unsure what the answer is, maybe you need to go back and reread. Students can use the Because of an Acorn student sheet to write their questions. For younger students, you can take questions from the class and write them on a board or chart paper.
You can guide the students in asking questions by providing a few of your own at first. To probe the book's main theme of the interdependence of different organisms in a habitat, you can use the Because of an Acorn teacher sheet to ask some of your own questions of the students.
Once students have written down their questions, have each student read one question to the class. Ask the class whether the information can be found in Because of an Acorn or needs to be found from another resource.
Habitats provide for the basic needs for the survival of its inhabitants: food, water, and shelter. Students can learn about how a forest provides food by understanding food chains.
A food chain follows a path as animals find food. For example, a hawk eats a snake, which has eaten a frog, which has eaten a grasshopper, which has eaten grass. For more information about the concept of a food chain, students should use the Food Chain Interactives student esheet and complete the Flash-based exercises. (Make sure students have access to a device and browser that will run Flash.)
To demonstrate their learning of the concept of a forest habitat portrayed in Because of an Acorn, students should choose an animal that lives in a forest habitat. They can either draw or otherwise illustrate how the forest provides for the animal's three basic needs: food, water, and shelter.
You can extend the ideas in this lesson by leading your students through these Science NetLinks lessons:
PBS Learning Media's Habitat Sweet Habitat shows a video of three children who create their own creatures and then search outside for habitats for them. Support materials for doing the activity are included at the bottom of the webpage.
In National's Geographic's Habitat Needs, students learn that a habitat satisfies the basic needs that must be met for an animal to survive.
For more in-depth activities using this book to increase rereading for fluency and creating questions while reading, see Guiding Reading Strategies with Harry and Mudge.