To engage students in meaningful observation of the natural world by sketching common birds in their area.
One important ability in science is being able to carry out and record careful observations of the natural world and phenomena. As students progress through their science studies, they should have many opportunities to practice their skills of observation and to clearly communicate what they have seen to their peers.
This lesson helps students practice their observation and recording skills by having them engage in an activity that is enjoyed by millions of people all over the world: bird-watching. Birds are found in many different environments around the world and they come in many different sizes and colors. This makes them a good species to observe either in a schoolyard, a city park, or in students’ own backyards.
To help students prepare for their own observations of birds, they should first be introduced to the practice with the help of Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. Look Up! is a winner of the 2014 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
This engaging introduction to bird-watching encourages kids to get outdoors with a sketchbook and really look around. Full-color illustrations portray dozens of birds chatting about their distinctive characteristics, including color, shape, plumage, and beak and foot types. The book also provides some guidance on how to go about observing and sketching birds.
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.2 Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.8 Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).
To begin this lesson, have a class discussion with your students about ways to observe birds. Your students may have had experience observing birds already and some may even be able to identify some birds. You could ask your students questions like:
- Have you observed birds around your home?
- What types of birds have you seen? Can you identify them?
- What characteristics are common for most birds?
- What characteristics are different?
(Answers will vary. Encourage your students to explain their answers.)
If you haven't done so already, provide students with classroom copies of Look Up! If you don't have enough copies, perhaps you could project the pages onto a screen. As a class, go over the inside front cover and the first page of Look Up! with your students. These pages humorously cover some things people may need (or don’t need) when they go bird-watching. Read these pages to your students and have them follow along in their copies (if available). Be sure to pause and point out the illustrations and any interesting points made by the author.
When you’re done, talk about the information covered on these pages. You could use these questions in your discussion:
- What are some things you should do while bird-watching?
- What are some things you shouldn’t do?
- What kinds of supplies do you need?
- (The author emphasizes safety, being respectful both to nature and other bird-watchers kids may meet, being patient, and giving birds their space.)
- (Again the author emphasizes being safe: kids should not put themselves in harm’s way. They also shouldn’t trespass, frighten birds, wander into restricted areas, touch poisonous plants, or disturb other people they may meet.)
- (Binoculars are useful but not necessary. Other good things to bring along are a sketchbook, pens/pencils, a good field guide, and something to carry everything in. Kids also could use sunscreen, snacks, water, and bug repellent.)
Now that students have a good idea of the do’s and don’t’s of bird-watching, they should continue to read various sections of the book that will make them more familiar with the many different characteristics of birds. Because the book is very busy, this activity probably should be done as a guided reading activity.
Have your students share the classroom copies of the book that you have and as a class read pages 4–9 to get information about where they can find birds. The class should pay particular attention to pages 8–9, which give some pointers on how to sketch birds. Students should work to answer the questions on the Look Up! student sheet. Once they have finished, have a brief discussion about the reading, asking these questions from the student sheet:
- What are some places where you can do bird-watching?
- What’s the most important thing to do when bird-watching?
- What are some good things to do while sketching a bird?
- (Since birds are found in cities as well as in the country, no matter where students live, they should be able to observe some birds. Even in the city, they can look out a window and look at a tree nearby or up in the sky. There are birds like pigeons and sparrows that eat what they find on the streets and birds of prey that hunt them.)
- (Keep quiet and pay attention!)
- (Students should sketch while keeping their eyes on the bird as much as possible. They shouldn’t worry about how good their drawing is. The act of drawing itself helps to focus a student’s attention. Along with the sketch, students should make little notes to themselves about what they see.)
Now read pages 10–17 to learn about the different colors, shapes, and sizes birds come in. Ask students:
- Pages 10–17 focus on the physical characteristics of birds. What are some of those characteristics and how can they help you identify birds?
- (The physical characteristics include things like the color and the shape of the bird. Birds come in a rainbow of colors, from red to purple, and black, white, or brown. Many birds have characteristic silhouettes, like the V shape of a Turkey Vulture in flight. They also have distinctive beaks and feet.)
Before students start the sketching activity, it would be good to also read over pages 32–35, “The Power of Observation.” In this section, the author compares two distinct birds: the Scaled Quail and the Great Horned Owl, and describes the features of some other common birds a well. Students should think about and answer these questions:
- Keeping in mind the size, shape, color, pattern, and way of moving of the birds on these pages, can you see how they are equipped to survive? Provide examples from just some of the birds on these pages.
- Can you make predictions about what they eat and how they get their meals? Again, provide examples from just some of the birds on these pages.
(Answers will vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
Once students have read this, project a picture of a bird on a screen and tell your students that they should sketch what they see. Give them time to do this. When they are done, ask them to share their sketches and compare. Did they observe what was important for identification?
Now, ask students to draw a bird from memory (this could be done as homework). You may want to encourage students to choose from among some common birds that can be found in your area. Allow them time to do this activity and encourage them to include as much detail as possible. You could encourage students to do more than one sketch if they have time.
After students have had a chance to do their sketches, they should use their Look Up! student esheet to go to the bird guide on All About Birds to search for the bird they drew. Alternatively, students can look out their window at home, go outside to their backyard or a neighborhood park and find the bird they drew. They should then draw what they see, paying careful attention to the bird’s features: color, size, shape, etc.
After students have finished both sketches, they should compare and contrast the two sketches using the Bird Sketches student sheet. They should pay as much attention to detail as possible when doing this activity and come to understand how first-hand observation and making careful notes of a living thing are invaluable skills to have.
Then there are a couple more activities you could do. One would be to hang the before and after sketches up around the classroom. This way, students can see each other’s work and learn about the birds they did not observe themselves.
Or, you could work with students to create your own classroom bird field guide. Gather together all of the sketches done from first-hand observation and put them into a three-ring binder. You could consult How to Create a Backyard Field Guide, from My Green Guide Maryland, to help you do this activity. You could keep this binder and add to it as the years go on.
It would be interesting to have students do this lesson at the beginning of the school year and then at the end to see how their observational skills have grown and changed.
In Bird Beaks students need to use good observation skills to explore the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment.
The Big Egg Mystery takes advantage of students' natural curiosity about eggs by challenging them to do an activity involving eggs to test a hypothesis.
There are several online sites that provide information about birds and bird-watching, including: