To help students understand the great variety of organisms found in the animal world and their interdependence.
This lesson uses the book Sisters & Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page to explore the sibling relationships of different animals. The book is one of the winners of the 2009 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. (You can read about this prize here.)
In the book Sisters & Brothers, the authors describe the sibling relationships of 19 animals and how they are alike and unlike other sibling relationships. While the book teaches children about the variety of relationships in the animal kingdom, it also includes other facts about animals, such as what they eat, their size, and their habitats in the world.
The National Science Education Standards say that making sense of the way organisms live in their environment will help children understand the diversity of life and how all living organisms depend on the living and nonliving environment for survival. The world of children in grades K-4 revolves around their immediate environment, particularly home and school. Because of this, the study of organisms should include observations and interactions within the natural world of the students.
Students learn to see similarities and differences in organisms, but observing them is not enough. Children need to learn what to do with the information they see, and this process can come from answering their own questions about how organisms live and care for their young.
Students this age tend to be naïve about how humans and animals inherit traits from their parents. They may not understand how organisms depend on their environment, as well as other organisms, to survive. Children this age also tend to anthropomorphize.
In this lesson, students will learn facts about animal siblings and their relationships to each other. Many of these facts will be new information for the students, which will pique their interest and encourage them to further explore the relationship between siblings in the animal world and that in their own human families.
Before reading the book with your students, ask them the following questions about their relationships with their own brothers and/or sisters (or cousins if they do not have siblings). This may be the first time your students have heard the word "sibling," so the idea of this discussion should be to check for their understanding of what a sibling relationship is in both human and animal families.
- What is a sibling?
- (You will probably need to first define the word "sibling." Once they understand what it means, this question will probably result in a wide variety of answers. Webster's Dictionary defines sibling as: 1) one of two or more individuals having one common parent; 2) one of two or more things related by a common tie or characteristic.)
- What is it like for you to have a sibling? Or, if you don't have a sibling, what's it like to not have a sibling?
- (Answers will vary.)
- Is there another person in your life whom you feel is like a sibling?
- (This question will lead students to explore biological and nonbiological relationships, as well as friendships that feel like sister/brother relationships. Answers should be varied.)
After discussing sibling relationships, read the book to the students. If they have copies, they should follow along while you read to them. If you don't have enough copies for all of the students, you can have students share the available copies of the book. There is a lot of information to digest, so you will need to read slowly and pause for any questions. You can refer to the Sibling Characteristics teacher sheet for information about each of the animals.
After you and the students have read the book together, have each student choose one of the animals in the book and use the Animal Facts student sheet to answer more questions about that animal. Show the students where the additional animal facts are at the back of the book so they can refer to that information when answering these questions:
- Which animal did you choose?
- How many siblings does this animal usually have?
- What do you think is most unusual about this animal?
- If you were a member of this animal's family, how would you and your siblings get along?
- What else do you think is interesting about this animal?
- Where in the world does your animal live?
- What does your animal eat?
To help students understand what they have read, lead a class discussion with these questions:
- What are three ways animal siblings differ from human siblings?
- (Some animals have hundreds of siblings. Some animals eat their siblings. Some animal siblings are so much alike they are clones of each other.)
- What are three ways animal siblings are like human siblings?
- (Some have only sisters. Some fight all the time. Some siblings have different parents.)
- If you have any animals in your home, do you know if they have siblings? If you have more than one animal, such as two dogs, or one dog and one cat, do you think of them as siblings even though they have different parents or are different species? Why or why not?
- (In discussing these questions, check for students' understanding of what constitutes a sibling, i.e., same species, same litter, same parents, etc.)
Where in the Wild? explores animal camouflage using another AAAS/Subaru SB&F award-winning book, Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed and Revealed. Students will enjoy locating hidden animals in the illustrations and learn why the animals benefit from hiding in their natural habitats. The students also could discuss how siblings might cooperate in a camouflage environment.
Animal Diversity exposes students to different plants and animals and how they are different and alike. This lesson also addresses anthropomorphizing, which K-4 students most often learn about through stories. They'll learn some of the reasons we humans tend to give animals characteristics they don't really have.
Animal or Plant? provides a quick reference guide that defines plants and animals. It also suggests activities that further the discussion of how plants and animals differ, taking students on walks to observe and identify what they find in nature.