My Favorite Collaborative Lesson: Birds in Preschool

Our preschool is all based on play and authentic learning opportunities. The objectives in preschool can be taught through a variety of themes. So the teachers choose the themes to teach these objectives from what the children are talking about or engaged in. Some years that means they do a unit on birthdays or weather or even superpowers. It is all very student focused. It was from the students’ wondering that this collaboration story began. 

Grade Level: Preschool ages 3 and 4

Overview: This year the teachers in PK3 started the year by reading a book called Outside My Window by Linda Ashman.  The idea was to have these young children look closely at the world around them. The students spend time making observations about what is outside their classroom window each day. One thing that they noticed was there were birds outside their windows.  There are also bird feeders on our school grounds that the children help to maintain. So naturally, they noticed the birds who were using the feeders. The teachers shared this experience with me, and then we developed two lessons based on their observations related to birds. Both of these lessons were co-taught. The teachers and I developed the objectives together. 

Lesson 1

This lesson is listed in two parts. We chose to do this over two days given the age of the students and the time that was available, but it could be done in one longer lesson too. 

Part 1

Objectives: 

  • Students will be able to share the physical characteristics of birds 
  • Students will be able to recall one fact about a bird 
  • Explore/Think V.A.3 – Engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth
  • Inquire/Grow I.D.1 – Continually seeking knowledge

Materials:

  • PebbleGo – About Birds section
  • A variety of nonfiction books about birds (one book per child or more)
  • Chart paper 
  • Marker

Activities: 

  • Introduction (2 minutes): Tell students that today we are going to learn about birds. Ask them where they have seen birds before. (We were hoping someone would say outside their classroom window. This was the connection we were trying to make.)
  • Research (8 minutes): Share information about birds using the “About Birds” topic in PebbleGo. Look at the Birds, Habitat, and Eggs tabs. Create a motion for each part of the bird we learn about.
    • For example: 
      • Birds have beaks so make a beak with your hands.  
      • Most birds fly, but some do not. Pretend to flap your arms like wings when you say the first part and then stop when you say the second. 
      • Birds lay eggs and build a nest. Make your hands look like you are holding an egg, then pretend to put it in a nest.  
  • Find in Nonfiction Books (5 minutes): Model for students how they are going to look for examples of what we have learned. Explain that they are going to be a researcher by looking in books to find information. Have several nonfiction books about birds spread out on the floor or tables and have students look at the pictures to find the things they know birds have. For example, while looking at a book you can say, “I see in the picture this bird has feathers.” Or “In this picture, I see a nest!”  
  • Make a List (5 minutes): Call students back together and on a chart part or a whiteboard answer the question What is a bird? Write down all the ideas that the children share based on what we have talked about.  

Assessment: 

  • Students were able to repeat back and use the motions to describe what a bird is. 

Tips & Tricks: 

  • During the research part, adding the movements to each of the ideas that we wanted them to learn about birds was very helpful. It kept them engaged and allowed them to recall the information when asked. 
  • We used PebbleGo by Capstone to share some basic information about birds, but you could substitute this resource for many others. 
  • Showing students exactly how to look through the nonfiction books was super important! Even be a bit dramatic about it! This way they knew what to look for and what they were supposed to do, but also learned to treat the book with care.
  • On the chart paper, one of the teachers had already drawn a basic picture of a bird. This was really helpful because then we could label the parts and add information around the drawing. 

Part 2 

Objectives: 

  • Review the characteristics of a bird
  • Make binoculars that will allow students to find a bird in its natural environment
  • Inquire/Grow I.D.3 – Engaging new understanding through real-world connections

Materials:

  • Chart from Part 1
  • This video about birdwatching
  • Toilet paper tubes (2 per child); these should be stapled together side by side to make binoculars before the lesson
  • Markers
  • A nice day

Activities: 

  • Review (3 minutes): Using the chart paper and movements we created last class review what they learned about birds from part 1.  
  • Explain (2 minutes): Show ten seconds of this video. Start at 36 seconds and stop at 46 seconds. This shows what binoculars are, how they are used, and introduces the word bird watching to students’ vocabulary. Then explain how they will be making their own binoculars. Model how to use the markers to decorate them.
  • Make Binoculars (10 minutes): Give each child a set of binoculars, which are two toilet paper tubes stapled together.  Have them color these with markers to decorate.
  • Go Bird Watching (15 minutes): Take the children outside to look for birds with their binoculars. When they see a bird encourage them to use the information and vocabulary they have learned such as saying, “I see a bird. It is using its wings to fly.” 

Assessment: 

  • Observe students as they share what they share the information they have learned.

Tips & Tricks: 

  • Make sure it is a nice day where you will actually see some birds. We went in the morning when it was a bit cooler outside, and we had a moment where we were not sure we would see any birds.
  • Teach the students how to put the caps back on the markers. This seems obvious, but with preschoolers, this is a skill some of them have not learned yet.

Lesson 2: 

It is important to note that these two lessons were shared with students about a month apart. The first lesson was completed and the students seemed to move on to something else. However, we had three large crows that were hanging around our school grounds. As you can imagine when the crows started to show up the students’ interest peaked again and they went back to wanting to learn more.  

Objectives:

  • Identify what type of bird is outside the classroom window
  • Compare two types of birds for their similarities and differences
  • Inquire/Think I.A.2 – Recall prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning
  • Collaborate/Grow III.D.1 – Actively participate in group discussions

Materials:

Activities:

  • Introduction (5 minutes): Review what we have learned about birds already. See if students can remember any of the movements for the beak, wings, feathers, etc. Explain that today we are going to decide what type of bird the big black birds they have been seeing outside their window are. Show a picture of a raven and a crow.
  • Identify Differences (10-15 minutes): Compare the raven and crow going through the size, beak, sounds, movement/behavior, and tail and feathers. During each part keep asking if they think the bird outside our window is a raven or crow. 
    • Size: Use the milk jugs to show the difference in weight. Ravens weigh about 40 oz while crows are only 20 oz. Have a few students hold both milk jugs and identify which is heavier. 
    • Size: Show students the yardsticks. Show how long each of the two birds is. Have a student stand next to each one so they can see how big each bird is compared to them.
    • Size: Have the two large pieces of paper that measure 2.5 feet and 4 feet hung up on the wall at a height where they can stand with their back up against it and measure themselves to the wingspan of each bird. Again, have a few students try this. 
    • Beak: Explain the different spaces of the two birds’ beaks. Show an image of each bird’s beak. (We used the images on the Owlocation website.) Have students use their hands to make the shape of their beak as if they are a raven or crow. 
    • Sound: Use the Audubon website to compare the sounds that each bird makes. Have students imitate the sounds. 
    • Behavior/Movement: Explain that ravens like quiet and wild settings and crows live in cities with more people around. Show the video of the raven hopping and the crow strutting. Explain that each bird moves differently when it is not flying. Have students act out how the raven moves and how the crow moves.
    • Tail/Feathers: Show students an image of their tail and feathers and explain how they look different as well. (Again, we used the images from the Owlocation website.)
  • Exploration (10 minutes): Allow students to explore the different resources they can use to compare the two types of birds. Have them share which bird they think is outside our window. 

Assessment: 

  • Have students identify that the birds outside our window were crows based on what we learned about the two types of birds. 

Tips & Tricks: 

  • Glue the lids on the milk jugs. This was not something that we did and would have been a good idea…ha!
  • For the exploration part, we would set it up as stations next time. Since the students are young they would not need to rotate through the stations, but instead, just explore openly but in a more organized way. This would prevent all the kids from going to that same spot at once. 

Up Next 

Since the teachers are having students observe what is out their window each day they noticed that they were not seeing very many birds. We live in Michigan so this allowed the teachers to explore the idea of migration with students. However, one of the children saw a cardinal at the bird feeder a few days before winter break and wondered why it is still here. So the teachers and I are planning to talk about birds who remain in Michigan during the winter. I am excited to see where the children take us next!

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Author: Kelly Hincks

I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary on my state association, MAME.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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