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ScienceFix: A Habitat for a Wild "Pet" -- story-writing assignment

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from ScienceFix
Scientific Topic: animals and habitats Students Write: a story about caring for an animal

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A Habitat for
a Wild "Pet"

studying habitats and applying new knowledge in a creative story.

This writing across the curriculum lesson was written by WritingFix Contributor and NNWP Consultant, Terry Stelle, who feels this lesson could be easily adapted to work with students in grades 2-12. Terry's A Poem For Each Student Project page here at WritingFix has inspired hundreds of teachers, and her 6 Trait songs are published at our Writing Traits page.

This lesson was proposed to ScienceFix using this template. If you have a science/mentor text lesson you'd like to have published, fill out the template and send it to Yvette Deighton, our ScienceFix Coordinator: We'll send you an NNWP Print Publication if we post your lesson here!

Lesson Overview:

Lesson Objective: This lesson requires students to observe and name the elements of an animal’s habitat. It will allow students to detail what they think a specific animal needs to survive and thrive. Students will write a fictional (or perhaps true) story about finding and caring for a wild animal; stories must use details and facts the students discover about their animals through research.

Ask your students to "Imagine that you find and bring home an animal. How will you provide for it? It will need food, water, a bed, and more. Think it through and tell just how you could make your animal survive and thrive."

Writing skills (traits) to stress while teaching this lesson:

  • Idea Development (putting learned information and research into one's own words)
  • Organization (creating a short essay, complete with introduction, conclusion, and supporting details)
  • Conventions (using correct spelling, especially of scientific vocabulary words from their research)

Materials List:

  • Anne Mazer's The Salamander Room
  • Student story planners for each student
  • A variety of pictures of wild animals in their habitats
  • Fact sheets about animal environments and/ or books about different kinds of animals for students to use while doing research
  • Student samples to analyze and discuss with your students before they write their own stories.

Setting the Stage:

Terry tells her students the following story to grab their attention:

One summer day when I was your age, I went out walking at the beach and I came across a fascinating creature, “A star fish—how cool. I’m keeping him,” was the first thought that came to mind. However, once I got “him” home, I had to improvise in order to create a suitable home. I didn’t have salt water, and fresh water didn’t work. My starfish did not survive after a few days. When he was stiff I put him in my dresser drawer and he really stunk it up. I guess he had died. I wish I had been able to make him a better home.

Imagine if you found a fascinating creature. How could you make changes in your room in order to meet his needs for food, shelter, safety, water, recreation, exercise, and companionship?

Teacher Instructions:

Step 1. Read aloud: The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer. Discuss the list of the salamander’s needs in order that they appear in the story. Create a class list:

  • Where will he sleep?
  • When he wakes up, where will he play?
  • Will he miss his friends?
  • How will you feed and water him (or them)?
  • How will you control the population of the thing you are planning to feed him?
  • Where will the things that feed him live? How will those things have their needs met?
  • How will the plants grow and get sunlight?
  • Where will you sleep?

Step 2. Tell students they will be writing a fictional (or perhaps true) story about finding an animal and planning for its care. Students will need to research the animal they will be caring for in their stories, and they must share real facts about the animal they learn in the story. To help students understand the story being assigned, share with them a teacher-made story about this topic; Terry has included the story she tells below.

Step 3. Allow students to choose a wild animal and research it. Have them refer to the class list from The Salamander Room to keep them focused on facts they are looking for to be able to write a story.

Step 4. Have students fill out the story-planning sheet. This sheet gives them some framed sentences to get their ideas flowing, but the students should be encouraged to try not using the framed sentences from the planning sheet when creating a rough draft; it might be helpful to have them fill out the sheet, to then orally tell the story they are planning to write aloud to several other students, then write their rough drafts without copying from the planning sheet.

Terry's Teacher-Made Example:

A Home for a Starling
a mostly true story written by Mrs. Stelle

One day when I came out of my house in Washoe Valley my collie, Buddy, was sniffing at something in the bushes along the path to the front door.

“What is it, boy? “ I asked. (I had seen a lot of episodes of Lassie in my day.) I looked down and saw a bright orange triangle framing a dark hole. When I looked closer, I realized I was looking down the throat of a hungry baby starling that I later named W. U. B., which stood for World’s Ugliest Baby. We called him Wub. Wub had fallen from his nest in the tile roof just above the cypress bushes that were holding him and hiding him. He was hungry. He opened wide and threw his head back to let passers by know he was accepting contributions.

The whole world and I have a soft spot in our hearts for babies, so I cradled him in one hand to warm him up and gave Buddy a pat on the head with the other and thanked him for not eating Wub, then took him inside.

One of the reasons he was ugly was because he not only had a huge mouth, he was also practically bald. I put Wub in a cage since he couldn’t fly yet and went to get an old shoe to fill with soft grasses for a nest. The shoe fit. Next I had to feed this little guy so I went on line to find out whether starlings were herbivores or carnivores. Not that I was going to serve him chicken or anything, but I did think I could find some worms if it was required. It was. One order of mashed worms, coming up, and going down.

One good thing about Wub was that he was as easy to feed as a thirsty fish. After a fine meal, it was bed time but I couldn’t risk him freezing to death and I didn’t want to let him cuddle up to Buddy, though my dog's eyes said he would be glad to birdy sit for me. I got out a heating pad, turned it on low, covered it with paper so I’d be able to clean it easily and tucked my little buddy in. Then we climbed a tree and found a good place to sleep where we could see the stars. I was too big to lay on top of him like his mother would have done, but I did make sure the shoe was out of the wind.

The next morning we went back to my house and had coffee and more worms; that is, I had coffee and Wub had worms. I couldn’t leave him home alone all day so I cut down a tree and put it in my car’s trunk. I put him in a little box with his hot water bottle for traveling, and the heating pad for later, strapped a seatbelt on his cage, and we drove to school together, singing birdy songs.

The kids in my class loved Wub. They took turns feeding him and reading to him so he’d be smart. We stuck the tree in the corner of the room and I told the boys not to all climb it at once.

The days passed and Wub began to grow feathers. Summer came, and it was time to teach him to fly. He was fluttering in his cage as he grew, and I could see he had been inspired by all the stories of far away places, so I promised him we’d give him flying lessons. He already came out of his cage to sit on my finger and my shoulder sometimes. I felt like Cinderella with a little brown bird that flew around my head, perched on my shoulder, and sang to me.

I took him outside and he flew back and forth between me and my son, Jeff. I think he had imprinted that we were his family because he came right to us. The bird did, too.

My family was going on vacation that summer and couldn’t keep Wub. Of course every student in my class wanted him. I chose Mike. I thought he’d be honored to be selected so I gave him the bird, the tree, the cage and all the stuff that went with Wub. We had been to the vet’s and bought some food especially made for wild birds, so I didn’t have to get any more worms.

Mike finished teaching Wub to fly. He fed him and cared for him and worked with him all summer on those flying lessons. Then one day he let him go. He watched for him and may have spotted him a time or two. We like to think he lived happily ever after. Mike still sleeps in his tree house waiting for a visit from a beautiful blue-black bird who no longer needs a name.

Student Samples for this Lesson:

I Found Two Eggs
by James, second grade writer

One day I was walking at the lake and I saw two crocodile eggs. It was just so very strange so I decided to take them home with me in order to keep them healthy and warm. I wanted to see what would hatch. So I put them in a string net and scooped them in.

When they hatched, I named them Ted and Freddy.

I made them a home in a water tank so they could swim and put sand in the tank so they could make a bed. They were hungry so I put them in the river so they could eat fish.

When they got older I decided to let them go. They learned a lot from me and so did I, but I mostly learned that Freddy and Ted don’t like to be petted in the wrong spot.

I Found a Baby Saber Tooth Tiger
by Alan, second grade writer

One day I was walking in the park when I saw a baby saber tooth tiger. It was just so very lonely that I decided to take him home with me in order to care for him and be happy.

I called him Alex. He was so small and cute. I made him a bed in a big shoe box with a warm blanket and some grass so it was like in the jungle. He was so lonely I let him sleep with a soft toy.

He was so hungry and I got meat and fed it to him. He ate like a lion. Alex needed to learn to hunt so I bought a rabbit and he hunted it.

I put him in a zoo. He was happier in the zoo with friends. I learned to hunt rabbit from him.

I Found a Crab
by Ivan, second grade writer

One day I was swimming in Lake Tahoe. When I got out of the lake I saw a crab walking on the sand.

It was so very tiny and hungry that I decided to take it home with me because he was cute. He was hungry and tiny and had six legs. I made him a bed in my room. He slept in a bucket with salt water. He was lonely at night. I put my teddy bear in with my crab.

He ate worms and he ate them like a dog. My crab rolled over. I taught him to swim in a tank. He loved it.

I put him in his tank and drove him to the zoo. He is happy there in his new home. I miss him whenever I swim at the lake.

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