Alaska Sea Grant

Investigation 2 - Plant and Animal Characteristics

Class Time Required

Activity 2A - 1 class period (plus 1 period for extension
Activity 2B - 3 30-minute class periods
Activty 2C - 2-6 class periods (plus 2-3 day extension
Activity 2D - 2-3 class periods
Activity 2E - 1 50-60 minute class period 

Materials Needed For extensions:
Teacher Preparation Collect and organize materials
Prepare science notebooks
Create templates for class charts on chart paper in advance
Create a template for Class “Creature Feature” book pages.
Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be able to take turns and listen to one another. They should have experience using describing words. Prior sorting opportunities would be helpful. They should know or learn how to write “clues” without giving too much information.


characteristics, color, comparison, crustacean, describe, details, echinoderm,  estimate , features, invertebrate, length, measurement, mollusk, size, shape, sort, texture, venn diagram, weight
Words for specific animal parts: antennae, claws, jaws, legs, pincers etc.

Science GLEs Addressed

K-12 Standards A2, C2, G4

Investigation 2Overview: In this 8-11 day investigation, children begin to identify features of specific plants and animals, and to sort them into groups. They describe properties of shells or other objects, and use those characteristics to sort them in various ways. They focus on specific animals and practice observing and describing their characteristics, and are introduced to groups of invertebrates that are sorted according to their features. To review and reinforce what they have learned, the students play a board game that also helps them practice math skills.

Focus Questions:

  • What characteristics of shells can we notice?
  • How can we group shells by their properties?
  • What are the unique characteristics of the different groups of marine or freshwater invertebrates?
  • What characteristics make this animal unique?
  • What do we know about the characteristics of aquatic plants and animals?

Activity 2A: Shells: Take a Closer Look

Focus Question: What characteristics of shells can we notice?

Engagement (10 minutes):
Show one shell to the students, and have them use as many describing words as they can to tell about that shell. Show another shell and ask: “How are they different?” “How are they the same?”
Next, show the students a shell collection with a larger variety of shells. The collection should include univalve and bivalve shells. Ask children: What do you know about shells? Record their ideas on a chart. Read the book Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes.

Exploration (15 minutes plus time to choose shells):
Give students the opportunity to touch and look at the large assortment of shells. (There should be enough shells so that all children have choices). Tell them to choose one shell they would like to “take a closer look at.” Give the students time to choose their special shell. The shells could be at center during “choice time” (see Investigation 1 ) or displayed in a basket so children can take time to notice unique characteristics. 

When all the students have selected a shell for this activity, ask students to carefully observe and draw their shell in their science notebook. Encourage students to label and describe their shell on the shell observation page. This page can be glued into the science notebooks. 

Explanation (15 minutes):
When students are finished drawing and writing observations, collect all the shells and place them in a group so all students can see them. Then ask for a volunteer’s science notebook. Read the student’s drawing and description, and ask the other children to try to locate that student’s shell. Use this as a model and then have students break into small groups. Repeat this activity with several small groups of students or have students work with a partner and find one another’s shell.

Elaboration (10-20 minutes):
Gather students together once again. Compare success of using science notebooks and information. Have students find their own shell and add information to their science notebook for more details. Ask: How could you describe your shell in more detail or with more information? What are some things that make your shell different? What are some questions you have about your shell? Give students the opportunity to draw another shell with more detail. They will now have learned from the activity as well as from their peers about what is important in the drawing and description.

Use the children’s science notebooks to evaluate their success in describing shells. 

Learn and practice math skills while observing shells further in the Measuring Shells activity.

Activity 2B: Sorting Shells

Focus Question: How can we group shells by their properties?

Engagement (10-15 minutes): 
Ask students to think about the shell they picked earlier to sketch and describe in their science notebooks. Using the same shell, students will choose one word to describe it. Have a chart ready with the heading
"Shells can be . . .". This shell property chart will have five columns labeled at the top: color, shape, size, texture, and weight. Show the chart to the children and ask them to think of ways they described their shells. For example: Shells can be . . . smooth, white, rough, blue, round, oval, bumpy, small, big, heavy, etc. Use the students’ words to fill in the chart.

Exploration (15-20 minutes)
Place the shell collection where everyone can see it. Make two circles with the yarn loops. Tell students you are going to play a sorting game with the shells. Decide together on two properties, one for each circle. For example, the properties chosen might be “white” and “rough.”

Start the game with three shells for examples. Begin by selecting one shell to look at closely. Place it in a yarn circle based on a specific characteristic (for example, white). Hold up the next shell while talking out loud about its characteristics and where you will place it (for example, rough). Continue with the last example shell, using an example that could have both characteristics (it might be rough but is also white). Students will choose where to put that shell. Some students may be ready to consider more than one attribute at a time, and if this is the case you may want to move the yarn and create a Venn diagram. Venn Diagram example. You could also show a shell that is neither white nor rough, and see what students want to do with it.

Encourage each student to place their “own” shell based on the main characteristic of white or rough. After all the shells have been sorted, hold up one last shell and ask the group to point where that shell belongs (in which group).

Explanation (20-30 minutes)
When all the shells have been sorted, ask students: What did you notice about the shells in this group? How are they all alike? How are they different? How about the other group? Encourage students to talk about new ways the shells can be sorted. Using the shell property word chart, have students describe new yarn loop groups they could create for different characteristics. Introduce the idea of overlapping yarn loops (Venn diagram) now, if it was not considered previously. Encourage students in the use of the Venn diagram as they continue to try new ways to sort shells. Create a classroom center where children can continue to practice sorting.

Elaboration (30 minutes)
After children have had experiences with sorting and thinking about different ways to describe their shells, they can solve problems using strategies for sorting.For example: Sally had 12 shells in her collection. How could Sally sort her shells three or more different ways?

Have children draw on a piece of paper, using pictures, diagrams, and words to describe their thinking. After children have finished their work, come back together as a whole group and share thinking. Children will learn from each other as they listen to different ideas.

Use the Shell Sort Levels of Understanding Continuum to assess students’ ability to sort.

Activity 2C: Let’s Meet the Invertebrates

Focus Question: What are the unique characteristics of the different groups of marine (or freshwater) invertebrates?

Engagement (10-20 minutes per day for 2-5 days)
Tell your students they are going to “meet” some interesting animals with unique features that live in the ocean or freshwater lakes/ponds. Scientists group these animals together because they have similar features. Choose 3-5 groups of invertebrates (crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms, worms, sponges, etc.), and introduce 1 or 2 groups each day. Describe some of the unique features of each group; then list some of the animal species in the group. If you can find or make appropriate puppets, use them to “talk” with your students. For example, an octopus puppet could tell all about the mollusk group. See the Teacher Background Information for information about marine and freshwater invertebrates.

Make a large class chart with the title: "Meet the Invertebrates" . Each category of invertebrate will have a column with labels of "what, who, how, where, and traditional use". When you’ve finished introducing the invertebrate and describing each group’s unique characteristics as a class, fill in the chart.

Explanation (15-20 minutes)
When the invertebrates have been introduced, and the chart has been created with the students, have the students divide into groups and draw detailed pictures to add to the chart. Each group will draw one species from their assigned category (mollusk, echinoderm, crustacean, etc.) that is most applicable to the local area. Students will cut out their drawing and add it to the class chart (Meet the Invertebrates).

(15-20 minutes)
Have students take a closer look at one animal within a category of invertebrates and use their science notebook to draw it and/or write their observations.  They will use field guides, posters, and books for detailed pictures of each invertebrate. Drawings might be detailed sketches with labels of specific features.

Extension (2-3 days)
 Introduce and play the Dice Toss game to learn about statistics and probability to reinforce theiranimaldice knowledge of invertebrate species.

Before students begin their science notebook entries, create a checklist with them to make sure they include everything needed in the science notebook entry—title, picture, label, etc. Use the list that they made to evaluate their work.

Activity 2D: Creature Features Class Book

Focus Question: What characteristics make this animal unique?

Engagement (20 minutes)
Read the book Creature Features. Stop after each box of information and ask students to make a prediction. Students will make predictions and defend their thinking about why they chose a specific creature. What is the evidence? The goal is for students to share their thinking with the whole group.

Ask the students: “What creatures do we know about from our local aquatic environment?” Tell them that they will each write and draw one page for a “Creature Features” class book. Make a list of potential creatures for the class book. Use the invertebrates that you learned about in the previous lessons and other aquatic creatures that your students have studied.

Exploration (20-25 minutes)
Guide the students as they re-read the book. Ask: "What creature would you choose?" This writer chose a ______. Which kind of animal could we choose to write about from our own aquatic environment? Model one page with the whole group, using the following framework:

In this tide pool I found a creature. Guess what it is by checking each feature.
How many legs (arms)? _______
What’s its shape? ________
How does it feel? _______
What does it look like? __________
It must be a ______.
Now that you know I’m letting it go!

You may want to adapt this framework for the local environment. Some creatures may not “match” this frame. Encourage students to add additional questions if their creature does not fit these questions.

Here are examples for marine and freshwater invertebrates:

In this tide pool I found a creature.
Guess what it is by checking each feature.
How many legs?
5 pairs of front legs for walking
5 pairs of swimming legs
How does it feel?
It has a stiff exoskeleton
What’s its shape?
Flattened from side to side with a tail fan
Something special about it!
It can walk or swim!
It must be a . . . shrimp!
Now that you know I’m letting it go!

In this pond I found a creature.
Guess what it is by checking each feature.
How many legs?
6 legs—two long legs paddle like oars
What’s its color?
Brown or green
How many body parts?
What does it eat?
Tadpoles, small fish, and aquatic insects
Something special I’d like to share!
It swims upside-down and carries a bubble of air.
It must be . . . a water boatman
Now that you know I’m letting it go!

Show students the class list, and have each student select a creature they want to use. Ask them to write a “creature features” description about it.

Explanation (10-40 minutes)
After students have filled in their frame and drawn a picture with details, they will share their page with another student. Once everyone is done, gather the class together and allow each student to share their page. Or, the teacher may choose to put the book together and then share the book as a class.

Elaboration (30-40 minutes)
Create another audience for your students. You might invite another class in for a reading of the class book, or go into another classroom to share your work. Invite the audience to make predictions and/or share additional questions with the writers.

Check each student's page to be sure it has all the necessary framework information.

Activity 2E: “What Do You Know” Game

Focus Question: What do we know about the characteristics of plants and animals?

Engagement (15-20 minutes)
Introduce the game board for the “What Do You Know” game by asking some questions: What animals eat fish? What plant grows in the water? Where would you find a whale? These questions are to raise the idea of having more than one answer for a question. The game supports and integrates local plant and animal characteristics and helps children practice addition.

Show students the game board, and together name the animals and plants and follow the path of numbers on the board. Explain the rules of rolling the dice, adding the two numbers and then move that many spaces. Players pick up a card on each roll where they land on a picture and follow the information on the card. The goal is for students to discuss the information that has more than one answer. For example, “go to the space that has an animal that eats fish” could be a seal, eagle, or bear!

Exploration (30 minutes)
This game is for 3 to 4 students to play. Either make enough game boards so everyone can play the game in small groups or use this game during “math games” time or center activities. Children will play until the first one gets to 100. Let children decide how to end the game. (Does a player need the exact number? Or can they land on 100 with an “over” number.) The instruction cards are intended to initiate a discussion about marine/river animals and plants in an aquatic environment.

Explanation (10 minutes)
The debrief could happen in a small group of students who were playing or bring it back to the big group and have everyone discuss the ideas that have more than one “right” answer. Students will share something they learned while playing the game.

Elaboration (5-15 minutes)
Use math story problems to solve addition problems. Extend the idea of using concepts of animals to solve number problems by using addition story problems about aquatic animals.

Observe children as they play the game—encourage sharing of ideas, taking turns, and strategies. Support those students who need more experience and/or information with animals and plants on the game board. Math story problems can be adjusted with a variety of numbers to best match the needs of the class.

Teacher Preparation:

Tips from Teachers

No tips are currently available.

  • Collect and organize materials.
  • Prepare science notebooks.
  • Create templates for class charts on chart paper in advance.
  • Create a template for class “Creature Features” book pages.
  • Read Teacher Background for more information.

Substitutions: In Activity A, shells of marine or freshwater animals can be collected, borrowed, or purchased. Those collected from nearby beaches are best. If shells are not available, substitute buttons, pattern blocks, pressed or fresh plants, bones or animal parts (teeth, beaks, tusks, etc.) or rocks in the sorting activities.

It will be helpful to have a list of local aquatic creatures, or a book that assists children in starting to know what is in their local environment. Posters, charts, and field guides are also useful as resources.


Curricular Connections:

Connections to Math content including Venn diagrams, measuring, graphing, probability and statistics, and computation are included in many of the activities and extensions.

Opportunities to read and write about animal and plant characteristics provide literacy connections.

Art and culture
are connected through the use of traditional Alaska Native designs of plants and animals and use of Alaska Native languages to name and label animals.

Materials Needed for Investigation 2:  

Student Handouts

Science notebooks

Shell observation page Image

Items for Group Display

Book: Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes. Dawn Publications, California, 2002, ISBN 978-1584690344

Book: Creature Features (need more info)

Shell Property Chart Image

Chart Paper

Yarn Loops (about 1 yard long)

Material Items

For extensions:

  • Graph or grid paper, 2 inch x 1/2 inch
  • Unifix cubes or wood block cubes for measuring length
  • Dried lima beans and kidney beans
  • Animal dice for Dice Toss Game Image
Facility/Equipment Requirements 

Ordinary classroom facilities

Alaska Science Grade Level Expectations Addressed:

Standards Addressed

In Investigation 2, First Grade students begin to build toward these K-12 Alaska Science Standards:

Science as Inquiry and Process

(A2) develop an understanding that the processes of science require integrity, logical reasoning, skepticism, openness, communication, and peer review.

Concepts of Life Science

(C2) develop an understanding of the structure, function, behavior, development, life cycles, and diversity of living organisms.

History and Nature of Science
(G4) develop an understanding that advancements in science depend on curiosity, creativity, imagination, and a broad knowledge base.

Essential Question:

  • What kinds of plants and animals live in or near the water?

Enduring Understandings:

  • Plants and animals can be sorted into groups based on different characteristics.
  • People use the plants and animals of the seas and rivers in different ways.
Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA