Living things and their habitats...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore living things and their habitats with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
a group of young nature detectives exploring a hedgerow
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching living things and their habitats to your class!
To teach a topic that has such enormous scope we recommend you make clear links to the children’s learning in related topics (i.e., animals including humans, plants, evolution and inheritance). It is also a great opportunity for your pupils to lead their own learning and choose which animals, plants and habitats they want to learn about.
1. Become local nature detectives!
It is important for children to learn about a local natural habitat by getting outside and seeing what they can find. Encourage your pupils to explore their local environment and identify plants and animals. Can they find similarities and differences to begin sorting and grouping them? Can they find evidence of animals that they can’t see using their detective skills (e.g., nests, prints, droppings)? Can they describe what they observe using scientific vocabulary (modelled by you) and use careful questioning as they begin to understand their local habitat and how the animals and plants are suited to living there? Where possible, find a microhabitat to investigate too.
Outdoor learning is also a great opportunity to help your children learn about interdependence. Challenge your children to create some simple food chains/webs for an animal or plant that they find. How many connections can they make? Hedgerow heroes, Friends of flowers, Busy bee and House-hunting hogs are great Explorify activities for introducing the concept.
If you can get outside regularly, perhaps once a month, then your pupils can observe how the local environment changes over time. Recording their findings can be done in lots of ways and is a good way of developing their sorting skills:
a floorbook (see the PSTT’s guide)
a photo diary
an interactive class display or collection table
writing a local nature guide for other classes to use
It is worth beginning the conversation about human impact on natural habitats at this local level. Ask your pupils to look out for ways that the local environment is threatened or improved by human activity. Ideas to start with could include carrying out a litter survey or a traffic survey, identifying new plants that have been planted, looking for bird boxes, finding logs that have been left to rot or ponds that have been built to create a microhabitat.
You could even create your own! Design a bug hotel is a fun, creative project for children to design and build their own microhabitat that will really get them thinking.
2. Explore further afield
Children should also learn about less familiar habitats and use their knowledge to make comparisons with their local area. Discussion and research will be an essential aspect of teaching this topic, as the children will have lots of questions. National Geographic, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the World Wildlife Fund are excellent places to start. Even better if you can take a trip to a local beach, woodland or wetland area and see the differences first hand!
Choosing a different habitat can be the focus of a comparative case study, researching not just what the habitat is like and what animals and plants are found there, but also what impact humans are having on this environment.
There are also lots of Explorify activities that are a great way to introduce your pupils to a variety of living things and their habitats and getting them to discuss how they are suited to them. Terrific tree dwellers, Batty homes, Desert rose, Tricky living, Nothing lives here…or does it?, Wet and wild, Puddle pals, Remarkable reef, In the swim, Why do some birds migrate?, Muddy buds and Wrigglers are all great places to start.
For learning about how some organisms have adapted to survive in particularly difficult environments, these Explorify activities are a helpful starting point: Sandy adventurers, Make a mark, SPF natural, Confusing camouflage, How do animals store their winter cache? and Who is overwintering in our school and why?
To get children thinking about the challenges presented to humans in certain habitats, these are useful discussion activities: What if humans lived underwater?, How would you survive in a rainforest?, How would you stay warm in the Arctic?, How would you make a make a shelter for a human?, At home on Mars, and Habitat extremes.
And there are even a few organisms that can survive in almost any conditions: Nozzle and Extremophile snottites!
3. Compare lifecycles and reproduction
The more hands-on, the better! Observing living things growing and developing is extremely powerful.
Grow a variety of plants and vegetables – indoors and outdoors
Hatch some hens’ eggs and caterpillar eggs
Create an outdoor area where you can have a pond for tadpoles or even fish
What’s Going On? and Zoom In Zoom Out activities are a good way of generating discussion around this concept. Watch Coming out to play to see how a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and Garden blades and Growing seed to consider the life cycles of plants.
4. Follow in the footsteps of famous scientists
Learning about the work of scientists like Carl Linnaeus, Charles Darwin, Jane Goodall, Alice Roberts and David Attenborough provides valuable context for your pupils’ learning and illustrates how our knowledge about the natural world has developed over time.
As your children become more confident at identifying characteristics of living things, they will develop their skills of classification, sorting organisms into smaller groups and justifying their choices.
5. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about worms and their habitat, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: A group of young nature detectives exploring a hedgerow by Halfpoint via Shutterstock SL