One of the things I most love to do is introduce my first graders to different animals. This year, I’ve added two elements, some geography and, if I’m lucky, a fiction picture book. This lesson worked really well.
To start the lesson, I have us all get on our imaginary airplane. Students all know that they need to buckle their seat belts. “One, Two, Three, Click!”. Then, we decide where we’re going, in this case, the deserts of Africa. We put out our wings and then fly. Africa is exactly 10 seconds from Oakland, CA by library plane. We count it out, land, and unclick our seat belts. Then, we’re off to the deserts of Africa.
To learn about the desert, I use the great Blast Off Reader series, published by Bellwether Media, called “Learning About the Earth”. This series is written a the Level 3, Early Fluent, level, so to make the lesson move along, I only read a few pages with key facts about deserts. It was fun for me to learn that Antarctica is a cold desert.
We went to the desert, because Meerkats live in the desert as well as grass lands. I have another Blast Off Readers series called “Animal Safari” that I love to use. It’s written at the emergent reader level, so there are just enough facts to pull out for first graders to digest in five minutes. I combine all the animal facts with some type of hand signal. The kids all grasp these hand signals really quickly and retain the facts from week to week. I love asking them about each animal we learn about at the end of the school year.
So here we are in the African desert, learning about Meerkats. We learn that Meerkats are mammals. We make circles with our hands and put them to our eyes to make the rings around Meerkats eyes. We turned into a mob of Meerkats. Then, we ate scorpions, dug burrows and when our Meerkat sentry spotted a lion (their teacher), we all dive into our burrows.
We finish our trip to Africa with a favorite book at our school, Abiyoyo, Pete Seeger’s Storysong retelling a South African folktale about a father and son who are ostracized by a village because of their music and magic and then save the village from a giant called Abiyoyo. We sing the simple Abiyoyo tune at the end.
Then, it’s sadly time for my students to leave Africa and the world of Meerkats. We put our our seat belts, hold out our wings and take the 10 second trip home to Oakland.