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Lesson Plan

Webcams in the Classroom: Animal Inquiry and Observation

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Webcams in the Classroom: Animal Inquiry and Observation

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time Introduction: Two 30-minute sessions; thereafter: 20 minutes per session as needed
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Can't make it to a zoo? Observe animal habits and habitats using one of the many webcams broadcasting from zoos and aquariums around the United States and the world in this inquiry-based activity that focuses on observation logs, class discussion, questioning, and research. Students begin by viewing an animal webcam, making observations, and describing what they see in a notebook or log. This process is first modeled by the teacher to prepare students for recording their own observations. Thereafter, students make observations on a predetermined schedule and share them with the class. After a class discussion, students then resolve questions that are raised about what they've observed by consulting a variety of sources. While this lesson is written with a focus on webcams, students could easily complete similar activities by observing a classroom pet, animals at home or the zoo, or a birdfeeder or squirrel feeder outside the classroom window.

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Interactive Animal Observation Chart: Students use this online tool to record information about animals they are observing. Students can print their work when they've finished.

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As David and Phyllis Whitin (1996) explain in their "Inquiry at the Window: The Year of the Birds," inviting students to observe, comment on, and question the things that they see in the world around them leads to "significant inquiry learning." Their article outlines four ways that a fourth-grade classroom's observation and experimentation based on birds that visited a birdfeeder outside their classroom window lead to learning. They discovered with their students that inquiry:

  • "begins with looking closely."
  • "involves really living the lives of scientists."
  • "generates an endless spiral of questions to pursue."
  • "involves a flexible use of various nonfiction resources."

Based on the observation of webcams (rather than a birdfeeder outside the classroom), this lesson plan engages students in similar inquiry learning which can result in a year-long study of a particular animal, comparisons of observations of several animals, or application of the inquiry process to other activities in the classroom.

Further Reading

Whitin, David J. and Phyllis E. Whitin. "Inquiry at the Window: The Year of the Birds." Language Arts 73.2 (February 1996): 82-87.

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