Investigating Animals: Using Nonfiction for Inquiry-based Research

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Seven 50-minute sessions
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Young children are fascinated with the world around them, showing intense interest and curiosity about animals and their lives. Through the use of nonfiction, students can be encouraged and challenged to learn more about favorite animals and to document their findings with graphic organizers. Students begin their inquiry by comparing fiction and nonfiction books about animals, using a Venn diagram. They list things they want to know about animals on a chart. As a class, students vote on an animal to research. They revise their question list, and then research the animal using prompts from an online graphic organizer. After several sessions of research, students revisit their original questions and evaluate the information they have gathered. Finally, students revise and edit their work and prepare to present their findings to an authentic audience.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This lesson focuses on teaching primary students doing research with nonfiction, informational material how to document their discoveries. In her Planning for Inquiry: It's Not an Oxymoron!, Diane Parker poses a series of questions that make inquiry-based learning seem essential for elementary grade students: "Do we want them simply to memorize facts and procedures in order to pass a test? Or do we want them to want to know, to seek to know, and ultimately, to understand themselves and their world more deeply as a result of their knowing?" (5). Certainly our youngest students deserve the kinds of richly engaging learning experiences that well-designed inquiry instruction can bring them.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Access to the Internet

  • LCD Projector for full-class use of online Interactives

  • Quality nonfiction, informational picture books and videos

  • Chart tablets, journals, markers, and other writing materials



  • Bookmark the Websites about animals from the Resources section as well as any other sites of your choosing.

  • Assemble supplies listed above. Ask your school librarian for help gathering books and videos. The Nature Series videos such as “A First Look” distributed by Diamond Entertainment Corporation and the National Geographic Kids videos series are good options.

  • Prepare a chart with the heading: “What We Wonder about Animals.” Students will later add headings and supporting questions to define the scope of their research.

  • Choose an audience so that the students have a clear idea of exactly who they will be sharing their findings with. Examples might include visitors to a science fair, family members at an open house, and another class of grade-level students. Good writing comes when children research and write on a topic they care about for an authentic and interested audience with whom they want to share their findings.

  • Arrange for adult volunteers to serve as scribes or keyboardists as needed.

  • Because the Animal Inquiry student interactive will not allow students to save work, for the research phase of the project, print out blank forms from the interactive. Click the Print tab on the opening page and choose the pages you want to print. You can also record these headings and supporting questions on your “What We Wonder about Animals” chart. This will be the basis for the graphic organizers students will create using the interactive to document the findings of their research.

  • For a few days before beginning the inquiry lesson, give students an opportunity to experience a variety of informational texts through a genre study of nonfiction by exploring nonfiction, informational texts about animals during read alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading during reading workshop.

  • Test the Animal Inquiry student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify the characteristics of nonfiction texts.

  • pose questions.

  • participate in research.

  • document and record discoveries.

  • share their findings.

Session 1: Introducing the Genre and Beginnings of Inquiry

  1. Share a fiction book about animals, such as The Three Bears or The Three Little Pigs, with the class.

  2. Ask students to compare and contrast this type of fictional book about animals with the nonfiction books from recent reading workshop sessions. Have some nonfiction books on hand for prompting or verifying student responses with concrete examples.

  3. Record their observations on a Venn Diagram including the following characteristics and any others they note:

    • True versus make-believe

    • Facts versus fiction (stories)

    • Photographs and sketches versus drawings, collage, and paintings
  4. Working as a whole group, decide on the questions students want to explore to learn more about real animals. At this point, the questions need to be general, not specific to any one animal.

  5. Record students’ questions on the chart, under the “What We Wonder about Animals” heading. Usually questions will include questions about what an animal looks like, how it moves and acts, what it eats, where it lives, what its babies are like, etc.

Session 2: Defining the Scope of the Investigation

  1. Workings as a whole-class, choose an animal to study. Encourage the students to think of animals that they would really like to know more about and have them discuss various animals they might choose.

  2. Record the list as students brainstorm animals which they have a sincere interest in investigating.

  3. Give students small pieces of paper and have them sketch or write about the animal they would choose to investigate.

  4. Make a graph of the votes, and select the animal with the most votes as that which the class will investigate together.

  5. Review the “What We Wonder about Animals” questions generated during the previous session.

  6. Ask students if there are any questions they want to add now that they have selected a specific animal, or any questions that they want to eliminate or change. Revise the list according to their responses.

  7. On an Internet-connected computer with an LCD projector, lead students through a demonstration of the Animal Inquiry student interactive.

  8. Use the prompts built into the interactive to organize and refine the questions from the “What We Wonder about Animals” chart.

  9. Be sure students understand how the interactive works since they will be using it during a future session.

Sessions 3–5: Participating in Research

  1. With students, begin to sort through the books, Websites, and other materials you have collected, and choose those that contain information about your chosen animal.

  2. If desired, take a trip to the library to collect more information about the animal, introducing students to the process of collecting quality sources. Consult ReadWriteThink Lesson Research Building Blocks: Hints about Print for support in working with students on issues such as these.

  3. From the very beginning of the research process, emphasize the importance of audience so students have a clear picture of who their audience will be. If several classes are doing animal investigations, it is fun to share the results and be one another’s audiences.

  4. Help your students understand the needs and interests of their audience, thinking of ways they can choose to present their findings effectively. See ReadWriteThink lesson Teaching Audience Through Interactive Writing for support in teaching students about audience.

  5. Different groups of readers can explore various texts in guided reading or during paired or individual reading time.

  6. Help students record information that they find in the appropriate boxes on previously printed-out blank sheets from the Animal Inquiry student interactive. An adult volunteer can help with this process as well.

  7. As you share the nonfiction, informational texts you have collected, have students record their discoveries. Record from these readings and from students’ other research on their sheets.

  8. Explore appropriate videos and Websites and record this information as well.

  9. During the fourth session, have students look at what they have recorded and assess their progress so far.

  10. Encourage them to look closely at the information recorded to check the following:

    • What information still needs to be collected?

    • Are any boxes still empty?

    • Is this information you want to keep hunting for or is this something you are no longer interested in or want to include on your chart?

    • What information is interesting, but doesn’t really fit in any boxes?

    • Did you find any information that contradicted information you had already recorded?

    • How could you find out which is correct?
  11. As students examine their research, use the following explanations to help them understand more about inquiry projects:

    • The focus of an investigation can change during the course of research. You may find out things that you didn’t even know about and decide to add new questions that you want to explore.

    • You can eliminate questions that aren’t interesting or challenging.

    • Sometimes you can’t find the information you are looking for with the sources that you have. You might leave those questions for a later time or you might have to find other sources.

    • Sources are not equally reliable. Some may give less than accurate information. You need to see what several good sources say and record details that most sources agree upon as the answer to a question.
  12. Using their observations to shape the direction of their research, have students decide what still needs to be done, and allow time and support to complete their interactives.

  13. Use adult volunteers to help students type in their findings using the Animal Inquiry student interactive.

  14. Encourage students to discuss their findings and report what they have learned through their research.

Session 6: Sharing the Findings

  1. Ask students how they want their information to look in its final form. Since students will be sharing what they learned with their chosen audience, they need to decide how to revise and edit so that the information can be shared effectively with their audience.

  2. Have students revise and edit as necessary. Options for revision include the following:

    • Display large sheets of chart paper with labeled headings and captions reflecting the graphic organizers filled in with the results of the research. Individual students can use their smaller copies from the interactive for their personal journals and then can illustrate and write about a favorite fact that they learned about their animal. Other options might include art created by the students about the animal that would also be displayed. Adult volunteers can help students copy their writing to the larger charts.

    • Have students divide up the information to present orally to their audience, present in small groups, or come up with other ways to share the results of their research.


  • Once students have experienced a whole-group investigation of a favorite animal, match each student to a fourth or fifth grade buddy and let each pair research an animal of their choice using the same process. Ensure that the older buddies understand the process your class has used in the whole-group investigation. Provide each pair with the graphic organizers complete with headings and captions that your kindergarten students developed, so everyone understands what is to be researched and how the information will be recorded. Make sure that the pairs have a clear sense of the audience with whom they will be sharing their findings. Older students will be able to identify the steps of the writing process being used and may compare this with their own research writing. Book Buddy Biographies is a similar lesson, pairing students to investigate each other’s backgrounds.

  • Three other examples of writing reports can be found in the ReadWriteThink lesson Writing Reports in Kindergarten? Yes!

  • Older students can extend the animal study to mathematics with the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Bridging Literature and Mathematics by Visualizing Mathematical Concepts, which uses picture books to talk about size and ratio.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Encourage students to assess their the processes and evaluate their work on an ongoing basis. Urge them to decide what is going well and what needs further attention.

  • At the end of each day, encourage students to reflect on what they learned and accomplished, and to share those thoughts either orally or in their reflection journals.

  • Use mini-conferences as you move around the room during independent reading to talk with individuals or pairs as they explore nonfiction texts. Encourage them to share what they found exciting or interesting.

  • As students complete their presentations, ask them to reflect on what they have accomplished and to celebrate the following aspects of their investigation:

    • the process they went through:

      • posing questions

      • participating in research

      • documenting and recording discoveries

      • sharing their findings

    • the products they produced:

      • the animal inquiry graphic organizer

      • the journals

      • the writing

      • the art

    • the skills they learned:

      • identifying nonfiction by its characteristics

      • using nonfiction to learn about a topic

      • using graphic organizers to record and share their findings

      • effectively sharing their findings with an audience

This reflection can easily be done as a celebration as students and teacher share what they noticed, felt, discovered, and learned during this lesson, reflecting on what they accomplished and shared. This is a time to CELEBRATE the learning!

K-12 Teacher
I have done this lesson but, because I work with third graders, we do something similar to the extension but I have the students work with a partner to do research on their own. They then create nonfiction books to add to the classroom library and prepare something to say about their animal to present to the class during a field trip to the zoo (it adds something to have the animal behind you as you tell the class what you have learned about that animal).
Selena Eckstrom
K-12 Teacher
I love this lesson!
K-12 Teacher
I have done this lesson but, because I work with third graders, we do something similar to the extension but I have the students work with a partner to do research on their own. They then create nonfiction books to add to the classroom library and prepare something to say about their animal to present to the class during a field trip to the zoo (it adds something to have the animal behind you as you tell the class what you have learned about that animal).
Selena Eckstrom
K-12 Teacher
I love this lesson!
K-12 Teacher
I have done this lesson but, because I work with third graders, we do something similar to the extension but I have the students work with a partner to do research on their own. They then create nonfiction books to add to the classroom library and prepare something to say about their animal to present to the class during a field trip to the zoo (it adds something to have the animal behind you as you tell the class what you have learned about that animal).
Selena Eckstrom
K-12 Teacher
I love this lesson!

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