Love Fourth-Graders Learn More About Owls Through ELA Unit

“Look at the owl’s skull. You can see that their ears are lopsided. One is slightly higher than the other so they can determine exactly where their prey is by sound,” said Jeff Tome from the Jamestown Audubon Society. “They have huge eyes so not only can they hear, but also see, their prey.”

“Do you remember in the story we are reading that owls have a keen sense of hearing. Since we know that the owl’s ears are tiny holes on the side of their head, what question might you ask about an owl’s ears?” asked Jill Smith, Love Elementary School teacher, pointing to a photograph of an owl on the wall.

“If the ears are on the side of their head, what are the things that look like ears on top?” asked a student.

“Great question. Those are called ‘ear tuffs’ and are not really ears but look like them,” said Tome. “They do the same thing that a tail does for a dog. If a dog is happy, he wags his tail. If he is upset, the tail goes between his legs. When an owl is upset, his ear tuffs lay back against his head. They also perform another function – camouflage.”

Does anyone know what camouflage means?” asked Smith.

“They blend into wherever they are,” said a student.

“That’s right. Owls are very difficult to see. We have many owls in Jamestown that people walk by everyday because they can camouflage themselves so well in trees.”

Tome visited the fourth-grade classroom as part of Smith’s ELA unit on the fiction book, “Guardians of Ga’hoole” by Kathryn Lasky. The Scholastic book series follows the adventures of Soren, a young Barn Owl. All of the book’s characters are different owl species. Smith saw an opportunity to expand the ELA unit to include nonfiction and science.

“It is great when, as teachers, we can connect something we are reading in ELA with nonfiction text and other subjects,” said Smith. “It adds depth to the unit and creates a richer learning experience. When the characters are real-life animals, it allows us to study more about their habitats, their characteristics and then compare and contrast to the characters we are reading in the story. We also expand vocabulary when students see it both in fiction but also in the nonfiction text.”

The students read the book and shared details and predictions within small literacy circles where they also discussed character development and traits, plot predictions and vocabulary. They also conducted research and completed a paper on an owl species.

“Sometimes it’s easier to talk about what you are learning in the book in a group,” said fourth-grader Harmony Lesher. “I also like when it is more hands-on and we get to see the details of what we are learning.”

Students also read poems about owls, dissected an owl pellet and received a visit from Tome to learn more facts about owls and receive a hands-on experience of seeing a real owl’s wing and talons.

“It was really fun dissecting the owl’s pellets because you saw what they ate. My pellet had rodent bones in it,” said fourth-grader Aryana Singletary. “Doing all these activities helps you better understand the story than if you just read it. “

After reading the book, students will watch the movie based on the book and compare/contrast the difference between book and movie.