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Building Background Knowledge: Animal Defenses and the Research Process

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The Foundational Reading and Language Standards Resources Package for Grades 3–5

Use this guide to build additional literacy blocks alongside the module lessons.


In the first unit of this module, students begin by building background knowledge on animal defense mechanisms using an Animal Defenses research journal to record notes and synthesize new information. Listening closely and close reading of informational texts about animal defense mechanisms will prepare students for the mid-unit assessment in which they examine visuals in the text and read about caterpillars’ defense mechanisms.

Students then begin a deeper and more focused study of the topic by researching the millipede and its defense mechanisms. They will continue to record notes and to synthesize new information in their Animal Defenses research journals. This whole-class study of the millipede will act as a model for students as they research an animal of their choice in Unit 2. At the end of this unit, students select their “expert animal” to research with a small group during Unit 2.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • How do animals’ bodies and behaviors help them survive?
  • How can a writer use scientific knowledge to inform and entertain?
  • To protect themselves from predators, animals use different defense mechanisms.
  • In order to entertain and inform, writers become scientists and researchers.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read informational texts about animal defense mechanisms. However, the module intentionally incorporates science practices and themes to support potential interdisciplinary connections to this compelling content. These intentional connections are described below.


Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the New York State Common Core K–8 Science Framework:

  • Next-Generation Science Standards 4L-S1-1
  • From Molecules to Organisms: Structure and Processes

NYS Science Standard 4:

Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Key Idea 2:

  • Organisms inherit genetic information in a variety of ways that result in continuity of structure and function between parents and offspring.

Key Idea 5:

  • Organisms maintain a dynamic equilibrium that sustains life. Key Idea 6: Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment.


Texts to buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please refer to Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Cover Text Quantity ISBNs
by Marilyn Singer
Teacher copy only
ISBN: 978-1581960433, 1581960433
Animal Behavior: Animal Defenses
by Christina Wilsdon
One per student
ISBN: 978-1604130898, 160413089X

Texts included in the unit

Texts that are included in the lesson materials.

Cover Text Quantity Publisher
Award-Winning Survival Skills
by Lea Winerman


Optional Activities


Invite a biologist or zoologist to discuss animal defense mechanisms.


Arrange for a visit to a local zoo to observe animal defense mechanisms.




Optional: Extensions

  • Conduct a deeper study of millipedes: Compare and contrast different species and their defenses.
  • Create a food web with the millipede to explore the relationships between predators and prey.
  • Read about the habitats and ecosystems and the role of individual species in maintaining balance.
  • Adopt a millipede as a class pet and observe and record its behaviors.
  • Collaborate with the art teacher to teach students how to create scientific drawings and create a scientific drawing of the millipede.
  • Conduct hands-on science experiments and demonstrations. Note: The goal of the lessons in this unit is for students to build scientific knowledge while becoming better readers. These lessons do not fully address science content standards, nor do they replace hands-on, inquiry-based science.

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