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Teaching Through Trade Books

Biological Diversity

In the Present and in the Past

Biological Diversity

By Christine Anne Royce

Biological Diversity

Learning that there are similarities among and differences between organisms both past and present allows students to gain a basic understanding that biological evolution has occurred over time. The conditions in which organisms live and the changes that have happened on Earth affect how organisms evolve—or become extinct. Young students can consider the different types of organisms that live in a particular habitat and explain how the basic needs of the animal are met within the identified location.

Older students can explore both present and past environments. By examining fossils, students can begin to understand that familiar species resemble ones that have long been extinct. Furthermore, students learn that these artifacts allow us to find out more about organisms that lived long ago, as well as those organisms’ habitats. Students can build on this concept by comparing fossils to other fossils and to currently living organisms. By doing so, they can examine similarities and differences and begin to draw conclusions about what type of environment fossilized plants and animals lived in at that time in history.

This Month’s Trade Books

Tall Tall Tree

By Anthony D. Fredericks
Illustrated by Chad Wallace
ISBN: 978-1584696025
Dawn Publications
40 pages
Grades K–2


Using the redwood forest as a backdrop, this book combines simple counting and rhyming to give readers an understanding of the different lifeforms that can be found living above the forest floor in a giant redwood. Information about the redwood tree, along with additional STEM activities, are provided.

Living Fossils: Clues to the Past

By Caroline Arnold
Illustrated by Andrew Plant
ISBN: 978-1580896917
32 pages
Grades 2–5


Animals that closely resemble their ancient ancestors are often referred to as “living fossils.” This story presents pairs of animals through illustrations and describes the environment of animals from both “then” and “now.” The book also explains how scientists use this information to study prehistoric animals.

Additional Texts

Kim, Y. 2015. Fossils tell stories. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group.

Mazer, A. 1994. The salamander room. Decorah, IA: Dragonfly Books.

Miller, D.S. 2012. Survival at 120 above. New York: Walker and Company.

Sill, C. 2012. About habitats: Oceans. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

Thomson, B. 2013. Fossil. Las Vegas, NV: Amazon Children’s Publishing.

Walker, S.M. 2002. Fossil fish found alive: Discovering the Coelacanth. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.

Grades K–2: Honing in on Habitats


To identify what types of animals live in a particular habitat and how animals that live in different habitats have different needs.

  • Tall Tall Tree
  • Animal Habitats video (see Internet Resources)
  • tablets or computers
  • Animal Habitats game (see Internet Resources)
  • Habitat Booklet (see Supplemental Resources)
  • Habitat Chart (see Supplemental Resources)
  • A Habitat’s a Home Information Sheet (see Supplemental Resources)


Ask students to describe their understanding of what a habitat is and name habitats they are familiar with, such as a forest or meadow. As you discuss this idea, have students focus on why habitats are important to the animals that live there. After engaging in this initial discussion, read Tall Tall Tree to the class. As you read the book to the students, focus on the following pages:

  • Page with the tall redwoods: Where in the forest do you think the habitat is located?
  • First page: What do you think the eagle might eat for dinner? Where do you think his dinner might live in the habitat?
  • Second page: Where do you think the baby owls are? What type of animal is the parent owl feeding to the babies? What do you think the mouse or chipmunk would eat?
  • Third page: These salamanders live in the trees. Where else in the forest might salamanders live?
  • Fourth page: Where are the woodpeckers trying to hide their food? How did the holes get into the trees?
  • Fifth page: What type of food do woodrats eat? Based on the picture, where do you think the woodrats are found?
  • Sixth page: Look at the picture on this page and compare it to your answer about where woodrats live. Where do you think they and the chipmunks live now?
  • Seventh page: What living thing in the habitat helps the bumblebees by serving as a food source?
  • Eighth page: Where might the bats be roosting in the forest?
  • Ninth page: What kind of environment do you think the banana slugs need to live in, based on the picture?
  • Tenth page: What might eat ladybugs?

Now, re-read the book and ask students to focus on the descriptive words that they hear in the story, such as “creeping, hopping, or zipping” or “furry, darting, dining.” When they hear one of these descriptive words, they should discuss the image that comes to mind and how the words make them think about the animals. Help them understand that descriptive words in writing are similar to using descriptive words in making observations and understanding science.



Show students the video “Animal Habitat” (see Internet Resources) and discuss the things an animal needs in its habitat: food, shelter, space, water, and air. Ask students to use their tablets or classroom computers to investigate the game Animal Habitats (see Internet Resources). Although it was designed for slightly older students, this game can be used with younger kids with some guidance or by using it as a whole-class activity facilitated by the teacher. The game asks students to look at four different habitats (desert, coral reef, jungle, and marsh) and to place animals in the proper habitat. There is also important information about each of these areas in the illustrations. Before students engage in the online game and begin to move the animals to the proper locations, ask them to look at the Habitat Booklet (see NSTA Connection). Walk students through the information they are asked to record about each type of habitat. Model for students how to use descriptive words to share what they observe in the habitat pictures and sketch each in the Habitat Booklet.


After students investigate four habitats through the game and add a fifth habitat from the book (i.e., forest or the tops of redwood trees), ask them to help create a large classroom table that describes what type of animals would live in that habitat, what they would eat, and where in the habitat they would be found. This will help students to organize their thoughts around habitats and help them understand that different animals live in different habitats and have different needs. The teacher should facilitate this discussion and add the information to the chart, which could be enlarged into a poster format (see NSTA Connection). Questions and prompts that can be used to guide the discussion include:

  • Let’s list the different habitats that you investigated. Are there any other types of habitats that you think animals live in? Can you describe them?
  • What were the five things that animals need in a habitat to survive?
  • Let’s think about the forest habitat from the book. Where in the forest was this habitat located? Are there other possible habitats in a forest? Where would they be located?
  • Describe what the habitats in the game looked like. What type of animals live in each habitat? What would these animals eat?


Ask students to select one of the hidden animals (paper wasps, yellow-spotted millipede, red tree vole, California sister butterfly, northern flying squirrel, marbled murrelet, Steller’s jay, wandering salamander, skunk, Allen’s hummingbird) described at the back of Tall Tall Tree to focus on for this section. Remind students that animals need food, water, shelter, air, and space in their habitat. Ask students to use A Habitat’s a Home Information Sheet (see NSTA Connection) to create a page about their animal that describes the animal using descriptive words, based on the illustrations in the book. Create a class book that could accompany Tall Tall Tree that provides information about these animals.


Students expand upon their prior knowledge through defining the term habitat and connecting the story to the idea of a habitat by drawing details from the text. They also apply their understanding of what types of animals live in different habitats by playing the online game and describing the different types of environments. Finally, they create a page about a particular animal to assemble into an informational resource to accompany Tall Tall Tree.


Grades 3–5: Looking at Living Fossils


To investigate a living fossil in order to gather information about their prehistoric ancestors.

  • Living Fossils: Clues to the Past
  • fossils or pictures of fossils
  • chart paper
  • tablets or computers
  • Brainstorming Sheet (see Supplemental Resources)
  • Fish and Fossil Observation Sheet (see Supplemental Resources)
  • Ten Prehistoric Fish video (see Internet Resources)
  • Story Excerpt Cards (see Supplemental Resources)
  • Author Guidelines and Notes Sheet (see Supplemental Resources)


Obtain a few fossils or pictures of fossils that students can examine and share them with students. Ask them to consider what types of information they can obtain about the organism that is represented in the fossil. Then, ask them to sketch the fossil or picture of a fossil on their Brainstorming Chart (see NSTA Connection) and make a list of what they brainstormed. Pose the following question to students after discussing the list they developed: “What are ways that scientists can obtain information about organisms and environments of long ago?” Engage students in a discussion, and then explain that scientists can obtain information on some animals and plants because there are animals and plants that closely resemble their ancestors.

Show students the title page of Living Fossils: Clues to the Past, which shows a dragonfly and three pieces of rock that look like they fit together like a puzzle. Ask students to closely examine the picture and describe what they see. Ask students, “How are the wings of the dragonfly and the wing fossil similar? How are they different?” After discussing the similarities and differences, read Living Fossils: Clues to the Past to students. Discuss the following points:

  • pp. 4–5: Look at the three different pictures that show fish at three different points in evolutionary history. What are the similarities among the fish when you compare and contrast the characteristics of each?
  • pp. 6–7: What characteristics can we learn about animals and plants from fossils? What characteristics are fossils not able to tell us about the plant or animal?
  • pp. 8–27: Compare and contrast the information about where the organisms mentioned lived and what their environment was like, using information in the reading and the illustrations.

Record students’ comparisons on chart paper as they answer the question, “What are similarities and differences?”


Because it is challenging to actually have living fossils, or organisms that resemble their prehistoric ancestors, in the classroom, students will rely on different forms of media to bring these creatures to life. Start by introducing them to 10 additional fish that resemble their prehistoric ancestors by watching “Ten Prehistoric Fish Alive Today” (see Internet Resources). As they watch the video, they should record observations about the characteristics of the different fish and the environment in which they live on their Fish and Fossil Observation Sheet (see NSTA Connection). By recording their observations, students connect the idea that prehistoric organisms and environments have similarities to organisms and environments today. After watching the video, ask students to examine the pictures of fossils of ancestors of some fish described in the video. Using the pictures of fossilized fish (see NSTA Connection), ask students to make additional observations of the three different types of ancestors to the fish they viewed in the video.


Return to the other animals that are described in the book and assign each group of four students one of the animals to research in more detail. Using tablets or computers with internet access, students should locate additional information about the prehistoric ancestor and modern-day relative. Using the back of the Fish and Fossil Observation Sheet, students should locate a picture of a fossil of that animal and compare the fossil image to the modern-day animal.


Make the following excerpts from the story into signs and add them to chart paper or the board. Then, ask students to use their experiences from the Explore phase to describe information they have uncovered. Questions to ask students for each prompt include:

  • “When he saw the drawing, he was astounded. It looked almost exactly like the coelacanth, a fish thought to have died out about 65 million years earlier. How could this fish, missing from the fossil record for tens of millions of years, still be swimming in the ocean? Why had it survived when so many other species had become extinct?”
    • Is this the same fish that was swimming in the ocean 65 million years ago? Explain your answer.
    • What were some of the similarities you noticed in the pictures of the coelacanth over time? Differences?
    • In watching the video and examining the pictures of the coelacanth, what characteristics did you notice?
    • What are some reasons why your researched animal survived over time?
  • “Most living things change as the world around them changes. They adapt to new conditions. Usually changes happen slowly. Fossils provide a record of these changes. They are snapshots of moments in time going back millions of years. They show us that living things have evolved into new forms and become new living fossils that can help us imagine their ancestors’ lives long ago. Whether living fossils survived because they were isolated, hardy, able to live in a variety of conditions, or lacked competition, they are clues to the past.”
    • Why are the fish that are discussed in the video referred to as “living fossils”?
    • What does the author mean when she says “adapt to new conditions”?
    • Using the information in the book and information that you researched, describe the factors that helped your animal survive.


Ask students to take on the role of a paleontologist who will be writing an article for a science journal. Using the information they read and additional information they can find online, students should follow the criteria on the Author Guidelines and Notes Sheet (see NSTA Connection) and write a short article about why dragonflies are considered living fossils. The student sheet asks students to first answer questions as if they had conducted an interview or researched information, and then write their article and include a sketch or a picture.


Students describe their understanding of what a fossil is and what type of information can be obtained by looking at a fossil. As they listen to the story and examine the photos, they extract information from the text about prehistoric ancestors and current relatives of different animals. Students use various forms of media to learn more about living fossils and what their ancestors can tell us about where they lived then and where relatives live now. Finally, students apply their understanding by writing a short story as a journalist.

Connecting to Three-Dimensional Standards (Tall Tall Tree)

Science and Engineering Practice

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Classroom Connection:  
Students engage in an online game that asks them to make observations about different habitats and place the proper animal into its habitat.

Students use different media sources to find information about specific animals and why they thrive in a particular habitat.

Disciplinary Core Idea

LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans
There are many different kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different places on land and in water.

Classroom Connection:
Students identify what types of animals live in a particular habitat and how animals that live in different habitats have different needs.

Crosscutting Concept

Cause and Effect

Classroom Connection:
Students describe how a habitat allows a particular animal to survive.

Performance Expectation

  • The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in the article are just one step toward reaching the performance expectation listed below.

2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Connecting to Three-Dimensional Standards (Living Fossils)

Science and Engineering Practice

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Classroom Connection:  
Students use images of fossils of three specific fish that have current ancestors to determine their similarities and differences

Disciplinary Core Idea

LS4.A: Evidence of Common Ancestry and Diversity
Some kinds of plants and animals that once lived on Earth no are no longer found anywhere.

Fossils provide evidence about the types of organisms that lived long ago and also about the nature of their environments.

Classroom Connection:
Students define fossil and living fossil.

Students determine how scientists use current information about where some animals live to draw conclusions about now-extinct animals.

Students use images of fossils of three specific fish that have current ancestors to determine their similarities and differences.

Crosscutting Concept

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

Classroom Connection:
Students explain why some living fossils have adapted from prehistoric fish that existed millions of years ago.

Performance Expectation

  • The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in the article are just one step toward reaching the performance expectation listed below.

3-LS4-1. Analyze and interpret data from fossils to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.

Connecting to the Common Core State Standards

This section provides the Common Core for English Language Arts and/or Mathematics standards addressed in this column to allow for cross-curricular planning and integration. The Standards state that students should be able to do the following at grade level.


Reading Standards for Informational Texts K–5 – Key Ideas and Details

  • Grade 2: “Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.”
  • Grade 4: “Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.”


Writing Standards K–5 – Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • Grade K: “With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.”
  • Grade 4: “Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.”

Writing Standards K–5 – Text Types and Purposes

  • Grade K: “Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.”
  • Grade 2: “Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.
  • Grade 4: “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.”

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use is one of the standards for language. This particular standard is across grade levels: “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade [appropriate] reading and content.”Furthermore, the Common Core for ELA provide a standard related to the Range of Text Types for K–5 where it indicates that students in K–5 should apply the Reading standards to a wide range of texts to include informational science books.


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers (NGAC and CCSSO). 2010. Common core state standards. Washington, DC: NGAC and CCSSO.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. .

Animal Habitats Video for Kids

The Habitat Song

The Salamander Room Read-Aloud

Smithsonian Animal Habitats Game

Ten Prehistoric Fish Alive Today

Royce C.A. 2004. Teaching Through Trade Books: Fascinating fossil finds. Science and Children 42 (2): 22–24.

Royce C.A. 2005. Teaching Through Trade Books: Survival skills. Science and Children 43 (2): 16–18.

Royce C.A. 2013. Teaching Through Trade Books: Figuring out food chains. Science and Children 50 (6): 24–29.

Royce C.A. 2013. Teaching Through Trade Books: Habitable homes. Science and Children 51 (1): 24–29.

Royce C.A. 2017. Teaching Through Trade Books: Adaptations for survival. Science and Children 54 (7): 22–28.

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