Teaching Through Trade Books
Communication is key to survival for all species. However, communication and transfer of information happens in different ways, including through the use of senses and various structures and body parts. This month’s investigations help students engage in thinking about how the senses of smell and touch are used to help communicate information.
By examining the sense of smell and importance of different types of noses, the student will identify ways that animals obtain information needed for growth and survival.
Students should be reminded that they should never smell anything without first being provided information and permission to do so. Additionally, teachers should be aware of different allergies (e.g., peanuts) that could cause a reaction and avoid those scents.
Ask students to think about something that they would say smells “good” and something that smells “bad” and record the student responses on the board. After allowing students to share their own thinking about smells, share a short part of the video Worst Smells in the World (see Online Resources) where 100 kids describe what they think smells the worst. After students have had a chance to think about “good” and “bad” smells, pose the questions Do people respond to the same smells in the same ways? Do you think animals respond to all smells in the same way? After students discuss these questions, ask them to consider why the sense of smell is important to people. Share the cover of the book Nose Knows: Wild Ways Animals Smell the World with the students and ask them to think about why the sense of smell is important to all animals. Teacher Note: This book is not a “read-aloud” or one that is read from cover to cover; parts will be shared here in the Engage section and again in the Explain section. Share the narrative parts found within the boxes with the students and ask the students to think about what the point of the heading and information is (not the sidebars with additional information). As you read various sections, record student ideas for each point on chart paper and ask if they have examples of when they might have experienced something similar. Finally, ask them to try and describe how we smell using simple terms such as odor and nose.
p. 4 Smells are invisible: Ask students if they can “see” smells? Some students may say yes such as in the example of smoke, but what they are describing as being visible isn’t the smell.
p. 5 Secret messages: What are examples where they think animals have communicated with other animals based on scents?
p. 9 Picking up scents: Have they ever watched a dog or cat stick their nose up in the air as if they smell something? Why do you think animals do this?
p. 16–19 Finding food: Why do you think it is important for animals to be able to locate their food by smell for survival? What happens when you start smelling food near lunch or dinner time?
p. 20–23 You smell: Based on the age of your students, you may choose to shorten the information presented in these pages. Point out that animals attract other animals based on smell. Why do you think smell is important for animals to use to know other animals? How is this similar to how insects are attracted to flowers through their smells?
Using the ideas presented in informational parts of the book, engage the students in the following stations and ask them to answer the prompts that are found on their It Smells student sheet (see Supplemental Resources).
Station #1: Knowing a Scent: This book mentions that animals recognize others based on a familiar or common scent. At this station, students will use their sense of smell to locate and match scents. For each scent, set up two small condiment containers that have lids with a hole punched in them. It can help with materials management to place a different colored dot or letter on one and then number the other one so that the teacher will be able to easily match up the pairs. Place a cotton ball in each container. If using liquids, place a single drop or two of the scent on the cotton ball. If using herbs, dab the cotton ball in the dried herb before placing in the container. Possible scents include peppermint, vanilla, lemon, orange, vinegar, banana, lavender, rosemary, garlic power, onion powder, ginger, cinnamon, coffee, and so on. Craft stores have flavored (and scented) oils for baking, as do supermarkets. Explain to the students that they are going to be asked to smell one container and then try and find the match to it from the other containers. Model for the students how to waft a smell in order to get a whiff of each container and then ask them to match the pairs. Allow students to circulate around the room trying to find their match.
Station #2: Finding Your Group Through Smell: Students are next asked to find their “group” based on smells. Using a similar setup with the containers, set up a new arrangement of containers where there are 4–5 containers of the same scent prepared. At this station, code the containers with different dots so that it is clear to the teacher which group is a match. Using some of the same scents but incorporating additional scents, ask the students to wander around the room trying to locate their scent match partners or groups. Once they have identified other members of the group, have them discuss how animals who live in groups might use scent to know that they are part of a larger group or to know a member doesn’t belong.
Station #3: What Smells? Students are asked to identify different smells without seeing the source. The teacher can use an area in the school cafeteria where the food source can be concealed for those items that need to be heated or cooked and also use their classroom by having students place their heads on the table and keep their eyes closed for other sources. Items that can be heated or cooked include popcorn, melted chocolate, warmed apple sauce, and even a baking cake. Objects that can be used within the classroom include flowers (particularly roses or lilies), a bowl of popcorn, and oranges. With their heads down, students should identify the smells. Continue to discuss how they know that smell is what they think it is. Also, what happens when an unfamiliar smell is presented?
Station #4: Different types of noses. Share the photos (see Supplemental Resources) of different animals and their noses with the students. Ask them to make observations about the shape of the nose and even where the nose is located on the animal. Provide information related to the names of the noses, such as snout or trunk. Ask students to consider how the shape of a nose might help the animal with survival and other things that the animal might use their nose to do.
After students have had a chance to explore the different stations, ask them to consider the following question: What are some of the ways that the sense of smell can help different animals survive? Using their experiences during the investigations, the observations they made, and the information gathered from the stations, engage the students in discussing the following ideas from the book. Where possible, connect their answers back to their original points that were recorded on the chart paper.
The book discussed how smells are invisible and can convey information. In what ways were you able to gather information through smells in the different investigations? How did helping you see the objects help you figure out the smell? What happened when you couldn’t see the objects?
In the stations, we helped to move a scent around by waving our hand near it. In the book, it talked about different messages being left by animals, such as the cat rubbing its neck and face against something (p. 5). What are other ways that animals leave their scent behind or on different things to help communicate with other animals?
When animals smell other animals or catch a scent, sometimes the scents communicate positive information, and at other times the information can be negative. At the stations, were there scents that caused you to “scrunch up” your nose? How might this be similar to ways animals respond when it is a negative smell?
Why do you think it is important for animals to be able to smell their food for survival?
Several examples were provided in the book that described the importance of animals knowing what their offspring or other animals in their group smelled like. Which station allowed you to use scents in a similar manner? Describe what it was like trying to find your group by smell.
After students have discussed the points and connected them to the investigations, return to the question of Can you explain how we smell? And How do smells help to convey information to our brains?
Students learned about ways that scents help animals survive. One that was discussed was how scent is used to help animals find their food sources. Reread pp. 16–19 and explicitly point out the different types of animals and the specific food sources that they seek out. For example, the polar bear looks for meat and hunts seals, whereas the mouse in the photo was looking for fruits or vegetables. Have the students select a particular food that might be eaten by animals (fruit, meat, fish, etc.) and create a poster that describes what the food smells likes to humans using descriptive words and includes pictures of what types of animals might eat this food. Students could create a lift-up option similar to the ones in the book.
Through the use of the book and investigations, students also discuss how animals use the sense of smell to communicate information and survive. Students engage in simulated activities and discuss the connections made between the investigations, book, and their experiences.
Through simulations that represent ways that bees communicate, students will explain how bees share information that helps with their survival.
Start the lesson by posing the following questions to the students, How do YOU communicate information to other people you know? How do you gather information about your environment? Accept reasonable answers such as talk, text, email, sing, and so on. Once students have had a chance to consider ways they communicate, ask them how they would communicate IF they could not talk or write information. In other words, what other kind of language could there be? This is likely a challenging question for the students in that the majority of communication done by humans is through written and spoken words. Continue to help students think how our senses also help us gather and communicate language using the following questions:
After students have discussed their initial ideas about how they communicate, explain that the students will be asked to engage in different tasks where they will need to gather information to complete a task but cannot speak verbally or write out the directions. Group students into pairs and ask one student to be identified as student A and one as student B. Throughout these activities, students will take turns giving or communicating information as they solve a task. Each task is described where partner A first does the task. Then students should reverse roles. See the task cards in the Supplemental Resources. Students should also take time to record their thinking on the What Was the Message student sheet (see Supplemental Resources)
Task #1 – Communicating via Touch: Using wooden blocks that have raised letters, ask partner A to place a blindfold over their eyes while partner B selects a block and places it in front of them so that the letter is in the proper orientation to the partner A. Partner B should place partner A’s left hand at the bottom of the block in order to hold it in place and the index finger of their right hand on the top of the block. Partner A should try to determine what the letter is through paying attention to the shape while tracing the shape.
Task #2 – Smells are Important: Place cotton balls in a condiment cup with lid. Add a few drops of either vanilla, lemon, or other type of extract to the cotton ball. Partner A should determine what the smell is and recognize that as the “belongs” scent. Their goal is to protect an imaginary line that cannot be crossed unless a person belongs. Partner B should have several different cups with both the scent that belongs and other scents that don’t belong. Partner B should approach Partner A, allowing them to waft (wave their hand over the cup in order to get a whiff) the smell. Partner A needs to determine if the scent is the proper scent and let Partner B pass or stop them from doing so.
Task #3 – Following a Path: Sometimes we need to be able to get from one location to another. Bees will often rely on environmental clues to travel. In this task, students can follow a path based on a feeling with assistance. Partner A should be given a blindfold again. Partner B should tap Partner A’s arm to indicate what direction and how far they should travel. Before starting, and using verbal communication, the two partners should come up with a plan that will help them know how far they should move or in what direction based on taps on the arm. Ask Partner B to help Partner A navigate a particular path in the hallway or cleared classroom. Safety note: Make sure there is nothing that can be tripped over.
Task #4 – Giving Directions Through Dance: Provide the students with one of the direction cards (see Supplemental Resources) that explains directions using different dance movements. While each waggle dance conveys information to the bees in the hive that they understand, students can connect interpretation of information to a dance. For example, a circle might mean to go five steps forward from the hive and there might be three circles in a row indicating 15 steps. Partner A would represent the bee doing the waggle dance or giving the directions and look at the card to determine what information needs to be conveyed to the Partner B through movement. Partner B would need to remember what they are supposed to do. Allow students to try the waggle dance with different sets of directions.
After students have had a discussion about ways we gather and communicate information and a chance to engage in the different tasks, share the story Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera with them. After you have read the book through, discuss the following questions with the student and ask them to connect it back to the different tasks that they were asked to complete focusing on how information was shared.
In the different tasks, students engaged in a simulation to explore different ways that bees gather information for survival and communicate it to others. Develop a poster of a bee that includes information about how bees use different senses to communicate information. For example, the sense of smell is used when the bees recognize those that belong in the hive and those that don’t. Explain on your poster WHY the different ways bees gather information and communicate it is important to the hive’s overall survival.
Students demonstrate their initial understanding of how humans communicate information and then begin to consider how we gather other information based on our senses. Through simulations, students engage in kinesthetic models where they are asked to use their senses to collect information and complete tasks, Finally, they are asked to connect their experiences to how bees communicate information.
Christine Anne Royce (email@example.com) is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and past president of NSTA.
Biology Literacy Teaching Strategies Elementary
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