This lesson is designed to help students discover what animals do to survive in the winter.
Begin class with a discussion of changes that occur as the summer turns into fall and the fall turns into winter. Trees become barren (no leaves, food, shelter), the earth becomes cold and hard, the temperature drops, etc.
Ask students to talk about ways that they stay warm and fed in the winter. Does much change about their lives? What changes? What stays the same? Now discuss with students what animals do in the winter to stay alive (migrate, adapt, hibernate, or become dormant). Insects and reptiles become dormant; birds, fish and some insects migrate; rabbits, squirrels, deer, beavers, mice adapt; bears, skunks, chipmunks, and some bats hibernate.
Discuss how getting food is the biggest challenge to animals in the winter. Divide the class into groups and assign each group a different topic: hibernation, becoming dormant, adaptation, or migration. Have each group research which animals migrate, hibernate, become dormant or adapt. What does each mean? Give examples and how it helps.
Ask the groups to share what they have learned with the class. Brainstorm with the class ways to help animals survive in the winter.
Bird feeders are a great way to not only help but to observe birds too. As a class, set up a bird feeder by a window in your classroom. There are many options for creating this bird feeder: Purchase a wooden one, use milk cartons, sprinkle feed on ground (this approach may draw squirrels, too), pine cones with lard and feed, and so on. Decide on the bird feeders to create and do so. If students want to create more at home and bring them back to school, allow this as well.
Observe which birds are around and theorize which ones migrate. Why do some stay and some migrate?
Read a story about animals in the winter.Suggested titles: Every Autumn Comes the Bear (Arnosky, Jim), The Mitten (Brett, Jan), Red Fox Running (Bunting, Eve), or Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy (DePaola, Tomie).
There are many extensions to this lesson plan. Have students begin a journal about observing the birds that come to the feeders. Record numbers, types, activity and how it changes with the weather.