Studying animals is such a naturally interesting topic for children that teachers hardly need to motivate them. They gravitate toward animal books in the library and at home. Although adults might not notice it, by their own observations and discoveries children are subconsciously drawing knowledge from their interactions and experiences with animals they are exposed to. So, why not take this interest and structure it for formal learning? Children studying animals will need guidance to lead them toward scientific conclusions.
In this lesson, students will make observations about animals and conclude whether they are nocturnal – awake at night and sleep during the day, or diurnal – awake during the day and sleep at night. Use people as an example.
Before beginning the lesson, introduce this concept to younger students with a book that demonstrates animals and their sleep habits such as Sweet Dreams/Dulces Sueños by Pat Mora. The book talks about bedtime for a family but also shows animals sleeping during the night. This will present the concept of being diurnal – sleeping at night and being awake in the daytime. This should also bring up discussion questions such as why certain animals need to be awake during the day. This will most likely be related to their food source and how the animal gets its food. Does it eat plants? Does it need to be sneaky to hunt for food?
This will lead to more discussion such as what adaptations an animal has to get its food such as camouflage for diurnal animals or night vision for nocturnal animals. Lesson plans on nocturnal animals should give students the opportunity to point out adaptations that nocturnal animals have, which will lead them to draw conclusions as to which animals might be nocturnal, such as having senses other than sight that are their most powerful.
- Now you can discuss what animals come out at night. Ask students what animal noises they hear at night to start with. Then you could discuss their adaptations and eating habits.
- Create a chart to show what characteristics the different types of animals have in common so that the students can use these clues to draw conclusions about the sleeping habits of animals they are unsure of.
- Distribute a non-fiction book about an animal to each student. Have them open it and use clues, as well as the clues from the chart to determine if their animal is nocturnal or diurnal and then place it in the correctly labeled container. Review the students’ choices as a class.
- Use these books to begin composing a list of nocturnal versus diurnal animals and have students describe what daily life would be like for each.
As an extension, students could draw or write about their favorite animal, and then create a class graph showing whether or not the students preferred nocturnal or diurnal animals.