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Bills and Gills Field Journal and Nonfiction Narrative

School: Sierra Expeditionary Learning School

City/State: Truckee, CA

Grade(s): 4, 5

Format(s): Field guide: Natural science

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Science and Technology, Visual Arts

Project Overview

Students in the 4th and 5th grade Crews at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee, California studied bird and fish species of the Sierra Nevada and created field journal entries as well as a non-fiction narrative to accompany it.  Students followed a performance task in which they observed, researched, and drafted a field journal excerpt to contribute to a Crew Field Journal.

After multiple drafts, peer review protocols, meeting with expert Naturalist Artists and drafting the final, students completed a non-fiction narrative that focused on a moment in time in their species' life.

We Asked the Teacher

1. What was compelling for your students about this?

Students enjoyed researching various local species and their behavior. After assimilating their research, students determined, based on their behavioral research, what that species would be doing at a given point in time. Behavior was not only depicted in the field guide drawing, but also in their non-fiction narrative. In their writing, students spent a fair amount of time crafting paragraphs that show sensory detail in the setting, as well as incorporate details of their research throughout the piece.

2. What were the challenges?

Students were challenged in the multiple drafts of not only their field journal drawings but also their writing. After multiple peer reviews of each, students were able to clearly articulate which areas needed attention, and then correct these areas for their final exemplars.

3. What makes this particular piece a model for other students?

The detail and craftsmanship of the field journal drawings show the attention to detail students included. Partnering with the field journal drawings are the non-fiction narratives, in which students wrote about a moment in time for their local species.

4. What would be your advice to a teacher that is inspired by this project?

Find a strong collection of local subspecies, and narrow down the groups of species to two. Having chosen local birds and fish, we could launch our project easily and learn about Bills and Gills without feeling overwhelmed by too many species. Once we learned about the general physical and behavioral characteristics of each species, we delved deeper into the assigned subspecies of each bird and fish category. Begin your nonfiction narrative with a language dive on the setting of their piece. Structure and scaffold the drafting of the first paragraph to include a heavy focus on setting, and thereafter structure the body and closing paragraphs to follow a specific plot with a small moment. For the field journal drawing, structure multiple peer reviews around not only the body position of the species but also the matching of body color and artistic detail of the background.


How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Shows a creative use of vocabulary in the writing
  • Vivid images are compelling models
  • Illustrates a strong connection between academics and the environment

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can write narrative text about real or imagined experiences or events.
  • I can write narrative texts about real or imagined experiences using descriptive details and clearly sequenced events.
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