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Endangered Species: Poetry and Portraits

School: Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning

City/State: Perry, UT

Grade(s): 3, 4

Format(s): Poem, Visual & Narrative Arts

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

Project Overview

Third and fourth-grade students studied the endangered species of Utah during an expedition called "Save Our Species." The students created an illustrated anthology of poetry to educate others about the endangered species of their region.

Students selected an endangered species to research. They wrote poetry and created art that depicted habitats, physical characteristics, and/or adaptations of their endangered species. Students' artwork and poetry were combined to create a class-authored book that was donated to the school library.


We Asked The Teacher:

What was compelling for your students about this?

Since children love animals, this expedition was naturally compelling. As our expedition started, students were hooked by the story of an extinct animal. Our students developed a sense of empathy towards this animal. When students learned there were other animals on the brink of extinction today, and in our very own state, they were naturally motivated to discover more about those animals.  Students self-selected endangered or threatened animals in Utah and the research frenzy commenced. Our students were passionate about becoming advocates for their endangered animal and wanted to share that information with others.

What were the challenges?

Writing one piece of poetry is easy, but writing multiple poems about the same animal without repeating yourself is hard. Keeping a list or a journal of descriptive words and important domain-specific vocabulary helped students use different words in their poetry. Students had to embrace a culture of revision as they attempted multiple drafts in the drawing process so animals and habitats were represented in a realistic way. Consider ahead of time how your books will be reproduced and bound so students have an understanding of orientation, margins, and what will copy or scan well.

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

Teachers should immerse students in poetry written by well-known poets in varying formats. Teachers should explore powerful vocabulary with their students.  Poetry should be read, recited, memorized and celebrated throughout your expedition. Start by having students write poems that follow a format: found poetry, haiku, diamante, cinquain, etc.  Teachers might scaffold poetry writing by having students focus on one topic per poem (habitat, physical characteristics, adaptations, etc) before moving on to more descriptive poetry. Students should also have access to photographs of their chosen animals. Our students practiced drawing different animals multiple times.  When it came time to draw their own animal, students were confident in their skills to complete their drawings.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Excellent model of a project that could be replicated in any grade-level classroom
  • Shows a specific and local focus which brings authenticity to the work
  • Thoughtful example of how empathy is taught along with academics

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