Thursday, October 23, 2008

Intro to Hibernation

After my little hiatus from blogging, it seems apt that I have a post on hibernation ;-)


hibernation by Life As Art

The Lesson

I was starting a small unit on hibernation for my mixed grade (4 - 7) science class and came up with a modified 'concept attainment' lesson to introduce the topic. Here's how it worked.

I gave students a list of animals in alphabetical order. I then told them I was going to be placing them in 3 groups labeled A, B and C. Their job (with a partner) was to figure out why I grouped them the way I did. I told them that it might be difficult because they may not know very much about some of the animals that I listed, but that was ok.

I started introducing each of the animals, in alphabetical order, by showing them a photo of the animal and then showing them which group I placed it in. After each of the groups had one or two animals in them I asked the students to discuss with their partner why I was grouping them the way I did. I did not get them to share their ideas with the entire group at this point (even though some of them really wanted to!) I showed them a few more animals and where I grouped them. Again they were asked to share their ideas with their partner. They were also asked to share their ideas with the group next to them. I continued showing them animals, but I would ask them to predict which group I was going to put it in. As the group got a clearer and clearer idea of how the animals were grouped their predictions improved and loud cheers would go up when their predictions were proved correct. Once we made it through all of the animals I asked different students to explain why the group A animals were together, then why the group B etc. By the mid-point of this activity all of the students were completely engaged, and by the end I felt that the class as a whole had a basic understanding of 3 of the main ways that animals cope with winter (hibernation, migration, and adaptations such as thicker white coats of fur, broad feet to move through snow etc.)

The Slide Show

The slide show I used for this activity is embedded below. Please note that I included bears with the hibernator group, but many people do not consider them to be true hibernators. All of the photos I used were under Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives licenses. Group A are the animals that do not hibernate or migrate, but adapt to the cold weather. Group B animals migrate to warmer climates during the winter. Group C animals hibernate.


I have done concept attainment lessons before, especially as an introduction to a new concept. I've found it particularly effective in Biology 12 when introducing biomolecules; one group would have molecular structures of amino acids/polypeptides and the other group would have molecular structures of the other biomolecules we would eventually learn about; carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids. It focussed the students on the key structural characteristics of amino acids. I have also used it in Biology 11 when introducing gymnosperms.

This particular lesson on hibernation was for a mixed grade (4 - 7) science class. In all cases, most of the students enjoyed figuring out the puzzle and the focus was on sharing their thinking/hypotheses with a partner and constantly reassessing. It can sometimes be challenging to structure the activity in such a way that students don't come up with the answer right off the bat. With this hibernation lesson, I suspected that many students would know that we would be working on hibernation, so that is why I used 3 groups instead of just hibernators and non-hibernators. I am happy that I did because it got the students looking, at least in a basic level, at the different ways that animals cope with winter.

Take It Please!

Please feel free to use this lesson (or pass it along to a colleague), and modify as needed. If you would like me to send you the original Google Doc file or a Power Point version, just let me know in the comments. Better yet, if you know how I can post the file here for you to download I'd really like to find out. Please keep in mind that the photos are all CC attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives. Any feedback you have about the lesson is also appreciated. If you use it would be neat to hear how it worked out for you.


  1. What a great idea! I love the slideshow and this is a great example of inquiry as well! I am definitely going to borrow this for the biomolecules idea that you have - it would be a great way for them to find the related functional groups between these molecules and get them thinking! I am focusing on more inquiry type activities this year.

    What are you planning to have students do with this information? Just curious as it seems there would be so much possibilities!

    Very nice. Isn't a hiatus great for rethinking through material?

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  2. @Louise, I thought you might like the biomolecules idea! The key is that once most of the students are pretty sure of their hypothesis, you present them with 'testers' and they decide to which group the testers belong. As you say, it helps them to really become familiar with the functional groups. They also become more comfortable with the molecular structure diagrams, which can be a bit overwhelming at first.

    You asked what I'm having the students do with the information from my hibernation activity. After doing the activity, we did a Know-Wonder-Learn. I'm using the 'Wonder' portion to determine what information the students need to better understand hibernation. I just get the students once per week for 45 minutes, so we won't be able to do too much more with this. It was a good way to get at the students' prior knowledge. They are a very chatty and knowledgeable group, and this was a good way to get them talking to each other about what they know, as opposed to having them all want to tell the whole class all that they know ;-)

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