Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing. Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey. Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.
It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze. I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor texts and drew up the assignment. Using resources like Conserve Wildlife NJ and the NJ Fish & Game site, the groups of students each chose three species to focus on. They studied our field guide mentor texts and figured out what their pages would look like.
I wasn’t sure how this would turn out but I am so glad I did it anyway. The kids blew me away with their research and designs! There are a few changes I would make for next year but I definitely plan to do it again. It was a really fun way to bring science into my English class while helping students learn about the local environment. The assignment helped them practice their research skills, concise writing, and photo licensing. Definitely a lot of fun while killing a bunch of birds with one stone.
If you are interested in trying this with your students you can check out my assignment sheet. You could focus on your town, county, state, or region. You could even encourage students to choose animals that they see in their own neighborhoods.