That's Monkey Business!

Celebrating National Zoo and Aquarium Month by engaging pupils in an animal research project.

By Dawn Dodson

monkey behind a fence

June is National Zoo and Aquarium Month. During this time, zoos and aquariums across the country are recognized for their programs and efforts regarding conservation and environmental education. Taking advantage of the opportunity to learn about and experience the various exhibits and programs available at these locations is beneficial for pupils of all ages and grade levels. If a field trip is not a possibility, conducting an animal research project can afford students the chance to learn about the variety of animals that zoo and aquariums house, and perhaps become an advocate for conservation.

I like to have my sixth grade language arts classes complete an animal research project that not only includes research and writing standards, but also raises awareness of the education and outreach programs at our local zoo and aquarium. Depending upon your location, you may have only a zoo, or only an aquarium. In my region, the zoo and aquarium are joined.

Introducing the Project

To begin this project, each pupil chooses an animal to research. The animal must reside in our area’s zoo or aquarium. In order to make a wise choice, we browse the official website. Websites are a great resource for motivating pupils, as well as getting them started. Our zoo's website has photographs of the different animals housed in the zoo or in the aquarium. This allows pupils to choose an animal that interests them. The website also has an address to request more information on individual animals.

Writing a Business Letter

The first written requirement is to compose a business letter requesting information about the chosen animal. To accomplish this, we review the components of a business letter. Next, we write a rough draft, which we edit and revise. Once we have a final letter, we mail it to the zoo. In response, each pupil receives a packet of information and pictures about their chosen animal. It’s always an exciting day when the class receives their packets in the mail. In a world of e-mail and other means of communication, pupils are rewarded with an experience that is a bit outside of the everyday norm.

Learning How to Research

In addition to the packet received from the aquarium or zoo, pupils are required to gather research from books and online resources. They must collect information about their animal’s species population, life cycle, and habitat. In addition, students are required to create a map of where the animal lives, its predators, and the impact of the human population it may encounter. Pupils organize their information into a packet of graphic organizers that divides the essay into the required sections. Essay sections include: animal name, traits, location, habitat, human encounters, and species status. By using graphic organizers, pupils can narrow their focus on research and fact collection. The organizers also serve to provide a structure for the first draft. When working on these reports, use the opportunity to review valid sources of information and how to judge the quality of one’s chosen resources. It is also a good time to review citing various sources in a reference page format.

Preparing the Final Essay

After pupils have started drafting, I schedule a series of writing conferences. Each writer meets with me. Together we review their written work. Additionally, I schedule peer editing sessions. Checklists and rubrics are provided in order to guide writers and peer editors through the revising and editing process. Once editing and suggestions have been incorporated, the final essay is turned in.

Presenting to the Class

In addition to the final draft of the essay, students also create a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation that represents their research collection. Their work recognizes National Zoo and Aquarium Month in a positive way that not only reflects the commitment of our local zoos and aquariums’ efforts to educate the community, but also allows pupils to explore, learn, and share their newly acquired knowledge.

More Lesson and Project Ideas:

Documentary-Style Projects

Pupils will learn how to focus on a topic and conduct research. The project is presented through a Power Point presentation. The structure of this resource could transition to any topic.

Idiom Quizzes—Animals

In this series of figurative language interactive online quizzes, animals are the theme.  This is a fun way to thematically review figurative language.

Cold and Warm Blooded Animals

Pupils conduct a research project and presentation based upon a chosen animal. The project includes a variety of research sources, technological tools, as well as writing support. A thorough project structure that can be adapted for other topics.   


Language Arts Guide

Dodson thumb

Dawn Dodson