Know – Wonder- Learn How to Kick Start a Dinosaur Teaching Topic

Dinosaurs as a term topic for primary school children is a very appealing idea.  Most children are very familiar with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals and they have some knowledge of the subject. Indeed, teachers might find themselves with their very own dinosaur expert in the class as some children obsess on dinosaurs and express a surprising amount of knowledge about them.  Here is a simple idea to help kick start a term topic on dinosaurs, create a K-W-L chart which will help shape the subsequent scheme of work, lesson plans that result and provide a stimulus for extension activities.

K-W-L stands for know, wonder, learn, one of these charts can provide a teaching team with a template for a topic, it works for all kinds of teaching themes but with a subject like dinosaurs, commencing with this activity can help to draw out what the children know, what they think they know and provide a method of checking understanding at the end of the teaching scheme.

Creating a K-W-L chart could not be simpler.  Take a sheet of flip-chart paper and divide it into three columns, write at the top of each column the words “what we know”, “what we wonder” and “what we learned”.  So the flip-chart will have the first column with the title “what we know”, the second column with the title “what we wonder” and the final column entitled “what we learned”.  If you have a smartboard, then of course the free draw facility can be utilised to create an electronic version of a K-W-L chart, but sometimes it is best to use a flip-chart sheet, as this permits the chart to be pinned up on a classroom wall and makes it easy to refer to throughout the teaching topic.

You are then ready to start, get the class together sitting them in a group so that everyone can see the flip-chart paper.  Explain what the term topic or subject for study is going to be.  The very mention of dinosaurs usually causes quite a ripple of excitement amongst the children.  Then explain that the class are going to think about what they know about dinosaurs and this will get written onto the chart that will be produced.  Brainstorm with the children, encouraging them to tell their classmates what knowledge they have of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.  Make sure that all the children have the chance to contribute, one way of doing this is to have a minute of quiet thinking time before the children are asked to participate in the task.

The K-W-L chart helps school children to recall prior knowledge and it will enable them to state facts about prehistoric animals that they are already aware of.  If the class has a teaching assistant, they can act as the scribe allowing the teacher to concentrate on guiding the children and helping them to sort out their statements as well as ensuring the involvement of all the pupils.

Teaching about dinosaurs at primary school level provides the teaching team with lots of potential leads into different aspects of the national curriculum’s teaching remit – maths, creative writing, drama and of course science.  However, there is a need to introduce technical subject specific technical vocabulary.  The K-W-L chart technique gives the teaching team the chance to introduce and explore technical vocabulary with the class at the beginning of a term topic.  When creating such a  chart with an exploration of all things dinosaur some of the technical vocabulary encountered can include words such as “extinct”, “fossil”, “prehistoric” and “palaeontologist”.

Some of the statements made by children as the brainstorming session continues can be turned into questions by the teacher.   Statements may be incorrect, “facts” stated by the children can be turned into questions, these go into the second column, the “what we wonder” column.  This column can often provide a rich and diverse range of questions that can be explored during the term topic.  This permits the children to challenge assumptions and existing understanding in a non-threatening way.  The teaching team can also use the “W” column as a stimulus for thinking up creative experiments and activities that will permit their charges to test their understanding.  As the term topic progresses new questions will emerge and these too can be added to the “W” column of the chart.

An Example of a K-W-L Chart (Term Topic Dinosaurs)

A chart to help kick-start a teaching topic about dinosaurs.

A chart to help kick-start a teaching topic about dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

At the end of the term topic, time should be allocated by the teaching team to complete the third column of the chart, the “what we learned” section of the K-W-L.  The class can be asked to reflect on the first two columns of their chart and to  help the teacher to fill in the final part.  This permits the teacher to check learning, summarise and check understanding.  The children are demonstrating knowledge and shared learning as they complete the K-W-L flip-chart sheet.

There are of course, a number of ways in which this simple method can be varied and customised to fit a particular set of teaching circumstances.  For example, pupils can be encouraged to create their very own K-W-L chart in their topic books, all the class can be split into groups so that a number of charts can be created with each group taking ownership of their chart and the teaching team working with the entire the class to make sure the breadth and depth of the areas stated are covered in the term topic.

To learn about the sorts of activities that Everything Dinosaur’s teaching team offers: Dinosaur Teaching in Schools (UK only)

K-W-L charts are an ideal way of kicking-off a term topic on the subject of dinosaurs.  Children share knowledge and are contributing to the structure of the teaching topic and scheme of work.  For the teaching team, they can quickly assess existing knowledge and use the chart as a guide for extension ideas and activities.  It also has the helpful benefit of allowing the teacher to be informed about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, tapping into that reserve of knowledge that children passionate about all things dinosaur tend to have.

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