Preparing for Winter: Where Are the Animals?

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hibernate1As winter approaches, your students may notice that they see fewer and fewer animals and the animals they see may behave or look different than they did in the fall. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss how animals, and human beings, adapt to their environment in order to ensure their survival.

In this lesson, students will research several different types of animals and compare the ways in which different animals prepare for winter. They will learn about hibernation, migration, and adaptation. Then students will form small groups to choose an animal to research and write a creative story about their animal in the winter. Will they “sleep tight” - or not?

The World around Us - Adapting to Winterhibernate3

Begin this lesson with a class discussion. Ask your students if they have done anything special to prepare for the cold weather this winter. Will they wear the same clothing that they wore when it was warm? What about shoes? Will anyone in your class be wearing different kinds of shoes than they did last summer? If it gets very cold, are they more likely to spend time inside or outside? If your students could go anywhere in the world when it gets very, very cold, where would it be? Would they like to be on a warm beach somewhere?

What about the animals? Do your students see more animals around their neighborhoods in the winter or in the summertime? Where do your students think the animals are? Do the animals they see in the winter look different at all? What about their coats? Are they thicker? Explain that today you will be discussing how animals prepare for winter in order to survive, and at the end of this lesson, they will get a chance to choose an animal and write its winter story. Using a computer with an attached projection device, take your class to Kiz Club’s Winter Animals to watch and hear an animated story about what animals do to prepare for winter. Follow up with this video clip, Hibernating Animals from TIME. Next watch this video about Hibernating Bears from Animal Planet.

hibernate4Migration, Adaptation and Hibernation

After the story, take your class to find more information at Science Made Simple’s How Do Animals Spend the Winter? Ask for student volunteers to help with the reading, (there is also an ‘I can read’ section with simpler text, and a more advanced ‘Learn More About’ section), then discuss the things animals do to prepare for winter: migrate, adapt, or hibernate. Begin a mind map on the classroom board. Draw a circle and write ‘How Animals Spend the Winter’ in the center. Draw three lines coming out from the circle, and ask your class to help you fill in the mind map with the three categories, migrate, adapt, and hibernate. For more advanced students, you may also wish to have a category for ‘other’ for animals who do not actually hibernate, but who have similar behaviors. Next, under each of the three categories, ask students to brainstorm from what they have read and fill in more information, for example the types of animals that engage in each behavior and how they adapt (i.e. birds fly south). Allow your student to add information from their own observations that is not in the text, for example, they may have noticed that dogs grow thicker coats in the winter. If your class is very advanced, you may also wish to visit Thinkquest’s The Deep Sleep to learn about hibernation, torpor, estivation and diapause.hibernate5

Write an Animal’s Winter Story

Help your students increase their knowledge and prepare for their project by visiting Earth Rangers' Top Ten Coolest Hibernating Animals. Find out how different animals handle colder weather. Make sure to read the descriptions and look at the photos for each animal. Enlist student help in adding these animals to your mind map.

Are your students feeling like winter experts now? Have students break up into small groups of 3 or 4 for this project. Explain that you would like for each group to do some computer research, and then choose an animal to write a story about. Each group will be writing and illustrating the ‘winter story’ of their animal. Provide construction paper, markers, and map pencils for this activity. Have students take several sheets of construction paper, fold it in half, and staple on the fold to make a book. Each group should research an animal, draw an illustration of the animal on the cover and write down the basic facts about what the animal does in winter on the inside cover. Then the group should collaborate to write a story from the animal’s perspective about the weather getting colder and what the animal will do to prepare, or what the animal will do during the cold weather. All students can participate in this activity, and your ESL and special needs students may especially enjoy illustrating the story and helping their group come up with a story line or title.

hibernate2Some appropriate sites for student research include: Environmental Education for Kids:

Hibernation is an excellent collection of photos and resources from the BBC. Eek! Snug in the Snow (information about squirrels, bears, snakes, turtles, frogs and other animals); Enchanted Learning’s Hibernating Animal Printouts (print-out illustrations and facts about hibernating animals, with links to more in-depth information); and List of Animals that Hibernate from PawNation. Encourage creativity in story writing. If groups are having trouble coming up with a story, try this game to warm up: each student thinks of one sentence of the story, and the next person has to come up with the next line. Keep going around the group with each student giving only one sentence at a time. After several rounds, students should choose the parts of the story that the group likes best to include in their book.

Conclude this lesson by allowing each group to share its story and add the new information to your class mind map. Then allow each student to share one fact that they learned about animals in winter that they did not know before. Remind students to stay warm this winter!


Content Standard C
Life Science Grades K-4: the characteristics of organisms:  behavior of organisms is influenced by internal and external cues.

§112.6. Science, Grade 4
(8.B) The student knows that adaptations may increase the survival of members of a  species. The student is expected to: compare adaptive characteristics of various species.



Kiz Club - Story time: Winter Animals

Science Made Simple - How Do Animals Spend The Winter?

Thinkquest - The Deep Sleep

Environmental Education for Kids - Eek! Snug in the Snow

Enchanted Learning - Hibernating Animal Printouts

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