In this lesson, students will analyze an informational text from the National Science Foundation that discusses how termites in semi-arid ecosystems are preventing the process of desertification in these areas. The article also describes how and why scientific models are being used in this research. This lesson is designed to support reading in the content area. The lesson plan includes a note-taking guide, text-dependent questions, a writing prompt, answer keys, and a writing rubric.
Subject(s): Science, English Language Arts
Grade Level(s): 9, 10
Document Camera, Computer for Presenter, Computers for Students, Internet Connection, LCD Projector
Resource supports reading in content area:Yes
Keywords: semi-arid, desertification, termites, ecosystem, scientific models, climate change, text complexity, informational text
Lesson Plan Template: General Lesson Plan
Learning Objectives: What should students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
- Describe the role of the termite in semi-arid ecosystems.
- Explain how scientists use scientific models to predict future events in nature.
- Explain how new research can change previous ideas or assumptions.
- Cite specific and relevant text evidence to support analysis of the text.
- Determine the meaning of selected academic and domain-specific words in the text.
- Construct a written response that clearly establishes the main point(s), contains relevant textual evidence to support the main point, utilizes transitions to maintain flow, effectively uses domain-specific vocabulary, and provides an appropriate conclusion.
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
For science content:
- Students should have knowledge of the role termites play within ecosystems. The "General Entomology - Termites" sitefrom NC State Universityprovides background on the termite for students who are not familiar with the insect.
- Students should have general familiarity with semi-arid ecosystems, specifically savannas and grasslands, to help their comprehension of the article. There are links to information on these ecosystems in the attached text-dependent questions and in the accommodations section of this lesson plan.
- Students should have an understanding of the purpose of models in science and how scientists use them. This webpage from Science or Not? titled "Science uses models to explain aspects of the real world" provides some reading and background on scientific models, if needed.
In regards to literacy skills:
- Students should have prior experience utilizing various vocabulary strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words in a text, including use of word parts, context clues, and dictionary skills.
- Students should be aware of text features that can help them locate and learn information when reading a text. The text features in the NSF article used in this lesson include: title, subtitle, headings, a photograph and caption.
- Based on the rubric provided with this lesson, students should be able to respond to a writing prompt in a clear, organized manner that includes use of an introduction to establish the main point(s), a body paragraph(s) that support the main point(s) and includes relevant and specific textual evidence, and a conclusion or concluding statement that supports the main point(s).
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
- How are termite mounds slowing the process of desertification in semi-arid ecosystems?
The termite mounds store nutrients and moisture and because of the tunnels found within them, water is able to better penetrate the soil. In areas where termite mounds are located, there is much more vegetation on and near the mounds. Even though the area receives the same amount of rain, the plants living on or near the mounds can survive with a lesser amount. Plants are able to recover more quickly after a drought with the mounds present as well.
- How has this study provided new information for scientists studying the effects of climate change?
Up until this point, scientists looked for vegetation growth and patterns that indicated a specific stage leading towards desertification. They realized the vegetation growth near mounds resembled a stage where desertification would soon occur. Not only is the process of desertification being slowed, the vegetation in the area is surviving and living longer. Scientists recognize the effects of climate change might not be as simple and easy to predict because of the complexity of nature.
- How are models being used by scientists in this article to predict what will occur with the vegetation in the semi-arid ecosystems?
Scientists are using models to predict how vegetation in the semi-arid ecosystems found in Asia, South America, and Africa is being affected by the presence or absence of termite mounds. These models are being used to specifically determine how termite mounds affect plant growth. They are able to explore a wide range of environmental conditions in great detail without any type of constraints. The detail they are able to attain would not be possible in actual field conditions.
Teaching Phase: How will the teacher present the concept or skill to students?
- Begin the lesson by showing the following picture of termites from the NozzleNolen website to students. Ask if they can identify the organism. Some students might say they are ants, but many will know they are termites.
- Next ask students what they know about termites. Most students are familiar with the termites that cause damages to homes or other wooden structures and some might know they are food sources to a variety of animals.
- Describe some general characteristics of termites to the students, such as they are extremely successful and are found in most land areas except Antarctica. They do not like cold weather so they are found in warmer or hot climates. They live in colonies and have a caste system. If the teacher would like to provide more information, the Daily Organism blog entry about termites from a zookeeper can help.
- Show students this image of a termite mound in an African savanna from the Ask the Exterminator website. Discuss the general characteristics of savannas, grasslands, and drylands and let students know these ecosystems are considered to be semi-arid but are prone to desertification. Ask students to describe what they see around the termite mound. Students should note there is a reasonable amount of vegetation.
- Finally, explain that they will be reading an article where scientists have been studying the effects these huge termite mounds have on the plant growth in savannas, grasslands, and other dryland ecosystems. The presence of termite mounds seems to be slowing down the process of desertification.
Guided Practice: What activities or exercises will the students complete with teacher guidance?
- Pass out to each student a copy of the article "Dirt Mounds Made by Termites in Africa, South America, Asia Could Prevent the Spread of Deserts" from the National Science Foundation. The article could also be made available to students electronically.
- For discussion purposes, the teacher may want to have students number each paragraph of the article. If using an electronic copy of the article, students can use a PDF mark-up tool (several tools are available as free downloads).
- Provide each student with a note-taking guide. Have students complete this guide during or after their first reading of the article. Make sure to provide print or online dictionaries for students to use for the vocabulary section.
- Note: Based on the needs and skills of the students, teachers can decrease the number of academic or domain-specific vocabulary students will define on the note-taking guide.
- For academic vocabulary, students will likely be able to use a variety of vocabulary strategies to define the meaning of the words. For domain-specific (in other words, subject-specific) vocabulary, students will typically need to draw on prior knowledge, use context clues, and use a dictionary to define the words.
- Students can work individually, in pairs, or with a small group.
How will you check for student understanding? (Formative Assessment):
- Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' completed note-taking guide, checking their work, providing written feedback, and possibly a grade. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
- For discussion on students' answers to the defined vocabulary words, teachers are encouraged to not only ask students to explain the meaning they determined for a word, but the strategy they used to arrive at that meaning. This will allow the teacher to give alternative suggestions on ways the student could have arrived at the correct meaning of the word.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond:
- The term biome and ecosystem are often used interchangeably but they do not mean the same thing. The following National Geographic encyclopedic entry on "biome" does a good job of explaining the differences.
- There are approximately 3,100 species of termites, but this study focused specifically on the Odontotermes species, which are known as fungus-growing termites. It is assumed these results could apply to any of the termites that increase resources near their mounds.
- Students often believe termites and ants are closely related. In fact, they are found in two different Orders. Termites are classified as Isoptera and ants are classified as Hymenoptera.
Independent Practice: What activities or exercises will students complete to reinforce the concepts and skills developed in the lesson?
Provide each student with a copy of the attached text-dependent questions to complete. Students should be reminded to continually refer back to the text and to use relevant and specific evidence from the text to support their answers.
Formative assessment can come in the form of the following:
- Teachers can check students' understanding by collecting students' answers to the text-dependent questions, checking their work, providing written feedback, and maybe grading the assignment. Or, teachers can have students share out their responses and the teacher can provide verbal corrective feedback, allowing students to make corrections to their work during the discussion.
Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond: Please see the answer key for the text-dependent questions.
Closure: How will the teacher assist students in organizing the knowledge gained in the lesson?
- Before students complete the writing assignment for the summative assessment, review the responses to the text-dependent questions completed earlier by the students. Make sure the misconceptions are corrected and the key points (as found in the sample answer key) are discussed.
- After students' written responses have been graded and returned with feedback, teachers might wish to use the provided sample response with the class. Students who are struggling writers can benefit greatly from seeing a well-organized, detailed written response. The teacher could show the sample response on an overhead or withanLCD projector and discuss some of the following (Note: the sample response is written in the form of an extended/long answer response, not as a formal essay response):
- Have students identify what textual evidence addresses the first part of the prompt (explain the importance of termites and termite mounds on semi-arid ecosystems).
- Have students identify what textual evidence addresses the second part of the prompt (explain why this study has important implications regarding climate change).
- Ask students to identify effective use of domain-specific vocabulary (e.g., climate change, ecosystem, semi-arid, savanna, grassland, dryland, nutrients, drought, vegetation, desertification).
- Ask students to identify effective use of academic vocabulary (e.g., vulnerable, penetrate, rebound, onset, persevering).
- To close out the lesson: Have students draw three pictures illustrating science concepts found within the article they read. Provide approximately 5-10 minutes to complete the assignment. Have students turn them in after they have finished.
- Students will individually respond to the writing prompt. If using the attached rubric to assess their writing, they should be directed to respond with a multi-paragraph response, with a clear introduction, body section, and conclusion or concluding statement. They can refer back to the text as they construct their response.
- Provide students with a copy of the rubric and go over the rubric with them so they will know how their written response will be assessed.
- Go over the writing prompt with students and make sure students understand what the prompt is asking them to address.
The prompt: Using evidence from the text, explain the importance of the termites and termite mounds on semi-arid ecosystems and explain why this study has important implications regarding climate change.
- Teachers will use the rubric to assess students' written responses.
Specific suggestions for conducting the Formative Assessment can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson.
Feedback to Students
Specific suggestions for providing Feedback to Students can be found in the Guided Practice and Independent Practice phases of the lesson where it says, "Common errors/misconceptions to anticipate and how to respond."
Accommodations & Recommendations
The text's grade band recommendation reflects the shifts inherent in the Florida Standards and is based on a text complexity analysis of a quantitative measure, qualitative rubric, and reader and task considerations.
Source and Access Information
Name of Author/Source: Ellen Muse
District/Organization of Contributor(s): Brevard
Access Privileges: Public
* Please note that examples of resources are not intended as complete curriculum.