Our School’s a Zoo: Animal Research Reports in First Grade


Confession: I’ve spent the last 10 years depriving my students.  I had no idea I was doing it, but I was holding them back.

This year, I decided to dive head first into research with my first graders.  And it was AMAZING!!  All those years I thought research was “too much” for my first graders…just sitting here shaking my head at my crazy self.

So, today I’m sharing my animal research unit with you so you don’t make the same mistake I did and think research is just too much for the primary classroom.

Here’s the overall advice: be deliberate.  Model and check in as your kiddos work and you will be amazed by what they can do!

We started our animal research with an author study of Melvin Berger.  He has TONS of non-fiction books written at a variety of levels for young readers.

Melvin Berger Books

Our next step was to talk about places that we find non-fiction information about animals.  The kiddos came up with a good list including signs at the zoo and non-fiction books.

We decided that we would make a classroom zoo.  Each kiddo picked three animals they wanted to research and then I organized the lists and made sure each student had their own animal to learn about.  I did pair up my special education students with another student who picked the same animal so that they could have some added support through the process.

First, I wanted to know what they thought they knew about their animals.  This gave us a good starting point and a chance to address misconceptions.

Everything I know about

Now for the research!

On day 1 we started by just practicing how to open a search engine and begin a search.  Mrs. B’s First Grade has these awesome Safe Search QR codes that were perfect to help my class get started!  They’re free in her store and you can see them here.  I modeled this and gave my class a list of search terms that might be helpful.

Search Terms

For the next week, I started each day with a mini lesson in which I searched for and documented information about my animal – penguins – in my research book.  This helped keep my students on track with exactly what I wanted them to be finding out and how I was successfully finding the information.

my animal research book

safe search qr codes

Then during literacy centers, my students spent time researching and recording their information.  Most of my class were able to do this independently with very little support after I modeled the process.  For my more struggling learners, we used Epic Books and videos via credible sources (San Diego Zoo, National Geographic, etc.).  Once I showed them how to find “Read to Me” books on Epic, they did an awesome job!

animal research on epic

animal research

Animal research on ipods

animal research on ipads

research books

I know what you’re thinking: What about that one kid?  Who doesn’t want to?  or “Can’t”?  I promise you, I HAD those kids!  Honestly, in my class this year I had several.  And you know what?  They were doing research AT HOME!  They were coming in to school jumping up and down to share with me what they had learned when they “went to Kid Rex on my mom’s phone and did you know…”

Once we had collected our facts, we got to the fun part!  Since my class had decided to present their information at a zoo, we started making signs.  I showed the kiddos a bunch of zoo exhibits (thanks, Google Image Search) and then made my own penguin sign before setting the kiddos to work on theirs.

After the kiddos made their zoo signs to share some facts about their animals, we need to make habitats.  I gave them big sheets of bulletin board paper and they drew and crafted their animals’ habitat.  It was one of those amazing moments when my room looked like pure chaos, but everyone was working SO HARD!

busy classroom

There was some awesome teamwork on this elephant habitat…yes, they’re using three markers each.


And their hands were a huge mess…

messy hands

But the sky was VERY blue for those elephants!

And the BEST PART!

We invited the whole school and the families from our classroom to come visit our zoo! I also had my kids bring white shirts, which I dyed and made into Zookeeper uniforms for them.

zookeeper shirts

The kiddos brought stuffed animals to put in their habitats – they worked together and brought animals for their friends, so we managed to get all their animals, except for the okopi, which we had to make ourselves with paint and Sharpie!  I mean, most okopi don’t have purple hair, or a shiny saddle, but we used some imagination!


At the zoo the Zookeepers gave “Keeper Talks” and answered visitor questions to share what they had learned.

zoo displaypolar bear exhibitzoo exhibitzoo visitors

That’s my dad!  My parents came to the zoo and my kiddos loved talking to them and telling them all about their animals.  And my parents were super impressed with how much the kiddos had learned!

zookeeper talksnake exhibit

I wish you could see his whole face – that snake is going to eat him!! 😉

lion keeper

cheetah exhibit

I have never seen students’ more proud than they were while they presented at our zoo!  It was a completely amazing experience!


You can see my animal unit on Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking here.

Animal Research Project for the primary classroom

How do you research with your class? Tell me in the comments!

Happy researching!


This entry was posted in animals, Classroom, science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Our School’s a Zoo: Animal Research Reports in First Grade

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This is a great project! Love it! I love the way their imagination ran wild! I have to do this with my kiddies! Lots of great ideas! I really like the shirts, it gave it a personalized touch! Thank you for sharing!


  2. Mindi Shelow says:

    I’ve been doing research with first grade for 15+ years. I’d say 90% of it is from books with a little internet. I have exactly 2 computers and 1 mini iPad so tech isn’t a big help. But the one thing that always is fun is that the kids get SO excited about what they learn. They run up to me all the time telling me facts and they love when I tell them they taught me something new. My guys read several books (or parts of books) and have blank pages with categories-Body and Behavior, Food and Hunting, Enemies and Danger, Homes and Habitat, and Interesting facts. They write facts on post-its in their own words, and put them in the categories. Then they write their report. Next year I’m going to use your idea of displaying, and zookeepers and inviting parents and letting the kids show off what they learned. An idea for you that I did was we turned our research into a hardcover book. Student Treasures will publish a free hardcover book for your class- they send you all the materials to write and draw, (I edit so all words are correct, but that’s my personal preference- I don’t do it for reports, just the published book- each child had a page) or you can do it online. The only thing they want is for every parent to sign a paper which lets them buy a book for $19.95 OR say “No.” It doesn’t matter if no one buys it, just has to have 100% parent signatures. You can do a class book on anything- research, fiction, poetry… Look it up. Parents and kids love being published and seeing their name, writing and drawing in a hardcover book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s