Daunting Defenses – Activities

FOCUS:  Plants and animals have traits that help them avoid being eaten. Defenses like sharp spines, noxious odors, hard shells, and poisons are common in both plant and animal worlds. These last lines of defense help animals to fend off attackers at close quarters. Defensive adaptations help plants protect essential parts needed to produce and ripen seeds for the next generation.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about defenses.

Give small groups of children a variety of items that are examples of natural defenses, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.

Materials: Defenses Set: examples of thorny stems, prickly shells, stinging insects, hard shelled nuts, quills, sharp antlers, etc.; Photos of Plant and Animal Defenses, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To use observations to describe patterns of similarities in plant and animal defenses.

Ahead of time, mount each Defense Puzzle on a different colored backing. Place at least two different puzzles at each station. Have the children work in small groups with an adult, each group starting at a different station. Now hand out a puzzle piece to each child and have them find the other pieces that complete their puzzles.

Once the puzzles are put together, have children look at them and describe the defense shared by the organisms on each puzzle, recording their thoughts. Have the children visit each station so that every group gets a chance to do every puzzle. Afterward, as a whole group, share ideas about the common defense in each puzzle.

Materials: Defense Puzzles, clipboards, paper, pencils; optional: white basins.

Objective: To use observations to compare real-life examples of plant and animal defensive adaptations.

Place the items in the Defenses Set at three stations, displaying them on paper plates or in white basins so they are easy to see. Have the children visit each station so they can examine and handle the objects. Ask them to describe the defensive strategy of each item, and where possible match them with the appropriate puzzle from the previous activity. (Some puzzles depict defensive behaviors and don’t match any of the items in the sets.)

Materials: paper plates or white basins, Defenses Set: examples of thorny stems, prickly shells, stinging insects, hard shelled nuts, quills, sharp antlers, etc.; optional: a few fresh samples such as a cherry twig to smell, furry mullein leaves to feel, etc.

Objective: To record observations and compose descriptive poems about defenses.

Place small paper bags near four or five of the objects from the Defenses Sets in the previous activity, along with strips of paper and pencils. For each object, have students write down a word or phrase that describes it and then put the slip in the appropriate paper bag, rotating through all stations so they contribute a word or words for every item. Now assign children to teams and give each team one of the bags. The children must use the descriptions from the bag to create a poem, song, or chant. They may add other words as well.

Place the objects for all to see. Have each team present its poem and have other children guess which object it describes. You may want to add one additional item, so the last poem isn’t a giveaway.

Materials: Defenses Set: examples of thorny stems, prickly shells, stinging insects, hard shelled nuts, quills, sharp antlers, etc.; paper strips, pencils, four to five small paper bags (with rocks for weight if windy), clipboards and paper for composing poems.

Objective: To look for evidence and make a graphical display of plant and animal defenses outside.

Begin by asking the children to help you list different defensive adaptations (i.e. hard shell, prickles, slimy, etc.) that they’ve seen or talked about in the workshop. Write these on a whiteboard or chart paper. Have children work with a partner to choose three defensive strategies that they might find (eg. prickly, armored, hard). Give each team a paper plate and have them draw lines to divide it into four sections. Label each quarter with one of their chosen defenses and label the fourth quarter “other.” Explain the rules:

Collect only thumbnail-sized samples of each strategy.

Tape or glue each sample to the plate, trying to find at least one in each category.

Do not collect any live animals. Draw a sketch or write about it instead.

Afterward, gather the children into a circle and have each team present its findings. What were the most common defenses found on the search? What questions do the children have about plant and animal defenses from their observations? Discuss whether any of these could be answered by an investigation.

Materials: paper plates, one per two or three children; clear tape or glue, safety scissors, pencils.

Objective: To model various plant and animal defenses in short skits.

Give each child or group of children a Scare-Away Skit card showing a plant or animal and its defense. For younger children, practice skits in small groups with a leader. Have the child or team perform a short pantomime to illustrate the defense. Skits could portray a person trying to eat a walnut, trying to land a slippery fish, meeting up with a skunk, stepping on a hornets nest, picking a rose, walking through stinging nettle, slicing onions. Other skits might include a dog meeting a porcupine, turtle, cat, or opossum. After each skit, have children guess what was happening and the defensive adaptation depicted.

Materials: Scare-Away Skit cards.

PUPPET SHOW “The Rascally Bandit Strikes Again”
Objective: To learn about physical adaptations that help animals and plants avoid being eaten.

Perform the puppet show or have the children perform it for their classmates. Afterward ask questions to review key details and vocabulary. Hold up each puppet and have the children name its defense (porcupine – quills, turtle – hard shell, red eft – poison skin, worm – slimy and wiggly, raspberry – thorns, raccoon – camouflage). Why does the raspberry have thorns on its stems? (It needs to deter grazing animals so that it can produce its fruit and seeds.) Why does the raspberry want the raccoon to eat its seeds? (Animals help disperse the seeds of some plants in their droppings.)

Materials: puppets, script, props, stage.

JOURNAL ACTIVITY – “Fearless Fellows”
Objective: To design an imaginary plant or animal with special adaptations for defense.

Have children make up an imaginary creature with special adaptations to defend itself from being eaten. Where does it live? What does it eat? What likes to eat it? Ask them to draw and write about it in their journals. Afterward, in small groups, have children show their Fearless Fellows and explain how they defend themselves. Optional: compare with their Perfect Predators from the PREDATORS AND PREY unit.

Materials: journals or clipboards and paper, pencils, colored pencils or crayons; optional: Perfect Predators saved from the PREDATORS AND PREY unit.

UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Poisonous Plants (Grades 5-6)
Objective:  To learn about and practice identifying some common local plants that are harmful or toxic.

Have students work in small groups and give each team three or four unlabeled photographs of common poisonous plants. In addition, provide a separate set of name labels for each photograph. Have students study the Poisonous Plants of New England guide to identify each of the plants in the photos and learn about its defense, placing the name labels on each photo as they do so. Ask students to try to find one visible characteristic that will help them to remember each plant. Now give each student a turn to shuffle and label the plant cards. If time permits, you may wish to have students rotate through all three stations to learn twelve plants in all. Which plants are irritating to people’s skin? Which are poisonous when eaten? What characteristic could we use to remember each plant?

Materials: Common Poisonous Plants of New England, Poisonous Plant Photos, Plant Labels.

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