Bird Show: An Extended Metaphor for Integrated Science and Literacy Learning

This weekend I received a shipment of advanced proofs from Peachtree Publishing, and I was immediately drawn to the simple, yet elegant design of this picture book. The book features the stunning plumage of a variety magnificent birds from around the world. My 3yo loved looking at the pictures, and the easy-to-follow flow of the book kept his interest as we turned each page. This book would make an excellent addition to any preschool program.

Image from Peachtree Publishing

Clearly this work is a winner for preschool children, but what pleasantly surprised me about this book was the opportunity for integrative learning in elementary classrooms as well. Upon further inspection, I realized Bird Show provides for an opportunity for budding naturalists to explore nature by comparing the features of a variety of birds while also building literacy skills in figurative language, not to mention the opportunities for little artists to experiment with a variety of colors in creating their own masterpieces while observing the world around them.

In Bird Show, writer and illustrator Susan Stockdale provides an extended metaphor as she compares the features of birds to various items of clothing, collectively a fashion show on full display everyday. Listen here as she explains her inspiration for this book and gives more insight into her creative process.

Given the cold weather, I’ve been thinking about how birds are one form of wildlife in which future scientists can view in almost any location–from urban to rural environments. By observing birds, young learners may want to ask the following question during cold seasons like we are experiencing right now: How do birds survive the winter? By simply relating to a common season, teachers and parents can build important background information–often referred to as schema–for engaging learners in knowledge construction. In my quest for relating this topic to young learners, I found the following blog post that actually helped me to get into the right frame of mind to activate and extend my own background knowledge on this topic: How do Birds Survive the Winter?

After reading about the survival mechanisms of birds during frigid temperatures, I could not help but wonder about not only the wildlife around me when the temperatures plummet, but my fellow neighbors. As teaching about diversity and inclusivity in human relationships is important to me, I realize that teaching empathy–from building low-budget bird feeders to donating to local homeless shelters–is a powerful foundational lesson for any young child to connect. In the following section, I will share a few of my ideas for helping to develop this powerful line of conversation for parents, educators, and other helping professionals who work with curious young learners.

Here are a few of my takeaways for integrating this book into a classroom setting:

  • Learning about patterns in nature is connected to the diversity of life in different habitats in the Next Generation Science Standards. With 18 different birds featured in this book, students can research the ecosystems of a selected bird either individually or in groups to compare the evolutionary features in a hands-on exploration. Check out resources from Generation Genius including videos, lesson plans, and DIY activities on the biodiversity of life on Earth. These cross-cutting standards also build mathematical reasoning and computational skills through authentic discovery and exploration.
  • Integrating a science-based lesson into the English Language Arts allows for creativity through word play, a much less intimidating entrance into literacy activities which can build on students’ assets. After exploring the patterns associated with different birds and their unique habitats, students can pick a new species to explore and create their own extended metaphors. If author Susan Stockdale chose a fashion show to described a variety of birds, what comparison might students make in choosing a new animal? If creative writing is not your forte, check out exercises online to help you support students in getting those creative juices flowing.
  • If the weather allows, a unit of study on birds calls for a field trip. Whether outside on the grounds of the playground or a local park or trail, students can take pictures or record sounds from a variety of birds they notice in their own backyards. Going on nature walks can not only help students to develop as budding scientists, but also to promote mindfulness and an appreciation of nature. In the activity book Exploring Nature: 50 Creative Projects to Spark Curiosity in Kids, a full chapter is dedicated to noticing patterns in easily-accessible creatures including birds, bugs, and mammals. Author Kim Andrews suggests building a low-stakes bird feeder with half of a carved orange filled with bird seeds to invite birds into a backyard setting. Children can then use nature journals to take notes of the types of birds who visit the bird feeder to further analyze their features into a variety of categories.
  • Other extensions for this lesson further provide young learners with an opportunity to express their creativity. From drawing simple birds to a variety of arts and crafts projects, there is no shortage of ideas for helping young artists tap into their creative talents. Add some sound and/or video recording tools, and young artists can learn to collaborate together in numerous ways such as creating multimodal videos, electronic art/nature galleries, and much more.
  • Of course, this is only one book of many other texts which connect explicitly to birds in nature. Another book students can explore either independently or as a group is Birdsong by Audrey Wood. Check out this lesson plan which could be adapted for either Bird Show or Birdsong by assigning a state bird for students to research.

Published by

J.S. Mitchell

Hello! I am an Associate Professor at the University of North Alabama. As a former English teacher, I currently teach courses in the College of Education and Human Sciences such as ED 299 (Human Growth and Development), ED 381 (Instructional Technology), and ED 440 (Methods of Teaching English Language Arts). This site brings together all of the things I love: reading, writing, and sharing about all things literacy-related.

One thought on “Bird Show: An Extended Metaphor for Integrated Science and Literacy Learning”

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s