Bird Beaks

Karen Facey, Janice Pilcher, Sharon Lewis (Lake Science Collaborative)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this 5E inquiry lesson, students discover how the beaks of different birds are shaped to get food that is available in their environment in order to survive. Following a formative assessment, students share ideas about bird beaks and how they help the birds get food by looking at visuals and considering possible functions for different types of beaks.  In the following hands-on activity students investigate their ideas by using tools (models) representing different types of bird beaks to gather data on what types of tools are best for gathering various types of bird food. Students analyze and interpret the data to determine which type of "beak" worked best for gathering each type of "food." The lesson sequence wraps up with a class discussion circling back to the question, "Why are all bird beaks not the same?" (with students supporting their claims with evidence) before students are asked to make observations from photos of birds and construct an explanation on what they would eat. 

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include needs and characteristics of the organisms and habitats involved. The organisms and their habitat make up a system in which the parts depend on each other.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
To fully align with the PE, the teacher will need to explicitly include language about making claims based on the evidence that students have gathered. The lesson explicitly asks students to think about and share ideas in response to the focus question but does not explicitly ask students to construct explanations and critique each others' explanations. For instance, the writing activity at the end of the lesson can be framed in terms of creating an explanation. In addition, the Extension phase activity in which students are looking at bird photos and predicting what the bird would eat can easily be transformed to ask students to make claims based on their evidence (and identify their reasoning).

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
As mentioned above, constructing explanations (and engaging in argument from evidence) are not explicitly used but can be seamlessly integrated into this lesson to align with the practice. If students are not familiar with these practices, the teacher will need to provide modeling and scaffolding.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson includes questions that target the Disciplinary Core Idea. However, the teacher could expand on the idea by having students explore how the shape of a bird's beak determines the kind of food it can consume and therefore its survival in its habitat. To deepen understanding at the end of the hands-on activity, consider having students go back and match the types of tools they used to model the bird beaks with photos of real birds (or perhaps the Natural Bird Beaks and Food Sources handout). Students could then explain how the tools (models) are similar and different from the real beaks. This could also be done with the "food" models. The lesson does not provide clear guidance for teachers on what each tool and food model represents (e.g., the type of beak and the type of food). Some alternatives that might be clearer for students include: 1) drinking straw to gather water in a narrow vase (hummingbird) 2) nutcracker to gather seed-like candy with hard shells and soft centers (finches, grosbeaks) 3) chopsticks to gather gummy worms (robins) 4) teaspoon strainer to gather puffed rice or packing peanuts in water (ducks) 5) knitting needle to gather Swedish fish or rubber frogs in water (herons and kingfishers) 6) pencil to gather stale mini-marshmallows inside an egg carton with holes cut in it (woodpeckers) and 7) tweezers to gather rice on a log (nuthatches and warblers).

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This lesson provides a good opportunity for the teacher to introduce or reinforce the crosscutting concept of Structure and Function with students. This concept is not explicitly mentioned in the lesson, but could easily be woven in. At the end of the lesson, students could explain the different bird beaks in terms of structure (their shape) and function (what the bird beaks do to help the bird obtain food).

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson is strongly aligned to the DCI and demonstrates elements of constructing explanations and the crosscutting concept of structure and function while not explicitly stating so.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson includes helpful focus questions, talk stems for students, and worksheets. However, suggestions for differentiation are not included. Teachers may need to modify/scaffold the worksheets and provide additional ways for some learners to make sense of the data. For instance, teachers could create laminated photo sets of bird beak types and different types of foods as a visual matching game for ELL and other students at the end of the lesson in order to help them show their understanding. A possible extension might be to have students create bird beak models designed to eat a certain food, then explain them to the class. Illustrations from the book Beaks! by Sneed B. Collard III (reviewed as a separate resource) could be used as an instructional support for this activity.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Students are asked to share their ideas orally and in written form throughout the lesson (giving the teacher many changes to see and hear their understanding and inform instruction). At the end of the lesson, students are asked to show what they learned in a written activity (which can be tweaked to have them construct explanations and then engage in argument from evidence). The teacher could also provide photos of different bird beaks (ones that students have not yet looked at in this lesson) and ask them to apply what they have learned to make a claim about what the bird eats (and where it might live), using evidence they gathered in the lesson.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not contain a technologically interactive component.