Bringing Your Classroom to Life

Susan Gomez-Zwiep and David Polcyn NSTA
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Article , 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.



This article from the March 2015 issue of Science and Children (which focuses on the Crosscutting Concept of Structure and Function), provides detailed plans for a lesson sequence on structure and function for upper elementary students. It incorporates the following:

  • exploration of living and non-living things outside the school building
  • observation of sample organisms provided by the teacher in the classroom
  • extensive peer and class discussion about the concept of structure and function.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Clarification Statement: Examples of structures could include thorns, stems, roots, colored petals, heart, stomach, lung, brain, and skin.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to macroscopic structures within plant and animal systems.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Although internal structures are referred to, the focus is on the observation of external structures.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students observe animals in the classroom, record their findings, and share their ideas with each other in small groups and as a class. They are encouraged to construct explanations by generating rules to classify something as living or non-living. They then come to consensus on the meaning of structure and function. Findings are posted and shared so they can be critiqued and defended. Students may need clarification regarding the classification of dead organic matter as living. The teacher might consider adding a category of "no longer living" or similar to the posted observations. Students also compare and contrast the structures and functions of different animals and connect this with their knowledge from third grade of how habitat influences an organism's survival.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are guided in their observations of live animals to focus on structures related to obtaining food, movement, gas exchange, and defense.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Animal structures and their functions are the focus of these activities, so teachers should emphasize that structures are often made up of substructures to better address this concept. For example, a tooth is considered a structure, but it is also a substructure of the mouth, which is in turn a substructure of the animal itself.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are given an opportunity to observe the outdoors to develop an understanding of living and non-living things, and to observe live terrestrial and aquatic animals in the classroom. They are expected to observe structures and relate them to their functions, constructing and critiquing explanations based on the phenomena they observe.

  • Instructional Supports: Graphic organizers and data tables for recording information and ideas are provided, as are suggestions for additional resources to supplement the direct observations. Questions are suggested to focus and extend students while they are observing the organisms. Links to grade-appropriate internet resources are provided for teachers wishing to conduct further research. There is no guidance for teachers seeking to differentiate instruction for English language learners or those struggling to meet the performance expectation, but the activities are largely observational.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There are extensive opportunities for anecdotal observations of students and of entries in their notebooks. Questions for a summative assessment are provided, as is a link to a detailed sample Claim-Evidence-Response rubric with examples relating to structure and function.

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