An inspiring source might be this blog post from L.A. based humorist Jeff Wyaski who showed people the importance of reading the small print when he changed out the animal descriptions at a local pet shop.
So what can we do with those students that understand and remember the basic facts about organisms? How do we differentiate for those who have already mastered the objective?
The creativity and choice permutations seem limitless but you could start with the following framework:
Let students know they are opening up A Fantastical Pet Shop. A place where people can buy wondrous pets that will bring out the best in the owner's personality. The problem is we have no pets and when people come to the store we do not have ways to match pets to the owners.
Here is where it gets really exciting with possibility with cross-curricular connections to Science.
You have a discussion about the metaphorical symbolism of animals. Dove's symbolize peace, owl's symbolize wisdom, bee's symbolize organization. Students create a new animal and write about the character trait their animal characterizes.
Students then draw a picture of their animal and create a description card that tells shoppers the essential information about their animal (bringing in the science objectives) and how this animal is the perfect match for a particular type of person.
Social Studies connection:
Students study the symbolic meanings of animals in different cultures. Students could research totem animals versus Native American animals versus animal symbolism from the Far East. This information would be used to develop a description of an animal that would meet the needs of many shoppers.
Use an existing animal but write a description that ties together two different cultural interpretations of that animals symbology. For example: Alligator - aggressive, adaptable, maternal, revenge-oriented and quick. Students then write a description card for the alligator and the type of person who would be the perfect match for an alligator.
Open ended connection:
Hand out the pictures and descriptions from Wyaski, have the class discuss what they notice about the descriptions and the pictures. Students write down these observations on a graphic organizer.
Bring the students together and ask them to list the characteristics of what they notice from the pictures. Record these observations on an Anchor Chart.
Using these guidelines students will choose an animal that they like and create parody captions for their animal that include suggestions for who would be the perfect match for the animal.
Or, have students create their own animal and then follow the same writing pattern mentioned above. The creation of the animals could also include an Art connection as students draw their animal, or paint it, or make origami, or a sculpture, or whatever else you can think of.
This process is not complete without displaying the animals in the newly created Fantastical Pet Shop and then inviting other classes, parents, and teachers to visit and choose a pet they would want to buy. Then the students could keep track of which pets most people liked and the students could use the information to create new iterations of their creature.
No matter which option you choose, it is very exciting to think about what students can do once they know about organisms.
If you would like to read more about some of the lessons that time and reflection of helped to improve, please pick up a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble.