Snakes Alive!

Paired Teacher Guide Grade Four

Pairing Fiction and Non-Fiction in the Fourth Grade Classroom

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A fiction and non-fiction book will be paired to teach a variety of fourth Virginia sols in language arts, science, and art.


Verdi by Janell Cannon

Verdi is a beautifully illustrated picture book about a young green jungle python living on a tropical island. He adores his bright yellow skin and doesn't want to grow up into a lazy, rude, and boring "green." Verdi tries to resist the natural progression of aging but in the end learns that you can still remain who you are on the inside even as you get older and, in the end, learns to appreciate the advice and wisdom of his elders.

Python image from Pixabay:


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The Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery & illustrations by Nic Bishop

The Snake Scientist takes a look at the work of Dr. Bob Mason and the work he does with the red-sided garter snake of Manitoba, Canada. Beautiful illustrations accompany this non-fiction book about the unusual behaviors of this non venomous snake and details the work of the scientist and volunteers who study them.

Warm Up Lesson

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The Snake Man Cometh

A local herpetologist will bring in a python and a red-sided garter snake for students to observe, study, and learn about.

Presentation will focus on:

snake habitats and ecosystems and how they interact with those they share them with


life cycle/span



and impact of humans have on their environment.

Teaching Ideas

After observing and making predictions, students will measure and then create a graph showing the length and weight of the python and the garter snake. They will create a venn diagram showing ways that both species are alike and different: habitat, diet, size, color etc. Students will display their graphs in the hallway.

Curriculum Connections:

Virginia SOL: Science

Scientific Investigation, Reasoning, and Logic

4.1 The student will demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science by planning and conducting investigations in which

a) distinctions are made among observations, conclusions, inferences, and predictions;

b) objects or events are classified and arranged according to characteristics or properties;

c) appropriate instruments are selected and used to measure length, mass, volume, and temperature in metric units;

i) data are collected, recorded, analyzed, and displayed using bar and basic line graphs;

k) data are communicated with simple graphs, pictures, written statements, and numbers;

4.5 The student will investigate and understand how plants and animals, including humans, in an ecosystem interact with one another and with the nonliving components in the ecosystem. Key concepts include:

a) plant and animal adaptations;

b) organization of populations, communities, and ecosystems and how they interrelate;

c) flow of energy through food webs;

d) habitats and niches;

e) changes in an organism’s niche at various stages in its life cycle; and

f) influences of human activity on ecosystems.

Lesson Ideas-Language Arts

Reading Verdi by Janell Cannon

Introduction of the book will involve discussion of cover, making predictions about setting, and attention to genre and author's purpose for writing a picture book. We will make a T-chart with features of fiction and non-fiction on both sides. Students will learn that picture books are written primarily to entertain.

Students will look for features that indicate fiction as I read the story aloud.

Students will be asked to make inferences about the characters in the book based upon author's use of characterization (using what the characters do, say, and what is said by others about them) to reach conclusions. Students will work in small groups after the reading and use a "says this/does this chart "to show what they determined from the characters as depicted by the author.

As the story is being read aloud, students will be asked to make predictions about the plot of the story. Revisions will be made as the story progresses.

Students will learn about theme and write about what they think the message the author wanted them to take away from reading Verdi. What lesson did Verdi learn?

Students will learn that sensory language is descriptive language that appeals to the senses. I will prompt them to give me examples of sensory language that appeals to sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste and will write them on the board under those headings.

Students will be arranged in small groups and given a variety of objects (cottonball, onion, grapes, walnut, and bell) to describe using sensory language.

Students will be asked to use a cause and effect diagram and identify what event caused the effect of Verdi being injured. They will add other cause/effect incidences from the book.

Curriculum Connection:

Virginia SOL-Language Arts Four

4.5 The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of fictional texts, narrative nonfiction texts, and poetry.

a) Explain the author’s purpose.

b) Describe how the choice of language, setting, characters, and information contributes to the author’s purpose.

g) Identify sensory words.

h) Draw conclusions/make inferences about text.

i) Make, confirm, or revise predictions.

j) Identify cause and effect relationships.

Reading- The Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery

Introduction of the book will involve discussion of cover, making predictions about setting, and attention to genre and author's purpose for writing a non-fiction book. We will refer to the T-chart we made with Verdi and revise or add to features of fiction and non-fiction on both sides. Students will learn that this book was written primarily to inform.

Prior to reading, students will create KWL charts and list what they know, want to know, and learn as the story progresses.

Students will look for features that indicate it is non-fiction as I read the story aloud.

Students will be asked to make inferences in the book based upon author's use of characterization regarding Dr. Mason and the volunteers (using what the people in the book do, say, and what is said by others about them) to reach conclusions. Students will work in small groups after the reading and use a "says this/does this chart "to show what they determined from the characters as depicted by the author.

Students will take note of heading and graphics as we read the story. They will predict what information will be contained in each section and refer back to those sections as we answer questions in our discussion.

Students will use a cause/effect chart to identify outcomes from the book and the things that factored into them occurring.

Students will draw conclusions regarding Dr. Bob's experiments in the text.

Students will learn facts can be proven or disproven and opinions cannot. They will work in small groups to make lists of facts from the book.

Curriculum Connections:

Virginia SOLs: Language Arts 4

4.6 The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of nonfiction texts.

a) Use text structures, such as type, headings, and graphics, to predict and categorize information in both print and digital texts.

c) Explain the author’s purpose.

f) Draw conclusions and make simple inferences using textual information as support.

g) Distinguish between cause and effect.

h) Distinguish between fact and opinion.

i) Use prior knowledge and build additional background knowledge as context for new learning.

j) Identify new information gained from reading.

If You're Scared of Snakes, Don't Watch This

If You're Scared of Snakes, Don't Watch This [Digital image]. (2014, June 26). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from

Discussion Questions for Verde

  1. What species of snake is Verdi?
  2. Why was Verde afraid to grow up?
  3. How was young Verde different from the "Greens?"
  4. What is the most exciting part of the story (the climax)?
  5. What do think Verde learned about growing older?

Discussion Questions-The Snake Scientist

  1. What do red-sided garter snakes eat?
  2. Why does Dr. Mason find the snakes of Narcisse so interesting?
  3. Name something that you found interesting about these snakes.
  4. Does the author's presentation of these snakes make you more or less afraid of them?
  5. Do you think the photographs were an important part of the story? Why or why not?

Compare and Contrast Questions

  1. Which of the two selections is non-fiction?
  2. Name three ways pythons and red-sided garter snakes different?
  3. Compare and contrast the pictures in both books.
  4. What is the setting for each book?
  5. Which book contains an index?

Library Connection

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Green Frog. Dishner, Sharon. (2016). CC0

Reptile Round-up

Students will research reptiles on the computer. They will create a list of characteristics that determine what makes an animal a reptile. As a class, students will brainstorm and create a list of all of the animals that they can think of that are reptiles. They will give one another feedback on whether they agree or disagree on the classification. Once verifying all of the animals on the list, students will visit the library to select more non-fiction books about other types of reptiles.

Curriculum Connection

Virginia SOL:Language Arts 4


4.9 The student will demonstrate comprehension of information resources to research a topic.

a) Construct questions about a topic.

b) Collect information from multiple resources including online, print, and media.

c) Use technology as a tool to organize, evaluate, and communicate information.

Bulletin Board

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Amazing Snakes!

Students will use computers to research other species of snakes and create QR codes using QR Reader,. They will print out QR codes and display them on the bulletin board for people to scan with QR code readers. Photos from our visit with the herpetologist will also be displayed and add color to the board.

Curriculum Connection:

Virginia SOL: Grades 3-5

Computer Technology

Basic Operations and Concepts

C/T 3-5.1

Demonstrate an operational knowledge of various technologies.

A. Use various types of technology devices to perform learning tasks.

· Use a keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, touchpad, and other input devices to interact with a computer.

· Demonstrate the ability to perform a wide variety of basic tasks using technology, including saving, editing, printing, viewing, and graphing.

B. Communicate about technology with appropriate terminology.

· Use basic technology vocabulary in daily practice.

Art Lesson

Students will reflect upon the books we read, seeing and handling the snakes, watching the video, and what they learned on the computer and in the library about snakes. They will think brainstorm ideas and plan a painting depicting a snake they learned about. Students may choose between a variety of mediums: paint, pencil, clay. They will create a piece of art that depicts their feelings about these creatures.

Curriculum Connection:

Virginia SOL: Art Grade 4

Visual Communication and Production

4.1 The student will use steps of the art-making process, including brainstorming, preliminary sketching, planning, and reflecting, to generate ideas for and create works of art.

4.2 The student will demonstrate craftsmanship in personal works of art.

4.3 The student will use imaginative and expressive imagery to create works of art.

4.4 The student will create works of art that connect ideas, art forms, or cultural themes to personal experiences.

Websites to Check Out

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Further Reading

Snakes by Nic Bishop

Sea Snakes by Sneed B. Collard III

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Crickwing by Janell Cannon

The Good Pig by Sy Montgomery

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery


Cannon, Janell. (1997). Verdi. New York, NY: Harcourt. unp.

Montgomery, SY., & Photographs by Nic Bishop. (1999). The snake scientist. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. p. 48.

Creator: Sharon Dishner

ODU graduate student 2016