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Movers, Sleepers, and Tough Guys: Wildlife in Winter



As Canadians we know winter is tough, but imagine what our native wildlife must go through!  This lesson uses appealing activities to develop an understanding of winter survival mechanisms  in animals.  An active outdoor component also engages students in the exploration of the dynamic natural world that surrounds us in winter.  This resource enables students to:

  • Identify winter adaptive strategies such as hibernation
  • Analyze animal structural features that aid in winter survival
  • Investigate and explore a local habitat
  • Investigate the insulating properties of snow and other natural materials

General Assessment


  • Strong emphasis on outdoor learning
  • Activities engage students in critical thinking
  • Offers an authentic and meaningful learning experience
  • Provides an excellent formative assessment tool


  • Finding a class set of snowshoes could be difficult
  • Does not include an action project
  • Depending on the availability of appropriate winter habitat near the school this lesson may require a field trip

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • Observation
  • Classification
  • Making inferences
  • Scientific recording
  • Snowshoeing

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This resource complements science units with the theme of habitats and communities.  The snowshoeing content also means the lesson could be used in a physical education class as an innovative way to introduce students to this winter sport. 

The outdoor exploration is an especially valuable feature of the unit and it supports many of the the  winter topics and themes found in the "Step Outside" Nature Guides featured on this website.  

A class could also become involved in a unique action project by creating an area of winter wildlife habitat on school grounds.  With the assistance of local community organizations, shelter trees such as white spruce and food trees such as staghorn sumac could be planted.  Students could also create brush piles for shelter and manage a winter bird feeding station.

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

  • Ecosystems (4)

    • Appreciating the Natural World
    • Habitat Loss
    • Interdependence
    • Wildlife Protection

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

The comprehensive approach of this lesson engages students in exploring their natural world which supports new learning about the value of wildlife habitats.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:

Satisfactory- absence of bias towards any one point of view

Good- students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed

Very good- based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

Students develop a closer connection with nature thereby fostering an understanding of the environmental and social consequences of habitat loss.  The economic impacts of habitat degradation could be easily addressed through a class discussion about the value of wildlife to industries such as eco-tourism, outfitters and Canada's fur trade.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  •  Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

Students are able to explore the concept of interdependence through hands-on activities that support evidence-based learning.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected

Acting on Learning Poor/Not considered

Although an action project is not included in this resource the lesson could easily be extended to include a stewardship activity that focuses on habitat conservation.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  •  Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Good

A learning log is used to explore individual student reflections about their experience.  The outdoor activities also develop a sense of stewardship towards animals and their habitats.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered
Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Very Good

This lesson actively engages students in experiencing a natural habitat.  This connection could be developed even further with explorations of the same habitat throughout the year providing the opportunity to observe and describe the seasonal changes of a natural ecosystem.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  •  Satisfactory:   connection is made to the natural world
  • Good:  fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good:  fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

The understanding of the dynamics of a winter environment is very relevant and meaningful to Canadian students.  The lesson also fosters dialogue about local wildlife species and their habitats.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  •  Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Satisfactory

Although the past is not considered in this lesson, the uniqueness of the snowshoeing activity offers the possibility for a local trapper or First Nations elder to accompany the class and relate their wilderness experiences.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

Lesson activities such as "Keep Your Creature Warm" deliver a learning experience that emphasizes experimentation and exploration with minimal teacher direction.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Satisfactory

Although this lesson has been developed to meet specific science outcomes the outdoor component focuses on snowshoeing and thus complements core physical education objectives.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  •  Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

The activities in this resource emphasize the active investigation of a natural area and students will make many exciting discoveries as they explore and engage with the outdoor environment.

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  •  Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Satisfactory

There are no specific differentiation strategies included with this resource but the outdoor learning experience will appeal to most students.  One key consideration is the inclusion of students with limited mobility in the scavenger hunt on snowshoes.  Provisions for accommodation could include simple changes such as using a sled.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  •  Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Very Good

This lesson is highly oriented towards discovery and exploration and provides an authentic learning experience.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  •  Satisfactory: learning is made concrete. Working with real objects,  using real sources of information
  • Good: learning takes place in a real-world context. Simulation, mentorship
  • Very good: learning provides experience beyond the classroom.  Addressing real world issues and problems 
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory

In the "Keep Your Creature Warm" activity pairs of students work together to design and test their wildlife "shelter".  Small group work also occurs during the scavenger hunt as students become "wildlife detectives" to explore a natural site.

Cooperative Learning: Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.
  • Satisfactory = students work in groups
  • Good = cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good = cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

The student learning log offers an excellent, formative assessment tool.  The lesson does not include any summative assessment tools but a teacher could have students complete a final lab report for the "Keep Your Creature Warm" experiment.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

If students from older grade levels are recruited to assist with the snowshoeing activity this would enhance peer to peer interactions and discussions.

Peer Teaching: Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.
  • Satisfactory = incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good = an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Satisfactory

The most interesting aspect of this resource is the focus on winter exploration of local habitat.  Since students are probably more familiar with natural areas during warmer times of the year, this lesson deepens their awareness of the seasonal cycles in nature.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

Students are able to direct their own learning in the design and testing of insulation materials in the "Keep Your Creature Warm" experiment.  The "Wildlife Scavenger Hunt" also provides many opportunities for individual exploration and the development of new learning.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.