Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Who? Who? Whoooooooo?

Marica Brady
Bay District Schools


Is it poop? Is it a hairball? What is it? It's an owl pellet! Share one of the most popular pieces of children's literature, POPPY by Avi and conduct an owl pellet dissection, as students learn how animals interact with one another in an ecosystem.


The student knows how plants and animals interact with one another in an ecosystem (for example, organization of communities, flow of energy through food webs).


-[Poppy], Avi, 1995, New York, New York, Avon Books, Inc.
-Hardback standard dictionaries, one per student
-12x18 blue construction paper, one per student (optional)
-Newspaper to cover desks (optional)
-Large Sharpie marker, teacher use only
-Pencils, one per student
-Chart paper for graphic organizers, i.e. KWL, character map, temporary word wall
-Rulers with metric units, one for every two students
-Three section Styrofoam take-out boxes, one per student (SAM’S CLUB)
-Owl pellet kit, extra pellets, one per student (see Website for order information)
-8 1/2x11 bone sorting chart, one per student, laminated (see Website for order information)
-Forceps (see website for order information)
-Probes (may substitute toothpicks or see Website for order information)
-Goggles (borrow from middle or high school or see Website for order information)
-Non-latex disposable gloves (TARGET, Walmart, KMART, Walgreens)
-Small spray bottle filled with water
-Paper towels
-Anti-bacterial soap


1. Read the book [Poppy] to the class.
2. Order Owl Pellet Kits and Bone Sorting Charts.
3. Create Word Wall chart from words in associated file.
4. Gather supplies in the Materials list.
5. Assemble toolkits by putting forceps and rulers into plastic sandwich bags.


Note: This lesson will only address how animals interact with each other in an ecosystem.

1. Prior to the lesson students should have read the book, [Poppy] by AVI. This lesson should be completed after the part where the owl’s special digestion system is described. Lungwort and Poppy visit Mr. Ocax and Poppy is asked to stand by a pile of pellets. It is also important that vocabulary from the book and the science unit have been added to a Word Wall throughout the unit. In some classes, students may have created a habitat to observe.

2. Do NOT give students owl pellets until the class is ready to dissect.

3. Begin the lesson by briefly discussing the book [Poppy], habitat observations, and/or the concept of an ecosystem. Review that ecosystems have food chains which consist of producers, consumers, and decomposers. Elicit from students that there are three types of consumers: herbivores, carnivoes, and omnivores.

4. Review the vocabulary on the Word Wall from the book, [Poppy] and the science curriculum. (See attached file for suggested Word Wall words.) For ideas on using a word wall, visit the Just Read Now! Website. (see Weblinks)

5. Explain to students that you are going to play the Dictionary Game using the Word Wall words. This will help them review the vocabulary and ensure they all have the same understanding before dissecting the owl pellets. (For specific directions on playing the Dictionary Game, see the Just Read Now! Website in Weblinks.) Divide the class into teams and provide each child with a dictionary. Remind students that you will call out a word and they are to look it up in their dictionaries. If they are having trouble spelling the word, they can look at the word wall. They can help their team mates, but they may not touch any other peson's dictionary. Everyone in the group has to find the same word and agree upon the correct definition. They may challenge another group if they think the current team has the wrong word.

6. Assign a score recorder from each team and begin playing the game by calling out the first word. The first team to all stand up will tell you the word and read the definition. You may also reinforce language skills by asking the team how many syllables are in the word and the part of speech.

7. Explain to the class that we will review the three types of consumers by using a Venn diagram (see attached files). For more details on using a Venn diagram, visit Just Read Now! (see Websites). Briefly discuss the three types of consumers. Ask students to recall a character from the book, [Poppy] that was a herbivore. Have the student write the character's name on the Venn diagram. Then, have the student explain why that character was a herbivore. continue filling in the Venn diagram with the characters from [Poppy], allowing students to write in the name and explain why the character fits that category.

8. To review further, tell the students that you will play the game Rivet. For more details on Rivet, visit Just Read Now! (see Websites). Draw blank spaces for each letter in a word wall word. Tell the students the sound that the word begins with. Continue providing clues until a student guesses the word correctly. Then ask the students a question about the word. For example for the word food chain, I would draw nine lines with a space to indicate it is two words. Then I would say this would begins with one letter that makes the sound /f/. I may need to continue that the second word starts with two letters that make the sound /ch/. When the word is guessed I would ask, Where do we fit into the food chain?

9. Next do a KWL to find out what the students know about owls before you begin dissecting (see attached files). Fill in the K coulumn and the W cloumn.

10. After completing the KWL, prepare to dissect owl pellets. Inform students not to touch anything or begin until you are completely finished.

11. Distribute one take-out box per student. Ask students to write their names on the outside of the boxes.

12. Distribute dissection safety gear – goggles and gloves. Ask students to put gear on.

13. Distribute a toolkit (plastic sandwich bag with forceps and ruler). Make sure students do not open the toolkit until you give the direction to do so. (I ask students to either place their hands in their laps or sit on them until we are ready to touch anything.)

14. Distribute owl pellets. Preferably one per student.

15. Ask students to remove the rulers from their toolkits but not to touch the owl pellets or anything else.

16. Remind students that the owl pellets are basically a “hair ball.” This is not poop. Remind students that this pellet is the result of a specialized digestive system. In a prior lesson or in discussing the book, students should have clearly understood that the owl regurgitates those parts of the prey that will not digest. Example: fur, feathers, bones

17. Remember pellets are fumigated and will smell. Follow the directions on the package and allow them to sit out in the open overnight. This should be in a cat free area.

18. Ask students to measure the length and width of each owl pellet. Students should also estimate the number of animals they will find the owl had digested. The information should be recorded on the outside of the take-out box. This information could be used later in mathematics for graphing, mean, median, mode.

19. Direct students to place the owl pellet in the largest section of the three sections of the tray.

20. Explain to students that their job will be to “dig” for bones. The student will pull away fur or feathers with the forceps. To make this process easier the teacher should mist each pellet. The pellets can be misted all through the lesson. Students should use one of the small sections of the tray for fur and the other for “clean” bones.

21. Students should carefully pick into the owl pellet looking for bones. Bones can be extremely small or as large as a skull.

22. Ask students to sort bones using the bone chart. Sort bones by hip, shoulder, rib, etc. Students can further sort by type of animal eaten by the owl such as vole, bird, rodent.

23. The process of dissection can take as much or as little time as desired. Encourage students to pick small pieces of hair. Their tendency is to pull chunks apart. These chunks potentially contain many bones.

24. The teacher should constantly monitor progress and reemphasize to the students to keep their hands away from their eyes and mouths. Also, students must remain in their desks. You may choose to allow students to share what bones they found with their classmates later.

25. As the teacher circulates formative assessment should ask open ended questions of students, check for complete removal of fur for “clean” bones, check to see that students have truly removed a significant number of bones and not simply the largest bones, and check student progress in sorting bones as well as identifying the type of prey ingested by the owl.

26. Use rubber bands to secure trays. This allows you the flexibility to do the lesson over several days.

27. Be sure that all students wash hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap after finishing with dissection.

28. Students may take clean bones home but should NOT take any fur home. Encourage students to leave the tray closed until they arrive home.

29. Complete KWL chart by filling in the L column with things the students learned form the dissection.

30. Ask the class the question, How did the owl interact with his ecosystem? Make sure the students have a thorough understanding before proceeding to the assessment.

31. Assess the students' understanding of the Standard (see


In a journal or on notebook paper students write a summary of their owl pellet dissection, including a description of their findings according to the bone sorting chart. Then, they will answer the question, How did the owl interact with his ecosystem?

When evaluating this assessment, the criteria should be that the student demonstrates knowledge of ecosystems, food webs/chains, and how this process is an interaction within the ecosystem.

Web Links

Descriptions and step-by-step directions for using reading strategies
Just Read Now!

Science Supply Company
Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories

Attached Files

Suggested Word Wall Vocabulary     File Extension: pdf

Venn Diagram     File Extension: pdf

KWL Chart     File Extension: pdf

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