I've been doing "independent" animal research with the kids this week in a combined writing/science time. Generally, I've always let the kids choose which animal they want to research, but I don't let anybody do the same animal. Then they happily head off to the library only to discover that since the entire grade level is also doing animal research, either the desired book is already checked out or the library never had such a book in the first place.
Oh, but hey! No problem! It's all about technology these days so just let them scamper off to the internet and find an article.
Gah. Never mind that your little Hildegard reads on a kindergarten level. Never mind that Annoying Andy managed to find the site featuring monkey butts and has now shown EVERYONE.
I have tried to combat the latter by teaching my kids to always add the words "facts for kids" after their search words. This has helped somewhat- but it is still hard to find a good site where the article is helpful and readable.
So I stumbled on to National Geographic for Kids Creature Feature section this year.
There are hundred of animals available to look at, and as you can see from the tabs, not only can they read the facts with an accompanying photo, there is also video and sound, and a map of their locations around the world. The Print this Creature tab takes you to a printer friendly version that included one photo, the map and all of the facts.
At first I thought that this was the jackpot. And I'm not saying that it isn't all well and good- but then Flamingo Fabulous steered me over to PebbleGo. Now, PebbleGo is not free. So if you are interested after the preview they offer, talk to your administration about purchasing it. It's worth it. They have more than animals. 2nd Grade Virginia teachers- they've got all of the Famous Americans (YEP- even Jackie and Susan!)
Things that are similar is the interface. A child can read facts along with pictures. There is also video and sound, but as an added bonus, if a student clicks the megaphone next to the text, the site will read the passage aloud. This makes PebbleGo a serious plus for Hildegard, who can't read the information on National Geographic Kids. Also has a printer friendly version with one photo. Notice the purple caption beneath the polar bear? That's a link to a diagram- text feature GOLD!
What puts PebbleGo over the top though, is that it breaks the information into headings- Body, Habitat, Food, Life Cycle and Fun Facts. making it a lot easier for the kiddos to locate the information they need.
But what I liked about the NGK site was the richness of the info. The animal research we were doing as a class was relatively simple- What do they eat? Where do they live? How do they grow? Statistics (weight and so forth) and Fabulous Fact. The statistics information was a bit hit or miss with PebbleGo, some animals offering more than others. Life Cycle information was not always everything we were looking for either.
We ended up combining when we could. PebbleGo and NGK feature many of the same animals, so some kids lucked out with double articles. Not that Hildegard could get a lot of use out of one of them... But next year, I'm going to pre-print these articles and keep them together in a big binder. I decided that what would make a great nonfiction lesson for my above grade level kids would be to cut apart the NGK article, and separate the information into the PebbleGO categories, making an even richer document that was easier for my not-so-on-grade-level folks to navigate.
You can check my bank account, neither one of these websites offered me any compensation. I remain on the edge of bankruptcy...