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Linking Literature and Science. Using the content-rich nonfiction book , The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, in the classroom. Begin with a Personal Story Then Use the Practices of Science to Explore the Biology of Snails.

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linking literature and science
Linking Literature and Science

Using the content-rich nonfiction book,

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, in the classroom.


Begin with a Personal Story

Then Use the Practices of Science to Explore the Biology of Snails

Methods of applying the Next Generation Science Standards to a nonfiction trade book.

The “Next Generation” of Students and Standards value the study of healthy organisms in normal environments

Linking science practice to literature enables students to bring many learning styles and intelligences to their study of science.

what do you know what do you want to know what can you do learn

What do you know?What do you want to know?What can you do? learn?

The Practices of Science can help you discover more about snails and yourself.


From the Frameworks:

LS1.A: Structure and Function

Organisms have feedback mechanisms that help them regulate or adapt to conditions essential for survival (temperature, food, water)

LS1.D: Information Processing

Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories. (MS-LS1-8)

Specific Middle School Disciplinary Core Ideas:

MS-L. S1.5 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental…factors influence the growth of organisms

MS-LS1.8 Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior…

creating a habitat
Creating a habitat

“A woodland snail is most at home in the soft layer of debris, leaf litter and duff that carpets the forest…” —Page 80, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (TSWSE)

To study a snail’s normal behavior, you must first create an environment as close to nature as possible.

“…From the snail’s own woods: goldthread…partridgeberry…checkerberry; many kinds of moss, small polypody ferns; a tiny spruce tree; a rotting birch log; and a piece of old bark encrusted with lichen…” —Page 27, TSWSE

begin with observations
Begin with Observations

Make sure the snail is in a comfortable environment:

“…a roomy terrarium filled with fresh native plants and other materials from the snail’s own woods… “ —Page 27, TSWSE

The snail’s “skin” (epidermis) must be moist. Make sure it has moisture in its environment.

Then sit quietly and watch:

How big is the snail’s body when fully extended?

How long are the snail’s eyestalks when fully extended?

What proportion of the snail’s mass is its shell?

To quantify your observations, you might want to leave a small metric ruler on the “floor” of your terrarium environment.

investigating sensory inputs
Investigating Sensory Inputs

What are the main sensory inputs that the snail uses to survive?

What are the limits of its senses?

What sorts of external sensations (like noise or vibration) outside the terrarium can the snail sense?

What level of input (for example, how loud a sound) makes the snail respond?

Can you train or accustom the snail to ignore certain sounds? Odors? Levels of light?

more quantitative observations
More Quantitative Observations

While qualitative observations are a good way to begin to form hypotheses, scientists use quantitative data to support their ideas (or refute them.)

To answer a question about what area of a snail’s habitat it prefers, you might need to create a transparent, gridded cover for the terrarium to use when observing.

Number each block on your grid.

Then refer to those numbers as you measure variables like

Amount of plant or decomposing material

Temperature of the soil

Movement of the snail over time

then test your ideas here are some sample questions
Then test your ideasHere are some sample questions:
  • Does the snail prefer light or dark areas of its habitat?
  • Does the snail prefer moist or less moist areas of its habitat?
  • Develop a procedure for your observations that:
  • Controls for the variable of temperature
  • Provides quantitative data
  • Produces no harm to the snail
investigating preferences
Investigating Preferences

Snails are often thought of as decomposers. Their favorite foods come from a complex array of living and dead materials in their environment.

“The foraging of snails is complex; they vary their diets to balance their nutritional intake…” —Page 80, TSWSE

Once a snail is completely adapted to a terrarium environment, try to measure its preference for some of the foods mentioned in the book:

Decaying leaves, Algae, Mushrooms

Bits of crushed eggshell, Loamy soil

investigating slime
Investigating Slime

“Slime is the sticky essence of a gastropod’s soul, the medium for everything in its life; locomotion, defense, healing, courting, mating and egg protection. Nearly one-third of my snail’s daily energy went into slime production.” —Page 71, TSWSE

You have “slime” too—your mucus. You can use it to investigate the value of mucus to animals.

How does mucus keep the epithelium of an animal more moist?

Develop a controlled experiment to compare the wetness of water and a mixture of water/mucus.

Make sure your procedure is safe: incorporate ways to make sure that nothing in your own environment is contaminated by the mucus.

  • How will you measure “wetness?”
  • How long will you conduct your experiment?