ELA: Lesson Zero • Week Two | Desert Meerkats

Animal Groups

Genre: Informational Text

We will read about meerkats, animals that live in southwest Africa in groups called a “mob.”

Desert Meerkats is an expository text or informational text that

  • Gives facts and information about a topic.
  • Includes text features such as photos, captions, headings, sidebars, graphs and maps.


We will note any main ideas and key details that we find. We will also note any questions that we have or unfamiliar words.

Essential Question

What can you discover by observing nature?

Observing is watching someone or something closely. Discuss the topic of animal communities. Focus on the way that animals work together to adapt to their environment, or surroundings.

  • Many animals are social. They live together in groups.
  • Some animal groups include mobs, gangs, herds, prides, and flocks.
  • The animal groups work together to find food, raise their young, and stay safe in their environment.
  • Closely observing nature can help us discover and learn about animal groups in our environment.

Partner Talk ~ Collaborative Conversations

flaming hot

What are some animals in nature you have watched or observed? 

Use Speaking Checklist and Listening Checklists to make sure you are a sharing properly with your partner.

Read Desert Meerkats

Identifying text’s organization helps readers know what to look for as they read. In “Desert Meerkats,” the author uses sequence to explain the role of a sentinel.

When sentences in expository text are not clear, students will need to read carefully and simplify them. Read aloud sentence 6 in “Safety in Numbers.” Look at the participial phrase “begging for food.” This phrase tells what the pups do while following the gang around. They follow the gang around and beg for food.

We will encounter complex texts that require them to read carefully and think deeply. We will need to read paragraph by paragraph, determine the meaning of unfamiliar words, and connect and make inferences about information and ideas as they go. Sometimes I will need to help you to understand the text.

  • What detail on page 1 shows what the sentinel does first?
  • The text says that the sentinel stands on its hind legs so it can look out for enemies. Does this happen before or after the sentinel eats until it is full? 
  • What detail on page 1 shows what the sentinel does first? (First, the sentinel finds some food to eat.)
  • The text says that the sentinel stands on its hind legs so it can look out for enemies. Does this happen before or after the sentinel eats until it is full? (after)

Explain that when sentences in expository text are not clear, students will need to read carefully and simplify them. Read aloud sentence 6 in “Safety in Numbers.” Point out the participial phrase “begging for food.” Explain that this phrase tells what the pups do while following the gang around. If necessary, restate it as They follow the gang around and beg for food.

Discuss Types of Complex Text 
Explain that this year students will encounter complex nonfiction texts that require them to read carefully and think deeply about what they are reading. They will need to read paragraph by paragraph, determine the meaning of unfamiliar words, and connect and make inferences about ideas as they go. You may need to provide additional scaffolding to help students.

Purpose In narrative nonfiction, students may be unsure whether to focus on a real person’s feelings and actions or on factual information. This ACT can help clarify students’ focus. It can also help students explore and make inferences about the author’s purpose in an informational text when it is not clearly stated.

Genre Informational text, especially in science and social studies/ history, requires students to recognize text features, signal words, and text structure. This ACT can help students recognize specific features in informational texts and how to use them to comprehend what they are reading better. It can help them understand how to read complex science and social studies texts.

Organization When an informational text lacks signal words or uses more than one text structure, students may need support in determining the organization in order to find text evidence. This ACT supports students by pointing out text structures and how they are used to give information.

Connection of Ideas Informational text usually includes several important ideas and details. This ACT shows students how to link specific information together to find the essential idea.

Sentence Structure Nonfiction texts often include long, dense sentences. This ACT may show students how to interpret difficult sentences or how to break them into more understandable forms.

Specific Vocabulary Nonfiction texts may be filled with sophisticated academic language and domain-specific words and jargon that students do not know. There may not be adequate context for them to infer the meaning. This ACT will support students by showing them how to use other vocabulary strategies, such as identifying word parts or using a dictionary.

Prior Knowledge Informational texts may contain domain specific information that students lack the prior knowledge to comprehend. This ACT will provide background information that provides support for domain-specific ideas and details in the text.

Vocabulary Strategy


Decoding Multisyllabic Words

Day 2: Comprehension Strategy: Point of View

Theme: As good readers read narrative texts, they go beyond character, setting, and plot to analyze theme. The theme is the overall lesson or message an author wants to express through the story. Usually readers will need to make inferences to determine the theme. They will put together the important details of a story, decide what the message is, and use the details to paraphrase the theme. Readers should read the entire story before determining the theme.

Make Inferences As students determine the theme and character’s point of view, they will need to make inferences. To make an inference, they will use important details in the story to determine information that the author does not state.

he author’s point of view is what the author thinks about a topic. In third grade, readers will determine how an author’s point of view and purpose are conveyed in a text.

  • Readers can analyze the kinds of details an author presents to help them figure out the author’s point of view and purpose. Are the details positive or negative? Biased or unbiased?
  • Positive and negative words such as wonderful or awful can help readers determine the author’s point of view and purpose.
  • Evaluating an author’s arguments and specific claims by identifying claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not, may help determine whether the author is biased or unbiased in his or her point of view.

Remember close reading is reading carefully and paying attention to details. The purpose is to evaluate what you read to identify the author’s point of view.Text Evidence Citing text evidence is using evidence from the text to support answers. When answering questions, you will be asked to point out the exact text you used to answer the question or make an inference. YOU must do close reading in order to cite text evidence.Author’s Point of View Reread paragraph 2. Focus on the author’s point of view. Let’s use text evidence to infer the author’s point of view about meerkats.

Think Aloud The author says that meerkats “have a smart way to avoid the heat. They burrow tunnels…They use their strong claws to dig tunnels.” These details help me figure out that the author thinks meerkats are good at adapting to their environment. The word smart is a positive word, and from it I can infer, or figure out, that the author thinks that meerkats are clever animals.

Make Inferences When the author does not directly state an attitude about a topic, readers must use text clues to figure out the author’s point of view. The details an author includes and the words he or she uses can help readers infer the point of view.

Reread Reread the last paragraph of the article with students.

Ask: What is the author’s point of view about meerkats? Do you agree? Cite text evidence to support your answer. 

(Answer The author thinks that meerkats are smart and cute. Evidence “They are adorable little creatures.” “But they have a smart way to avoid the heat.“ “It is a very smart system.” I agree with the author. I think meerkats are smart because they know how to protect themselves and are good at adapting to their environment. I also agree that they are cute, because I can see in the photos that they have very cute faces.)

Write About Reading: Summarize Write a summary of “Desert Meerkats.” You may work with a partner if your team has not gotten any spleems. I will select pairs to share their summaries with the class. Remind students that their summaries should only be a few sentences long.

Day 2

Genre Tell students that they will learn about informational genres, including nonfiction narratives, such as biographies or autobiographies, persuasive articles, and expository text. Point out that informational text often contains text features, such as headings and boldface key words, and illustrations, such as photographs and captions, maps, charts, diagrams, time lines. 

Close reading

Close reading is reading carefully and paying attention to the details. The purpose of close reading is not just to summarize or find the main idea. Close reading requires readers to analyze and evaluate what they read to make decisions about the genre and the story’s structure.

Cite Text Evidence Tell students that citing text evidence is using evidence or examples from the text to support answers and inferences. Explain that as students answer questions, they will be asked to directly quote the section of the text that they used to answer the question or to make an inference. In an informational text, they might use facts and details as text evidence. Explain that students can also use graphs, charts, and diagrams as text evidence. Point out that students must do close reading to cite evidence directly from the text.

Genre Reread the first page of “Desert Meerkats on Start Smart 6–7 Online PDF. Ask: What tells you that this is a persuasive article?

Think Aloud To answer this question, I’ll think about the elements of a persuasive article. I know that a persuasive article state the author’s opinion on a topic. This author is writing about meerkats. In the first paragraph, the author uses the words cute and adorable to describe the meerkats. In the second paragraph, he uses the word smart to describe them.I also know that in a persuasive article, the author supports his or her opinion with facts and examples. In the second paragraph, the author explains how meerkats escape the heat buy digging tunnels in the ground. Later on the author points out that the tunnels help to keep the meerkats safe from predators.

3 GUIDED PRACTICE OF CLOSE READINGAsk: Look at the photograph and caption on page 6. What information do they add to the text? (The photograph shows five meerkats standing on their hind legs. This helps me understand what they look like. The caption tells me that adult meerkats are about a foot tall and weigh two pounds. This information is not in the text.)

Read the heading on page 7. What does it tell you this section will be about?(It tells me that this section will probably be about how the meerkats stick together in a group because it is safer.)Continue close reading of the article; help students identify more reasons and evidence the author uses to support his opinion.

Genre ChartTell students that throughout the year they will be learning more about different nonfiction genres. Knowing the characteristics of a genre will help them predict the kinds of information the author will provide as they read. This year third (graders) will learn the features of expository text, narrative nonfiction, persuasive articles, autobiography, biography and informational articles.Students will also determine the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text.

Distribute the Genres chart on Start Smart 3 Online PDF. Review the names of the nonfiction genres; then help students list key characteristics for each. Tell students that as they read new texts they will be recording examples of each genre type and adding to the list of characteristics.For more work with genres, use the online Genre Passage Handbook.

Vocabulary Strategy – Morphology

Vocabulary words

  • unafraid
  • happily
  • joyful
  • doable
  • cheery
  • clapping
  • remake
  • mislead
  • appointed

Prefix Explain that a prefix is a word part that is added to the beginning of a word and changes its meaning. The word to which a prefix is added is called the root word, or base word.

  • Common prefixes include un-, re-, dis-, in-, non-, over-, mis-, sub-.
  • Students can use the meaning of the prefix to determine the meaning of the whole word. There are limitations to identifying prefixes in words. For example, not all words that begin with unbegin with a prefix. The letters u-n in unhappy form a prefix; the letters u-n in uncle are not a prefix. To determine whether or not a group of letters is a prefix, remove the letters from the word. What remains must be a known word.

Suffix Explain that a suffix is a word part added to the end of a word that changes the word’s meaning and often its part of speech. A suffix is added to a root word, or base word.

  • Common suffixes include -s, -es, -ed, -ing, -ly, -y, -able, and -ful. Some common suffixes, such as -y and -able come from Latin.
  • A suffix sometimes changes the spelling of the root word. For example, when the suffix -ing is added to a CVC word, the final consonant is doubled (run/running); when a suffix is added to a word ending in a consonant and y, the changes to before adding the suffix (fly/flies); and when a suffix is added to a word ending in e, drop the before adding the suffix (make/making).


  • unafraid: feeling no fear or anxiety.
  • happily: in a happy way. (adverb)
  • joyful: feeling, expressing, or causing great pleasure and happiness. (adjective)
  • doable: within one’s powers; feasible. Able to do. (adjective)
  • cheery: happy and optimistic. (adjective)
  • clapping: strike the palms of (one’s hands) together repeatedly, typically in order to applaud. (verb)
  • remake: make (something) again or differently (verb)
  • mislead: cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression about someone or something (verb)
  • appointed: assign a job or role to (someone). (verb)

Phonics – Six Syllable Types

Students will work with the six syllable types this year. Knowing these syllable types will help them read long, unfamiliar words. Display the name of each syllable type and examples for students to record in their writer’s notebooks.

(1) Closed These syllables end in a consonant. The vowel sound is generally short. The vowel is enclosed (or closed in) by the consonants. (rab/bit, nap/kin)

(2) Open These syllables end in a vowel. The vowel sound is generally long. The vowel is open and free to say its name. (ti/ger, pi/lot)

(3) Consonant + le Usually when le or ion appears at the end of a word and a consonant comes before it, the consonant + le or + ion form the final stable syllable. (ta/ble, lit/tle, ac/tion, ten/sion)

(4) Vowel Team Many vowel sounds are spelled with vowel digraphs, or teams, such as ai, ay, ee, ea, oa, ow, oo, oy, oi, ie, and ei. The vowel teams must stay together and appear in the same syllable. (ex/plain/ ing, team/mate)

(5)r-Controlled When a vowel is followed by the letter r, the vowel and the must appear in the same syllable. Therefore, they act as a team that cannot be broken up. (tur/tle, mar/ket)

(6) Final (Silent) (VCe) When a word has a vowel-consonant spelling pattern, the vowel and the final silent must stay in the same syllable. (com/pete, de/cide)

Fluency Yearly Goals

Tell students that fluency involves three key aspect of reading: rate, accuracy, and expression. Explain the following:

  • Rate The rate at which we read is important. We need to read at a pace appropriate for the level of text difficulty. In Grade 3, the goal by the end of the year is to read 97–117 words correct per minute (WCPM). Explain to students that you will be testing them on their rate throughout the year to meet this goal. Rereading previously read passages and stories is one way they will increase their rate.
  • Accuracy Correctly identifying words is key to skilled, fluent reading. Explain to students that the work they do in phonics and word study will help them read longer and harder words. They will also use the Syllable Speed Drill on Start Smart 8 Online PDF to help them become automatic at reading those words with more complex spelling patterns or words that have irregular spellings.
  • Expression Fluent readers read with proper phrasing and intonation, or prosody. They read dialogue the way a character would say it. They speed up when the action in a story gets exciting, and they slow down on difficult parts of text. This means that the reader is decoding and comprehending the text at the same time, the hallmark of a skilled, fluent reader.

Day 3

Using a Dictionary

Tell students the following:

  • dictionary, or a glossary in a nonfiction book, lists words in alphabetical order. Dictionaries are found online and in print.
  • The guide words show the first and last words on the page. Words come between the guide words alphabetically.
  • The entry words show the spelling and syllables of a word. Syllabication separates syllables by bullets and shows how many syllables a word has.
  • The pronunciation of each word is shown in parentheses.
  • The part of speech is shown after the pronunciation.
  • The word’s origin, such as the language it comes from, is shown.
  • You use a dictionary or a glossary to look up unfamiliar words. You can also use a dictionary to confirm a word’s meaning to make sure you are using it correctly.

Published by Jackie Marie Beyer

I grew up on Long Island about 20 miles from NYC. When I was in 4th grade I read Sasha, My Friend by Barbara Corcoran which is a story about a little girl who moves to her dad’s Christmas tree farm in northwest Montana. From that day on I was determined to move there and when I was 21 I entered the University of Montana in Missoula. During my junior year I met my husband on a mountainside and we have been happily married for over 25 years now! I have had such an exciting life, traveling all around the United States, mostly in the Northwest corner and back and forth between Montana and NYC. When I am not in the classroom, I spend most of my time in Montana’s National Forests, collecting firewood, picking wildflowers, gathering mushrooms, searching for antlers, or just sighting a majestic mountain view! I love to hike with my friends and family and paint the things that I see and find, creating stories to share!

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