Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4: Mapping Prior Knowledge

Teaching Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4? In this blog post, we explore how pupils’ pre-existing knowledge can help them better understand the unit. In part 2, we’ll organise new knowledge and look at ways to embed learning. Finally, we’ll discuss strategies to teach the necessary scientific vocabulary.

According to David Ausubel, The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows.

The more you already know about a topic, the easier it is to learn something new about it. Prior knowledge from within and outside of science can help pupils understand Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4 better. In particular, we will look at four types of pre-existing knowledge that can be used to develop understanding.

  1. Subject-specific
  2. Cross-curricular
  3. Cultural and social experiences
  4. Misconceptions

Subject-specific Prior Knowledge

Pupils in key stage 1 are familiar with common animals and plants, their parts  and simple functions. So, they can use this knowledge to help them identify and group living things. They learned to identify and name common wild and garden plants and a variety of animals in their local environment. Therefore, they have the basic understanding needed to use classification keys. Additionally, they were taught the basic needs of animals for survival and how these needs can be met by their habitat. Finally, pupils have learned about seasonal changes and how they affect plants and animals in the local environment. So, it should be easier for them to understand the human impact on habitats. However, there was no direct reference to the effects of human actions on habitats. Consequently, there are implications for when and how we teach this part of the unit.

2. Cross-Curricular Prior Knowledge

As well as subject-specific knowledge, we can find relevant prior knowledge in other subjects, too. For instance, in geography, the distribution of living things is dependent on the physical features of a habitat, like the amount of water and other nutrients. Also, geography covers how habitats are affected by natural processes such as weather patterns, earthquakes and volcanoes. In science, we then look at how these affect animal adaptations and behaviours.

Although field work is not exactly the same in science and geography, both disciplines use these skills to gather data about the local habitat to deepen understanding of substantive content learned in class. As with most biology units, there is scope for the use of art to express and communicate their understanding. I usually try to give a range of options for how they choose to present their ideas. It will depend on what crafts and resources you have available. One idea is to get pupils to present their ideas in the style of a particular artist they are studying, such as Picasso.

3. Using personal And Cultural experiences

Utilising children’s broader personal and cultural experiences is useful vehicle for contextualising subject matter. This is what we refer to as Hinterland knowledge. Here are a few examples in this unit:

Table showing Hinterland knowledge in Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4

The booklets reference moss growing in pavement cracks and baby nappies, as well as conifers being real Christmas trees. By focusing on these examples, students learn that flowering plants aren’t the only type of plant. They may have even poured salt on a slug in the past and remembered that it caused the slug to dry up. This connection helps pupils understand that slugs lack protective bones or an exoskeleton, leading to their dehydration.

4. Addressing Misconceptions In Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4

Misunderstandings, cultural beliefs, or even previous teaching can create misconceptions. It’s important to prepare for this by being aware of this inaccurate or incomplete pre-existing knowledge. So that we can identify and address them as early as possible. If we don’t, pupils build incorrect schema and can’t correctly apply what they’ve learned to new experiences. For example, pupils might think that all fats are bad for us or that the funny bone is a real bone!

As educators, it’s important to identify and address these misconceptions as early as possible. If we don’t, pupils build incorrect schema and can’t correctly apply what they’ve learned to new experiences.

Key Takeaways

Teaching science to children can be made easier by using pre-existing knowledge to deepen their understanding of the topic. By making connections with other subjects, using personal and cultural experiences, and addressing misconceptions in pre-existing knowledge, we can help children build a strong foundation of knowledge that they can apply to Living Things and their Habitats Year 4.

Action Points for Improving Understanding in Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4

Use these tips to enhance your teaching and make learning a more enriching experience for your students.