Animal Superpowers

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — Writing Tips & Resources

 

Supercharge your Story

How do animals supercharge their bodies? Stupendous survival strategies you call adaptations! How do you supercharge your writing? Stupendous strategies you can snag from this month’s books! High energy text can be extremely effective. Sometimes that energy just spills out as you write, but sometimes it is tougher to come by. Fortunately, a few fine-tuning exercises may be all you need to take your writing from fizzle to sizzle!

Vivid Verbs

Sure your characters could just eat something, but take a clue from Kate Messner and have them smash, zap, sting or devour. Right in her title, Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Sting, and Devour, strong verbs show readers that the pages to come won’t be bland.

Put It in Practice:

  1. Identify a passage of text that is less than energetic.
  2. Highlight every verb.
  3. Replace at least half of those with stronger verbs. How?
    1. Think active. Play a movie of the action in your mind. Now run it again in slow motion or under magnification. What motion happens? What causes the action? What results from the action?
    2. Think auditory. Hear the sounds that might accompany it. Would any of those work to convey the action?
    3. Think analogy. If no action happens, come up with an analogy. “A tree has leaves” becomes “A tree holds leaves.”
    4. If all else fails: beg, borrow, or bend an idea until it works. Flip open Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour. Make a list of supercharged verbs from the page and work them into the text you are working with. Yes, this may require creative revision, but that’s what writers do!

Snappy Sounds

Strategic use of sound can make writing sing. Although excessive use of alliteration (repeated initial consonant sounds), assonance (repeated vowel sounds) or other devices can feel forced, the right balance will help the words ring true.

In the following text, note level of energy: “Tiger beetles are the fastest insects. They can go five miles an hour when pursuing food or mates. That is fast for a small beetle.” It includes facts and conveys the concept, but it sounds stagnant when compared to these lines from Insect Superpowers:

“The tiger beetle is the fastest of all insects. Some can run more than five miles per hour to chase after prey and potential mates. That might not seem superfast, but when you consider the tiger beetle’s size, it’s pretty impressive.”

Which words made the difference? Which sounds were successful?

Alliteration is fairly easy to notice, but don’t let the power of assonance slip by. In Eels (Superpower Field Guide) Rachel Poliquin takes advantage of strong verbs and assonance to turn a definition into  something more delightful: “Olenka is a nocturnal predator, which means she lazes her days away, curled up in her burrow at the bottom of the muddy river.” What other devices can you spot in there?

Put It in Practice:

  1. Find a piece of text that includes strategic use of sound. Page 7 of Melvin and Gilda Berger’s 101 Animal Superpowers would work.
  2. Highlight as many sound examples as you can. Make note of the location (within the sentence and within the passage) of the examples. Can you draw any conclusions from that?
  3. Re-write the passage eliminating the use of that device to see how that changes the reading experience.
  4. Re-write it, adding additional alliteration and assonance and note any differences it makes.
  5. Revise until you find a balance you like. Then, consider what variables affected your choice (pacing, content needing emphasis, availability of words,…).

Max Impact

 

Rachel Poliquin maximizes the impact of each example. “Slimetastic Safety Shield,” “Supersecret Lair of the Abyss,” Globe-Spanning Grit”? Sure those use strong words and put sound to work, but they go further. She stretches to the edges of what we call “nonfiction”—and we all know that young readers love to push the boundaries! Her language connotes that the topic is fun, the writing is playful, the reading will be joyful.

Here’s another example. In an author’s note at the beginning of Animal Zombies!: And other Bloodsucking Beasts, Creepy Creatures, and Real-Life Monsters, Chana Stiefel challenges readers with a dare. She labels readers as brave, she teases them with brain invasions, she hits home with monsters under their mattress. There’s not much more extreme than a zombie…

Put it in Practice:

  1. Generate a list of “extreme” words or phrases.
  2. Snatch words to add to your list by watching ads, reading headlines, surfing social media, analyzing clickbait, listening to kids chatting excitedly…
  3. Organize your list by mood/tone/energy.
  4. Use your list to push a piece of text toward a specific emotional energy.

When we read energetic writing it may seem like the writing process was simple, as if the words flowed out, but developing skills require training and finesse requires constant fine tuning. So . . . crush it! Every writing workout you complete builds your skills. Now is the time—grab a bunch of books, train your brain, and rev up your writing!

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s TreasuresLearn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — In the Classroom

Kids love learning about animals—especially ones with superpowers! Use these books from the STEM Tuesday list along with their classroom ideas to let students explore how animals use their amazing skills to survive in nature and help humans too.  

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos, photographs by Andy Comins

Can you believe that delicate little spiders can create something with such amazing strength that might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments? Read all-about it in Heos’ Scientists in the Field title.  

 

Activity

Experiment with different kinds of materials to see which makes the strongest web!

Materials:

  • thread, yarn, or thin stretchy cord
  • bowl
  • objects to put on top of your web (rocks, sticks, fake bugs)

Steps:

  1. Have groups of students choose a type of string to use. Then ask them to wrap the string around the bowl to make a web over the open side. They should think about the pattern of their web as they wrap.
  2. Next tell students to test the strength of their web. Put objects all over their web. Are certain areas stringer than others? How many objects can it hold?
  3. Then ask students to test out a different kinds of string to make a new web. After testing its strength with different objects, ask them: Which web was stronger? Why do you think it was stronger?

 

Check this out!

The author’s classroom discussion and activity guide: https://www.scribd.com/document/135393652/Stronger-than-Steel-Discussion-Guide.  

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent  

Explore how dogs use their super sniffing detection skills to help humans.      

 

 

 

Activity

Dogs can smell scents from much farther away than humans. See how close you have to be to detect a certain smell.

Materials:

  • jars with lids
  • cotton balls
  • strong scents (such as perfume, vinegar, coffee, onions, or vanilla extract)
  • measuring tape

Steps:

  1. Soak some cotton balls with strong smelling liquid or cut up onions or other foods that have a strong smell.
  2. Put the stinky cotton balls or food in a jar—one smelly item per jar—and close the lids.
  3. Ask a friend to stand 15 feet away and then open a jar. Can your friend identify what the smell is?
  4. If not, ask your friend to slowly step forward, still smelling, until they can tell you what the scent is. Measure how far away your friend was before identifying the smell.
  5. Repeat with the other jars. Were some smells easier to identify from far away? Were some smells especially difficult?

 

Check this out!

TedEd video about how dogs “see” with their noses: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/17/alexandra-horowitz-dog-animation/.  

 

Superpower Field Guide: Moles and Superpower Field Guide: Eels by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Firth

Discover the extraordinary skills of moles and eels in these two guides. Then explore the rest of the series. Poliquin and Firth have two other titles about beavers and ostriches.      

 

 

Activity

Some superpowers are hard to believe–like the eel’s ability to store and discharge electricity! They store electricity like a battery, so try making this battery with a lemon.

Materials:

  • 4 lemons
  • 4 pieces of copper
  • 4 galvanized nails
  • 5 alligator clip wires
  • a light to power

Steps:

  1. Roll lemons on countertop with your hand  to release the juice inside.
  2. Stick one nail and one piece of copper into each lemon.
  3. Use the alligator wire clip next. Attach one wire from an alligator clip to a nail in a lemon and the other wire to a copper piece in another lemon. Continue until all the lemons are connected.
  4. You should have one piece of copper and one nail that are not connected to wires. Connect the copper piece to the positive connection on the light. Connect the galvanized nail to the negative connection.
  5. Turn on the light and it should work with your lemon battery.

 

Check this out!

Superpowered Creature Creator post on the author’s website: http://www.rachelpoliquin.com/superpowered-creature.

 

Further Resources

Check out these sites for more fascinating and fun STEM animal superpower resources:

Hope these activities and resources get your students excited to learn more about animal superpowers!

 

     

 

Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com.

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — Book List

 

Who needs superhuman heroes when there are animals with their own superpowers? This list gives readers an opportunity to explore all of the ways animals use their skills for surviving in the wild and even help us humans out as well!  

Animal Zombies! And Other Bloodsucking Beasts, Creepy Creatures, and Real-Life Monsters by Chana Stiefel  

Some may call these creatures creepy, but others will marvel at their special skills.  

Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! by Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell

 Messner explores the super talents of bugs in this fun title.  

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos, photographs by Andy Comins

Can you believe that delicate little spiders can create something with such amazing strength that might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments? Read all-about it in Heos’ Scientists in the Field title.  

Superpower Field Guide: Moles and Superpower Field Guide: Eels by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Firth

Discover the extraordinary skills of moles and eels in these two guides. Then explore the rest of the series. Poliquin and Firth have two other titles about beavers and ostriches.

Superpower Dogs: Disaster Response Dogs by Cosmic  

Dogs have some of the best noses in the business. Learn how they help in disasters.

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent  

Explore how dogs use their super sniffing detection skills to help humans.

101 Animal Super Powers by Melvin Berger and Gilda Berger

Discover lots of extraordinary animals with this collection of animal superpower stories.  


Photo of DESERTS author Nancy Castaldo

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save The World, so she knows first hand about animal superpowers. Her books have earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also served as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2020 international title about farm and food is THE FARM THAT FEEDS US: A Year In The Life Of An Organic Farm. Visit her at her website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Instagram

Sibert Honor author Patricia Newman shows young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. One Texas librarian wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.” Titles include: Planet Ocean (new); Sibert Honor book Sea Otter Heroes; Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy!; The NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Eavesdropping on Elephants; California Reading Association’s Eureka! Gold winner Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Visit Patricia online at her website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Pinterest.