STEM Tuesday– Awesome Animal Antics– In the Classroom

Help! Help! We need your help! We want to know what would help you most in our second-Tuesday-of-the-month posts.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a regular structure to our STEM Tuesday posts.

  • The first Tuesday of the month is the book list.
  • The second (this one!) is classroom information.
  • Week three covers writing craft, for writers and teachers of writing.
  • Week four is an author interview and book giveaway.

A different team of writers works on each week. Our second-Tuesday team is trying to figure out what type of classroom support would be most helpful to you, our readers. Would you please take just a moment to answer 4 quick questions  for us? Your survey responses will help us write super-useful classroom guides for you!

****Take Survey Here. Thank You!****

And now, I interrupt this blog post to give you…

The Interruption Construction!*

Sometimes, readers don’t enjoy STEM writing because they find it difficult. STEM writing can be dense, with lots of ideas packed into a single sentence. Fortunately, some of those sentences follow patterns that can help readers sort out the information. One very common structure in science writing is called the interruption construction. This month’s books contain some great examples of the construction using high-interest topics (and high-interest topics are always the best way to teach useful reading skills!)

Consider this sentence, from page 41 of Animal Zombies, which describes the Frilled Shark:

Its 300 teeth, with multiple spikes arranged in 25 rows, are pointed like arrows toward the creature’s throat.

Show that sentence to students, and then block out the “interruption” found between the commas:

Its 300 teeth, with multiple spikes arranged in 25 rows, are pointed like arrows toward the creature’s throat. 

Point out that the information surrounding the commas make a complete thought. The “interruption” consists of extras that the author is throwing in as a freebie, like when you buy a big lotion pump and get an extra little bottle for free. If a sentence with an interruption construction is  overwhelming them with new information, they can read around the comma and then look back to find out what extras the author wanted to add.

Death Eaters has a wealth of these sentences. At the bottom of page 18, there’s an intriguing passage that describes hyenas and wolves. It would be a great text for a class talking about scavengers, and you could throw in a quick introduction to the interruption construction. The first paragraph reads:

Wolves, found in Africa, northern Asia, Europe, and North America, prefer colder climates. Hyenas, which are native to Africa and southern Asia, thrive in warmer areas. These two death eaters are very similar.

Two interruptions in a row! And if students keep reading that short section, they’ll come across two more. You can discuss the first one as an example, have students talk about the next one, and then have them watch for the others as they read.

Finally, Little Monsters of the Sea illustrates a second form of the interruption construction–one that uses dashes instead of commas. Often–but not always–dashes are used to show that the interruption is restating or clarifying the information that came just before. Consider these sentences:

If you require a very specific habitat—if you can’t call just anywhere home—it’s nice to have young’uns who can get up and go find a fresh spot. (page 26)

Animals inherit their DNA—and therefore their characteristics—from their parents. (page 44)

Once again, if a sentence with extras offset by a dash gets too long or too dense, readers can skip the middle part, and go back to it after they have digested the main part of the sentence.

The interruption constructions in these books are fairly short. But in academic text, that “extra” information can get quite long. If students get used to observing the structure in easier, interesting text, they will have the confidence to tackle it when it shows up in more difficult text.

*I believe the phrase “interruption construction” was coined by Zhihui Fang in: The Language Demands of Science Reading in Middle School, International Journal of Science Education, 28:5, 491-520, 2006. (DOI: 10.1080/09500690500339092). If you ever come across Zhihui, please let him know I appreciate his contribution. It’s a great descriptor and helps students grasp the idea quickly!


For more great ways to use these books in the classroom, see the links below for online educator guides and supplementary material.

Eavesdropping on Elephants

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Teachers guide with supplementary videos and activities
The SuperPower Field Guide: Beavers

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A free unit on beavers for grades K-3 that incorporates the book
Backyard Bears

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Teachers guide with prereading, discussion, and extension activities
Penguins vs. Puffins

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Videos and more to go with the book
Smart About SharksSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit Video describing the creation of the book cover
Animal Zombies

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Teachers guide with some unique activities that only require students to read parts of the book
Little Monsters of the OceanSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit A description of the origin of the book and some quick teaching ideas

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. Visit for more information on her books and staff development offerings.

STEM Tuesday– Awesome Animal Antics– Book List

Animals chat, build, migrate, and do all sorts of things. Their antics are the subject of so many STEM titles that we just had to make a list this month of the latest and the greatest. Please suggest your favorites if we’ve missed any. Like our other lists, these books are great classroom and library additions.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Superpower Field Guide: Beavers by Rachel Poliquin and John Firth

Through meeting Elmer, an ordinary beaver, readers discover the many attributes all beavers have that make them crucial to wetland habitats. This new series turns traditional field guides upside down, creating a fun, informative look at each species. Cartoony illustrations liven it up further.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Penguins vs. Puffins by Julie Beer

We love the mock contest setting of this title. Which bird is better? Penguins or puffins? Beer does a wonderful job of pointing out similarities and differences of the many species of these birds. And of course, the beautiful National Geographic photos are a hit!


Death Eaters by KellySupport Independent Bookstores - Visit Milner Halls

Vultures are one of the most misunderstood and least appreciated wild species. Readers will discover just how important and amazing they are in Kelly Milner Halls latest book. Readers will love the nod to the Harry Potter series, too!


Animal ZombSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgies by Chana Stiefel

Zombies really do exist in the animal kingdom! This book features zombying parasites, bloodsucking vampires, sea beasts, ghosts, and others that will excite and inform fans of animals and horror.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

This cross-over title will appeal to any reader who is fascinated by animal migrations. It’s filled with topographical maps that provide a rich look at wildlife and geography. Readers can follow the record flight patterns of Arctic terns to pythons in Florida.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation by Patricia Newman

Most elephant books feature Asian elephants or the African elephants that live on the plains. This NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book title follows a group of scientists who listen to forest elephants–a relatively unknown species. A great addition to a science unit on sound, this book also includes QR codes that take readers inside the forest to hear elephants the way the scientists heard them.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis Under the Waves by Heather Montgomery

You might think that butterflies and frogs are the only creatures that undergo metamorphosis, but you would be wrong. Leave it to STEM author Heather Montgomery to show us that there are many ocean animals that also experience this life-changing cycle.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey

Owen Davey has compiled so much information about sharks into this richly illustrated book that even the most knowledgeable shark enthusiasts will find something they didn’t know. A shark book that should be on every ocean book shelf.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Absolute Expert: Dolphins by Jennifer Swanson and Justine Jackson-Ricketts

Aspiring marine biologists will enjoy learning about dolphins with National Geographic explorer and dolphin expert, Justine Jackson-Ricketts in this ultimate dolphin resource book.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals by Nancy Furstinger

Inspiring tales of animals using prosthetics, braces, orthotics, and wheelchairs to live out their lives fill the pages of this STEM title. Readers will get a glimpse into how cutting-edge technologies are improving the lives of animals and humans.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Snowy Owl Invasion: Tracking An Unusual Migration by Sandra Markle

This book goes hand-in-hand with Where The Animals Go. Readers will dive into the unusual migration of snowy owls in this beautifully illustrated book by Sandra Markle.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Backyard Bears:  Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife by Amy Cherrix

Have you ever seen a bear in your backyard? More and more people are experiencing these extraordinary visitors each year. Readers will take a look into why this is happening and how conservation can play a role going forward in this recent Scientists In the Field title.


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which 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 educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. New in 2018:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at