Thursday, July 7, 2016

What's the Key to Student Learning? Earthworms!!!

Every year when I would teach my rocks and minerals/soil unit, the kids had fun. There are lots of great things to do, but something was missing. I wanted a "Wow" factor.  When I saw an article about using earthworms in the classrooms the lightbulb went off! That was it! I could use earthworms to grab my students' attention, and reach into every area of the curriculum at the same time!  

Using Worms in Science

1. Science:  Of course the first thought about using worms in the classroom is science. During our study of soil I set aside one special day to invite worms into our classrom.  I got nightcrawlers from the bait store, aluminum pans with high sides, aluminum foil, a misting bottle, and made sure paper and pencil was available. Worms are escape artists, so it's important to keep a lid on them that is secure, but has holes in it. I used a piece of aluminum foil or tight cling wrap secured tightly around each pan. I then put small holes in the top to let in air. I did this when we needed to leave the room for lunch or whatever. 

So, what to do?  

1. Prepare your kids for the big day. Put up a sign announcing the date. Discuss with students that the worms will be guests, and must be treated with respect. Any student who does not treat a worm like a respected living thing must sit out, and watch only. Students who don't want to touch them don't have to. They can just watch worm behavior. I've done Wonderful Worm Day with my kids for years, and I can say that by the end of the day EVERY kid, even the most squeamish, have not only touched the worm, but have become friends with them.

2.  Make sure you have a spray bottle of water. Worms need to be kept moist, but NOT wet. (think of all those worms on your driveway after a rain) I usually just walk around while the students are observing, and give a spray where needed.

3. Do observations of the earthworms. I get three or four worms for each groups of four to five students. Students can keep notes on worm behavior. First ask them to draw the worm in as much detail as possible. Discuss that each line, and feature should be in the drawing. Ask students which end they think is the head.  Next put a black piece of construction paper over 1/2 of the aluminum tin. Record what happens. Do worm research on the computer, then make a poster with a group.

4. At the end of the day, take the worms outside with students. Go to a nice grassy spot and sit the students in a circle. I usually have a circle of boys, and a circle of girls. Put the worms in the center on the grass. If you have a stop watch it's fun to time how long it takes the worms to burrow into the ground. If the ground isn't too hard it's pretty fast.

Take lots of pictures! It's a day your kids won't forget. My kids talked about it even on the last day of school as one of their favorite activities.

I've included some fun worm sites below! Enjoy!

Ok! Now that you have their attention! Time to take Earthworms into the rest of the curriculum!

1. Math: You have their attention! Now it's time to use their interest to draw them into math. Use your curriculum to make up story problems involving worms. You can using any math strand, just include worms! If you can find worm pictures to include on your worksheet, all the better! Ask your students to get with a partner and make up one great story problem involving worms. Then ask students to swap their question with another group's question.

2. Social Studies:  Ask students to do research on where different kinds of worms can be found.  There's a giant blue earthworm that lives in Borneo, and a worm discovered in 2007 that actually lives below the ocean's surface. There's LOTS of terrific worms out there! This would be a great research project. Students must also give a one paragraph description of the country/area where the worm is found.

3. Reading: There are great books out there about worms, both fiction and non fiction. They are great to use in guided reading, as a class read-aloud, or for individual research. Below are a few of my favorites.

An Earthworm's Live (Nature Unclose) by John Himmelman

Earl The Earthworm Digs for His Life by Tim Magner

Earthworms (Minibeasts) by Claire Liewellyn

Wiggling Worms at Work (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Wendy Pleffer

4. Writing: Once students know all about earthworms, ask them to make their own diary of a worm. They should write a diary that covers one week, including activities worms would experience.  Research is always a good writing activity. Once the research is finished, ask students to create a poster about what they learned. When the study of earthworms is concluded, ask students to write about what they learned, and what surprised them. 

If you would be interested in my "Wonderful Worm Day" resource that gives handouts, ideas, and everything you need to have to conduct your own Worm Day, Click Here


  1. Oh, I am not sure that it is a good idea for every school. We had the same lesson in our school and my daughter was in panic. She hates all bugs, butterflies and worms and when she saw that, what can I say, it was awful. After this lesson the teacher asked the children to write an essay about these activities. It was the first time when we have to use the best essay writers online services for doing her home assignment because she couldn't write it. I think that the teachers have to ask children about their phobias before organize the lessons like that. If all children don't mind then it can be hold. In other case the teacher can get the bad reaction from some pupils.

  2. Actually, the key is student preparation. I have done this activity no less than ten times with third graders, and even though I have had some very squeamish kids, by the end of the lesson even they were holding the worms. Students have to know the worms are coming and on what day, that they are guests and must be treated with respect, and that without worms our soil wouldn't be rich enough to grow most of the food we love. I never require kids to touch or hold a worm. I do ask them to look at the worm and do the activities as other kids check out the worms. Even that was too much for one of my girls, so I allowed her to have a seat at the back of the room when the worms were out. She really didn't like not being part of what was going on, and soon came on her own back to her group. And yes, even she was touching the worms by the end of the day. The key is preparation, and allowing students to keep their distance if they choose. This is one of those activities that can help children learn how to deal with their fear. The key is to let the students who are squeamish make the decisions on how much, and when to participate. By the way, I also made sure the class understood that some students may not want to touch the worms, and this was fine. Anyone who tried to force it on another student would loose "worm" privileges and would have to sit out the lesson. We need respect for each other, as well as the worms. So, my feeling is any class of third graders or older could do this activity as long as the kids are prepared.