Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: Digging Up Dinosaurs

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Did you ever wonder how we know that dinosaurs existed?  How do we know what they were like, how big they were, what they ate?  Digging Up Dinosaurs, written and illustrated by Aliki, is a very interesting and fun story that allows students to discover how science helps us answer these and many more questions about dinosaurs.

Have you ever seen dinosaur skeletons in a museum?
I have.
I visit them all the time.

This is how the story begins as a little girl takes us through the dinosaur exhibit in a museum.  The beginning pages show more dinosaurs in the museum, and the crowds of people viewing them.  We get to experience what one may think and say while visiting dinosaurs in a  museum like this through the clever use of dialogue in balloons.  Then, the little girl goes on to very clearly explain how these dinosaur skeletons, that people did not even know existed until about 200 years ago, got into museums.  After explaining how and where dinosaur fossils were first found, she goes on to tell us about the team of experts that work together: paleontologist, geologist, draftsman, workers, photographer, and specialist.  She explains how they find the fossils, dig them out, safely transport, and study the fossils.

They compare the bones to other bones.
They compare them to the bones of other animals.
They try to figure out what size and shape the dinosaur was.
They try to figure out how the dinosaur stood and walked, and what it ate.

Then they put the skeletons together again inside museums, to look just like the dinosaurs of millions of years ago, "And many people can spend hours looking at them, the way I do.".

The illustrations are colorful and fun.  The dialogue in balloons make the story very funny and relatable, and the texts of extra information (that give the appearance of being written notes) are filled with interesting facts.  This is a great book to inspire future young scientists or even satisfy the curiosity of the inquisitive child who needs to understand how and where these "bones" came from.

Curriculum Connections

Digging Up Dinosaurs can be used to introduce and/or enhance many of the Standards of Learning for elementary students.  There are many process skill SOLs covered within this book.  The student can apply what is in the book to help understand scientific reasoning, logic and nature of science by planning and conducting investigations in which: observations are made from multiple positions to achieve different perspectives, as they first view, uncover, photograph, and display the fossils (VA SOL K.1b, 1.1b); simple tools are used to enhance observations as they excavate, preserve, and study the fossils (VA SOL 1.1d, 4.1c); a question, or in this case many questions, are developed from one or more observations of the fossils (VA SOL 1.1g, 2.1a), examining the dinosaur teeth is an example of inferences being made and conclusions drawn about what the dinosaur ate (VA SOL 3.1j, 4.1a, 5.1i).  It is simply a great illustration of the varied process skills used to explore something that was not ever even heard of until 200 years ago.

Additional Resources

  • National Geographic Xpeditions offers a great lesson plan called The Science of Digging Up Bones.  The lesson plan is geared towards Grades 6-8, but can be changed to accommodate younger grades.  This lesson has students trace the steps of a paleontologist from determining where to look for dinosaur fossils to studying the completed dinosaur skeleton for clues about the dinosaur’s behavior, diet, and anatomy.
  • Digging Up Bones A WebQuest of a Dinosaur Excavation is another fun lesson plan idea related directly to the book.  It is a hands on activity allowing the students to work as teams as the paleontologist, a worker, a draftsman, and a photographer in order to identify fossil models made by the teacher based on dinosaur teeth information at this Enchanted Learning website.  This site gives a little more detail to the same lesson plan.
  • To add a fun hook to a lesson plan that will have the kids laughing (and probably keep everyone singing the tune all day), have the students watch the I Am a Paleontologist video from the Here Comes Science album by They Might Be Giants.
  • TVO Kids has a fun online game called Dino Dig.  The student can be the paleontologist and use tools to uncover fossils.

General Information

Book: Digging Up Dinosaurs
Author: Aliki
Illustrator: Aliki
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 1988
Pages: 32
Grade Range: K-3
ISBN-10: 0064450783
ISBN-13: 978-0064450782