----Applying Language Skills
Students learn about a species of spiders, then reinforce learning by interviewing, and being interviewed by, a classmate.
Halloween, spiders, arachnids, journalism, science, writing, interviewing
Part 1: Select/Assign Spiders
Spiders have elicited both fear and curiosity for centuries. Over 40,000 species of the arachnid exist, yet all have eight legs, spin silk and inject venom. Spiders also hold a prominent place in popular culture, thanks to films like The Amazing Spider-Man and cars like the Fiat Spider.
First, introduce to student basic facts about spiders including body structure/parts, how they are different from insects, how they spin webs, how they use venom, how they are important to the ecosystem, etc.
Web sites such as these may be helpful:
Then, begin introducing particular species of spiders. While teachers may choose to focus on any type of spiders, below are descriptions of 10 noteworthy ones likely to be of interest to students.
The Largest Spider in the World – Goliath Bird-Eating Spider
The Goliath Bird-Eating Spider (Theraphosa blondi) is an arachnid belonging to the tarantula group, Theraphosidae. It is considered to be the largest in the world and gets its name from reports of explorers from the Victorian era, who witnessed one eating a hummingbird.
Despite their fearsome appearance, these spiders don't have teeth for tearing and chewing their meals. Instead, they inject victims with juices that break down soft tissue, allowing the spider to slurp its meal. Additionally, these spiders can produce a hissing sound that is audible from up to 15 feet away.
The Deadliest Spider in the World – Brazilian Wandering Spider
The Brazilian Wandering Spider (Phoneutria) can grow to have a leg span of up to four or five inches. They are large, hairy, spindly-looking spiders with eight eyes, two of which are large. Brazilian Wandering Spiders are fast-moving, with strong, spiny legs and distinctive red jaws which they display when angered.
This spider not only has a potent neurotoxin, but reportedly has one of the most painful venoms due to its high concentration of serotonin.
The Most Common Spider in the World – Common House Spider
The common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) is found throughout the world and derives its name from its common presence inside human dwellings. A number of species are classified as house spiders, although the common house spider is the most recognized.
Cobwebs are a sure sign of common house spiders, and these silken-thread structures can be found throughout infested homes. An abundance of empty webs is caused by the spider’s propensity to spin webs in various locations until it finds the most suitable location for catching prey.
The Spider With the Strangest Habitat – Diving Bell Spider
The Diving Bell Spider or water spider (Argyroneta aquatic) is the only species of spider known to live entirely under water. An enduring bubble of air inside an underwater silk sack allows this species of spider to remain underwater for hours at a time. In fact, the bubble is so efficient it allows spider to live virtually its whole life under water.
The diving bell functions as a very effective physical gill, as opposed to an anatomical gill. And, because the diving bell spider lives a quiet, sedentary life, its oxygen requirements are easily met, even in extreme conditions of warm, stagnant water.
The Most Famous Spider in the World – Black Widow Spider
Black Widows (Latrodectus) are notorious spiders identified by the colored, hourglass-shaped mark on their abdomens. This spider's bite is much feared because its venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s. In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage—let alone death.
Black Widows are comb-footed spiders, which means they have bristles on their hind legs that they use to cover their prey with silk once it has been trapped.
The Most Industrious Spider in the World – Trapdoor Spider
Trapdoor Spiders (Ctenizidae) are medium-sized spiders that construct burrows with a cork-like trapdoor made of soil, vegetation and silk. The most interesting aspect of these spiders is their architecture. They build tube-like tunnels in the sides of banks in disturbed areas, along natural insect walkways. The tunnel is capped with an ingenious trapdoor.
The tunnel is also used by the female as a nursery. She lays her eggs in the tube and immediately covers them in a sac which is attached to the tunnel wall. She remains with them until hatching and beyond, allowing them to remain unharmed in the burrow until they are as much as eight months old.
The Most “Religious” Spider in the World – St. Andrew’s Cross Spider
St Andrew's Cross Spiders (Argiope keyserlingi) are named for their bright web decorations—zig-zag ribbons of bluish-white silk that form a full or partial cross through the center of the orb web. Their appearance when sitting on the web brings to mind the crucifixion of St. Andrew, who was fastened to an X-shaped cross at his own request because he felt unworthy of being crucified on a traditional cross, as Jesus had been.
When threatened, the St. Andrew's Cross Spider responds either by dropping from the web or shaking it so vigorously that both spider and stabilimentum (web decoration) become a blur that confuses the attacker.
The Spider With the Longest Leg Span in the World – Giant Huntsman Spider
The Giant Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda maxima) is considered the world’s largest spider by leg-span. It appears to be a cave dweller and was discovered in the southeast Asian nation of Laos in 2001. The leg span of this spider can exceed 12 inches.
Huntsman Spiders, like all spiders, molt in order to grow. When seen suspended on bark or in a home, this spider’s shed skin often is mistaken for a live spider.
The Spider That Spins the Largest Web in the World – Darwin’s Bark Spider
Darwin's Bark Spider (Caerostris darwini) is an orb-weaver spider that produces the largest known web. The arachnid’s web size ranges from 900 to 28,000 square centimeters, with anchor lines spanning up to 82 feet in length.
This spider’s silk is also incredibly strong. It is often referred to as the toughest biological material ever discovered and is over 10 times stronger than a similarly-sized piece of Kevlar, the material used to construct bullet-proof vests.
The Spider Whose Venom Will Eat Flesh – Brown Recluse Spider
The Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles recluse) is not aggressive, but when threatened will inflict a bite that results in a necrotic lesion on the skin. The lesion appears as a dry, sinking bluish patch with irregular edges, a pale center and peripheral redness. Often there is a central blister. As the venom continues to destroy tissue, the wound may expand up to several inches over a period of days or weeks. The necrotic ulcer can persist for several months, leaving a deep scar.
Part 2: Research
Once students have selected a spider (more than one student can select a particular species), they will learn as much as they can about that species. Key facts will include the spider’s natural habitat, distinguishing features and behaviors, diet and impact on society. Each student should take notes on his/her spider, but whenever possible, kids should avoid “looking down” at these notes during the later interview.
The following sites will be helpful to students, as they offer some detail on a number of species:
Part 3: Pair Share
This part of the lesson involves a variation on the Think-Pair-Share instructional strategy. Once all of the students are familiar with their particular spider, pair them up with a partner who has learned about a different species. Have students take turns interviewing each other about their spiders. (If you’d like to emphasize a Halloween theme with this activity, younger students will enjoy pretending they are spiders who are being interviewed.)
The teacher should model an interview for the class beforehand, in addition to suggesting particular interview questions. You may choose to provide two or three core questions that each student must ask, and then allow young people to formulate an additional question or two of their choice. Make sure that students write (or type) out their questions ahead of time.
It’s worthwhile reviewing basic journalistic techniques before kids begin interviewing. Web resources for teaching students, especially younger ones, about journalism and interview techniques include:
Offer interviewing advice such as:
In addition to asking questions, interviewers should take notes. (You may want to provide a note-taking template and discuss note-taking techniques such as paraphrasing the interviewee’s words.)
During the interviews, circulate to make sure students remain on-task. Specify a time limit for each interview, indicating when it’s time for students to switch roles.
When each student has had a chance to interview and be interviewed, ask each one to share with the whole class a key fact learned during the interview—examples include the spookiest, scariest, most surprising or most unbelievable fact.
Discuss with students how easy or hard it was to think of good questions to ask, interview a classmate, listen and write at the same time, remember information while being interviewed, etc.
Wrap up by having students share “lessons learned” about good interview techniques.
Extend the lesson
Assess student interviews based upon the following:
Lesson Plan Source
Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
GRADES K - 12
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills
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