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Picturing Weird Animals:
A Lesson in Writing
Good, Clear Descriptions


Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
--Visual Arts
--Life Sciences
--Physical Science
Social Studies



Brief Description

This is a lesson in writing strong, clear descriptions. After being introduced to some of the world's most unique animals, students will create a description of an animal no one has ever seen before. The fun comes when viewing the illustrations students draw based on their classmates' descriptions! How close are those illustrations (based on the written descriptions) to the illustrations drawn by the animal creator's imagination?


Students will

  • learn about five truly unique animals.
  • write vivid descriptions of a "new" animal's appearance, habitat and habits.
  • compare illustrations of the animal creator to the one drawn by a classmate based on the creator's written description.


animals, description, descriptive writing, detail, imagination

Materials Needed

  • drawing paper and art supplies for creating drawings
  • paper and pens/pencils

Lesson Plan

  • Begin this lesson by asking students to think about the most unique real animals they know. Give them a minute or two to picture the animal and to create -- in their minds -- a clear and vivid description of the animal, its habitat, and its unique characteristics.
  • Then arrange students into pairs so they can share their ideas about unique real animals they have seen -- in person or on TV -- or read about.
  • After a couple minutes, merge pairs of students to create groups of four students. Give them a few minutes to discuss the unique real animals they are picturing. Challenge them to choose a single unique animal to represent their group.
  • Finally, take a few minutes to let student groups share their ideas about the most unique real animals that wander Earth.

What was the most unique animal about which students talked? Does its uniqueness match up to the uniqueness of any of these animals? List these animals names on a board or chart. Do any of the students know anything about these animals?

  • Chinese Giant Salamander
  • Yeti Crab
  • Almiqui (say ol-mee-KEE)
  • Blobfish
  • Coconut Crab

Tell students that you are going to share a short paragraph about each of the animals that includes information about the animal's appearance, its habits, and its habitat. Ask them to try to picture the animal in its habitat as you read. Ask them to consider which of the animals they find most fascinating.

Chinese giant salamander
This salamander is the largest salamander in the world. It lives along mountain streams and lakes in China. The salamander can grow to be 6 feet long and weigh more than 60 pounds. It has a large head, small eyes, and dark, pinkish wrinkly skin. The salamander has very poor eyesight, but it can catch insects, frogs, and fish by sensing the slight vibrations they make.

Yeti crab
This sea creature, which can grow to be 6 inches long, was discovered in the South Pacific Ocean in 2005. The yeti crab's legs and claws are covered with short, stiff, bright yellow hairs that make it look furry. As a matter of fact, some people have given this crab a nickname: the "furry lobster."

The almiqui (say ol-mee-KEE) looks something like a large brown rat. It can grow to be 20 inches long from the tip of its long, pointy snout to the end of its hairless tail. The almiqui is native to Cuba, but it is rarely seen because it only comes out of its underground burrow at night.

This unusual fish is well named. It looks like a blob of gooey stuff, and it is not very active. It is just a blob that mostly floats above the deep-ocean floor off the coast of Australia. Its face is its most unique feature. It has a large, fat nose between two small eyes, and it seems to frown. The blobfish is rarely seen by humans.

Coconut crab
This land crab lives on islands in the Indian Ocean. It looks like a hermit crab, but its body can grow to be 14 inches long and its legs can span 3 feet in length! Its two front legs have claws that can lift things that weigh 50 pounds or more. The coconut crab eats fruits and nuts. It will even climb a tree for a coconut meal.

Next, tell students you would like them to choose one of the animals -- perhaps the one they find most interesting -- and draw that animal as they picture it (based on your description) in its habitat. You might re-read the descriptions. At the end of each description, say: Who finds the name of animal goes here to be pretty interesting? Is this the animal you would like to draw? If so, come up now and take a sheet of drawing paper from me.

Give students time to draw the animals. Encourage them to provide appearance and habitat detail in their drawings. Reread the descriptions as needed/requested.

Once students have drawn their pictures, it is time to reveal a real picture of the actual animal. Talk as a class about how the students pictures resemble and differ from the actual animal. As you share the pictures (click each link below for a large image to share), you might share a few additional facts about the animal.

Chinese Giant Salamander

  • The Chinese giant salamander is an endangered species; its numbers have declined due to habitat loss, pollution, and over-collecting, as it is considered a delicacy and used in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • The similar Japanese giant salamander is slightly smaller than the Chinese giant salamander.
  • Nodes that line the back of the salamander are capable of sensing the slightest vibrations.
  • The female salamander lays about 500 eggs in an underwater breeding area. The male guards the eggs until they hatch in about 50 days.
  • The average Chinese giant salamander is about 4 feet in length and 55 pounds.

    Yeti Crab

  • The yeti crab was discovered in 2005 by a group from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Monterey, California. The group was operating aboard the research submarine DSV Alvin.
  • The species was found about 900 miles south of Easter Island in the South Pacific, at a depth of 7,200 feet. It lives on hydrothermal vents along the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge.
  • It has tiny eyes that lack pigment; scientists think the crab must be blind.
  • Although it is often called the "furry lobster," the yeti crab is not a true lobster. It is more closely related to hermit crabs.


  • The almiqui is unique among mammals in that its saliva is poisonous.
  • The almiqui was discovered in Cuba in 1871.
  • By 1970, scientists assumed the almiqui was extinct, since none had been found since 1890. But then, three were captured in 1974 and 1975. Today, the species remains very rare. The most recent sightings were made in 1999 and 2003. Altogether, only 37 of the species have ever been spotted.
  • The almiqui is sometimes compared to a shrew, although it is not closely related.


  • The saltwater blobfish is found at extreme depths off of the coasts of Tasmania and Australia. It can withstand the high pressure of these depths because its body is a mostly gelatinous mass that has a density just less than water.
  • The blobfish is not an active predator. For the most part, it simply feeds off what floats right by it.
  • Blobfish are sometimes caught by fishermen who use nets to bottom trawl.
  • A blobfish sits on its eggs until they hatch.

    Coconut Crab

  • While there have been coconut crabs that are 6 feet across and weigh 30 pounds, the average one is about 3 feet across and weighs 9 pounds. Males are generally a bit larger than females.
  • A coconut crab can live for more than 30 years.
  • Coconut crabs eat mostly fleshy fruits and nuts and seeds.
  • A coconut crab might climb trees to eat coconuts or fruit, escape the heat, or escape from predators.
  • Coconut crabs live alone in underground burrows and rock crevices. They generally stay in their burrows all day, but they will sometimes come out during the day, especially if it is raining.
  • Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean has the largest population of coconut crabs in the world.

    Culminating/Challenge Activity
    This activity might be done the day after the activity (above) is completed.
    Talk with students about the activity just completed. Why was it so challenging to draw the animal? Students might share that

    • they had never heard of the animal before;
    • their imaginations went off in ways that made the animal look different from the way it looks in real life;
    • the descriptions provided some nice detail, but additional detail might have helped to draw a better, more complete, more accurate picture

    Tell students you would like them to create their own animal. As they create the animal in their mind, they need to think about

    • its appearance (size, shape, color, skin);
    • its habitat (details about where it lives); and
    • its habits (more details about what makes the animal unique).
    Challenge them to
    • create an outline of facts" (appearance, habitat, and habits) about their fictional animal.
    • have a clear picture in their head of the animal.
    • create a name for their animal.
    Give students class time to work on/write their detailed descriptions.

    Give each child a large envelope and a sheet of drawing paper. Have students create an illustration of their animal in its habitat. They should create this illustration as a homework assignment (so there is no chance their classmates will see the pictures they draw of their animals). Once completed, students should put their illustrations in the large envelope you have given them and seal the envelope.

    Collect students written descriptions of their animals and then re-distribute the descriptions to their classmates, one description to a classmate. Take care to be sure no student receives his/her own description. Students will read the description they have been given and draw a picture of the animal based on that description.

    Once completed, give students time to share the description they were given and the picture they have drawn. After they have done that, its time for the creator of the description to hand over the sealed envelope with the actual illustration of the animal as s/he -- its creator -- envisioned it.

    How close are the illustrations in appearance? Are there similarities? What kinds of differences are clear?

    Give students time to talk about the activity just completed. What made it difficult? What might they do different next time? How important is it to paint clear images in the descriptions we write?

    On a classroom bulletin board, display students written descriptions alongside the two illustrations.


    Assess students based on the quality of their descriptions. You might use or adapt one of the rubric below to use in evaluating students written descriptions of their "new" animals.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Submitted By

    Gary Hopkins

    National Standards

    FINE ARTS: Visual Arts
    GRADES K - 4
    NA-VA.K-4.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    NA-VA.K-4.5 Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
    NA-VA.K-4.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NA-VA.5-8.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    NA-VA.5-8.5 Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
    NA-VA.5-8.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NA-VA.9-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating A Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
    NA-VA.9-12.5 Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
    NA-VA.9-12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.3 Life Science
    NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.3 Life Science
    NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.3 Life Science
    NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

    SOCIAL SCIENCES: Geography
    GRADES K - 12
    NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms
    NSS-G.K-12.2 Places and Regions
    NSS-G.K-12.5 Environment and Society

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