Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Squirrelly Behavior

Teacher Preparation and Set-up

7 Minute Squirrel Video for Practice Sessions

This is the spot for a video...

Having students work in pairs is a good way to organize a behavior watch. One student can keep time and call out the 30-second intervals while the other checks behaviors. A student pair should choose an individual animal to watch and record the behaviors of only that animal during an observation period. If the animal disappears from sight, students should record “Can’t See” as the behavior. At the end of the five-minute observation period, students should have ten checkmarks on their checksheets. Subsequent observations (marked on another checksheet) may be of the same animal or of a different individual.

Behaviors need to be defined clearly. It is important that students understand behaviors are objective (such as “chased another animal” or “yawned”) and not subjective (such as “wanted to fight” or “bored.”)

A practice observation and data-recording session will reveal that close and accurate observation requires patience and concentration. Fun ways to practice:

  • Assign a student to call out 30-second intervals for 5 minutes while you act out a variety of activities.
  • Conduct a behavior watch of an individual during uninterrupted segments of animal footage in a TV, film, or video documentary about wildlife.
  • Have students practice using the 7 minute squirrel behavior video provided with this lesson.
  • Observe (consenting) students in your school cafeteria while they eat lunch.

(The activities above can also be used as “stand-ins” if weather or other conditions unfortunately prevent your students from going outside to conduct their post-practice formal behavior watch.)

After the practice session, discuss with your class what worked and what needs to be changed before going outdoors to conduct their live behavior watch. Remind your students that the animal being observed may do something unexpected or nothing at all; that’s all part of observing animal behavior. Also, students may have to overcome distractions caused by friends and other people, and by personal discomfort. Reinforce the idea that students need to observe and record carefully; if circumstances prevent that, they should take a break and start over. Because comfort is important, students should find a vantage point where they easily see the animal subjects and can sit or stand comfortably for about 10 minutes. Observers’ clothing and shoes need to be appropriate for the weather.