Snowflake Bentley Lesson Plan: Winter Fun with STEM Connections

Trying to get kids interested in learning can be challenging as the long winter months drag on. One of my favorite ways to keep learning fun is adding some winter lesson plans incorporating cross-curricular lessons around fun seasonal topics, like this great Snowflake Bentley lesson plan.

This blog post will help you find a way to use Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin as an introductory lesson for teaching biography and math concepts to elementary students.

Snowflake Bentley activities
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Teaching Biographies as a Literary Genre

Most state standards include biographies at some point. Why?

Biographies can provide a bridge between fiction and non-fiction. Biographies also humanize historical figures, making them more relatable to students. This is helpful because it can lead to more in-depth discussions and help students explore historical issues and personal decision-making from a different perspective.

Stories like the one of Snowflake Bentley are interesting, but they also make for great discussion pieces!

books in snow

There are a few things to keep in mind when teaching biographies:

  • Introduce biography as a literary genre and discuss the elements of this type of writing.
  • Discuss why people might choose to write about someone’s life story.
  • Purposefully select biographies that are age-appropriate for your learners and they can relate to their lived experiences.
  • Pre-read any biography to identify areas where you can make cross-curricular connections.

An Overview of Snowflake Bentley

Written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, the book Snowflake Bentley tells the story of Wilson Bentley, who was born in 1885 and is credited as being the first person to photograph a snowflake.

The book begins with a brief overview of Wilson’s life leading up to his fascination with snowflakes. We learn that he grew up on a Vermont farm and loved observing nature outside. As a teenager, he became particularly interested in snowflakes and began experimenting with ways to photograph them.

Snowflake bentley read aloud

One of the things I love about this book is that it’s not simply a biography. It also includes elements of science and art. Briggs Martin does an excellent job of weaving these elements together so that students can see how they are connected.

After reading the book, I like to discuss Wilson Bentley’s life with my students and how his passion for snowflakes led him to become famous. We also talk about the different elements of symmetry that can be found in snowflakes. Finally, I ask students to think about their own passions and what they might be.

Pre-reading: Getting Started with Snowflake Bentley

You’ll want to do two major things before you start reading the book. First, you’ll want to review the characteristics of biographies. Then, you’ll want to ensure you’ve activated student background knowledge.

I’ve shared some tips and ideas for each of these steps below.

Introducing the Genre

Biographies offer a unique combination of the elements of fiction with the real story of someone who has lived. This creates a great opportunity for students to apply their understanding of the story elements – character, setting, problem, and resolution – and the elements commonly found in non-fiction.

When preparing to introduce biographies as a genre, it is important to begin by helping students understand that biographies are literary non-fiction books. This means that the information in these types of texts should be accurate and reliable, but there might still be some creative license used when writing a biography to allow for interesting descriptions and dialogue.

winter book ideas

Students must be able to distinguish between the elements that make up a biography before they can apply them to their own reading. I like using science biographies, like that of Snowflake Bentley, because this allows me to connect to the standards for teaching about different types of scientists and STEM careers. Since we read a lot of non-fiction in science, it also helps students to see how different types of nonfiction texts are connected.

Here are a few other math and science biographies I enjoy reading with my students:

Review the text elements that define biographies

Before reading the book, you’ll want to introduce (or review) the key parts of biographies. This means discussing the elements that biographies typically have, such as character, setting, and problem.

You can also talk about how biographies are written and what students should look for when reading them. For example, I like to use biographies to review standards related to timelines since most are written in sequence.

Here’s a great example of an awesome anchor chart from the Teacher Trap you can create to begin this process.

Activating Background Knowledge

You’ll likely also want to begin activating some prior knowledge that students may have related to snow. This can be especially important for those students who don’t live in snowy places, as they may have limited background knowledge to draw from.

Some questions you might consider asking include:

  • What places on Earth get snow? Which don’t?
  • How do snowflakes form?
  • What are some unique properties of snow?
  • What are some experiences you’ve had with snow?

You might also take some time before reading to show the photographs captured by Bentley with his camera. These can be found in Bentley’s book Snow Crystals or on the website for the Smithsonian.

Snowflake Bentley 5 1 Snowflake Bentley lesson plan, Snowflake Bentley, Snowflake Bentley read aloud, Snowflake bentley lesson plans elementary, snowflake bentley activities

Introducing the Text & Making Meaning

Once your students have a solid grasp of a biography and the key features they should expect to find in the text, you can transition to reading the book.

As I’m reading, I like to stop and record key events in a timeline so that my students and I can go back and synthesize the big ideas later.

Here are some key events you’ll likely want to include:

  • 1865 – Wilson Bentley born in Vermont
  • 1869 – Bentley begins to attend school. (Age 14)
  • 1870 – Bentley began his study of snowflakes, drawing hundreds across 3 years (Age 15)
  • 1871 – Wilson discovered there was a camera with a microscope. (Age 16)
  • 1872 – He receives the camera as a gift (Age 17)
  • 1873 – Wilson takes the first photograph of a snowflake
  • 1926 – Bentley had spent $15,000 on his work & had made $4,000 in sales
  • 1928 – Bentley took hundreds of photographs during a Valentine’s Blizzard
  • 1931 – Snow Crystals is published & Bentley passed away a month later (Age 66)

Post-reading: Synthesizing to Make Sense of Biographies

After reading any biography, I like to use a timeline to review the big events of the individual’s life and begin to make meaning of their important contributions to society.

You’ll have everything you need since you’ve been creating a timeline as you worked through the book. To keep things focused, I like to use a flipbook similar to the one shown below to allow students to record the big ideas.

biography flipbook
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The biography flipbook includes four tabs that focus on the 5 Ws:

  • Who is the person you read about?
  • What did they do that made them famous?
  • When did they live & what was life like during that time?
  • Why should everyone know about this person? How can it help us?

I also use this same resource when I have students read through and record information on a biography of their choosing because they are already familiar with the format. I’ve included the Biography flipbook in the free resources I’ve shared below, so be sure to grab a copy if you’d like to add it to your Snowflake Bentley lesson plans.

Making Cross-Curricular Connections to Math & Science

When it comes to making connections to math and science, many great options relate to snow. Here are a few of my favorites split out by grade levels:

Kinder-2nd Grade

While you will likely not dig as deep into the biography component in the primary grades, you can still use this text to introduce snow-related activities. 

For example, you can connect math by having students measure and compare different snowflakes or create graphs to show the distribution of various shapes.

measuring paper snowflakes
For younger learners, use linking cubes or other non-standardized measuring tools.

You could also have students explore symmetry by creating their paper snowflakes.

paper snowflakes

3rd – 5th Grades

Older students also love the opportunity to review symmetry with paper snowflakes, but there are many other activities you can have students do at this level.

For example, you could have students explore the volume of snow through displacement experiments or calculate the amount of water needed to create a certain snow depth. You could also connect with science by looking at the different types of precipitation and how they’re formed.

For third and fourth graders working on multiplication, you can have them examine patterns in the points on different amounts of snowflakes. This can be used to make data tables or model multiplication problems.

Snow data tables math worksheet

Fifth graders might even use snowflakes to practice calculating measures of central tendency, like in the worksheet shown below.

Snow measures of central tendency worksheet

Grab the Snowflake Bentley Lesson Plan Resources

Now that you’ve read about how to use the Snowflake Bentley read-aloud to introduce biographies and make cross-curricular connections, I’m sure you’re ready to tackle this in your classroom.

That’s why I created these fun cross-curricular resources to help you!

Snowflake bentley lesson plan
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In this Snowflake Bentley Activity Pack, you’ll find:

  • Teachers Guide with lesson outlines & link to Digital Snowflake Bentley Read Aloud
  • Biography Flipbook
  • Differentiated Snowflake Bentley Biography passages (2 options)
  • Snowflake Measurement Task Cards
  • 3 Snowflake Math Printables
  • Snowflake STEM activity with Engineer Journal
Snowflake Bentley lesson plans

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