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Maintain Student Interest when Teaching Human Evolution

By Noreen Gunnell

The various genus and species associated with the theory of human evolution. It contains a completed reference worksheet for the teacher, as well as a blank one for students to complete. Definitions, important dates, places, and people are included.

Evolution can be a problematic topic in the classroom. Once you can get past the creation versus evolution controversy, you have to deal with the reality of strange names, new terms, the extremely distant past, and probably not the most interested students. There have been several significant fossil finds over the years and these need to be discussed along with the theory of evolution. The information provided below breaks down the discoveries and charts the information discovered with each one.

Students will be engaged in the lesson through internet research on Homo habilis and Homo erectus. Through their research, students will choose one fossil example for those two species and fill in the appropriate column on their worksheets. This assignment will enable them to learn where and when the fossils were found, how they were named, and what physical features and skills the species possessed. For a fun and creative activity, the students themselves will become the examples for Homo sapiens sapiens as they imagine what a future anthropologist would surmise about them from fossil remains.

The Teaching Plan

Lesson Title: Human Evolution Lesson Plans

Lesson Focus: The lesson plans below discuss the various genus and species associated with the theory of human evolution. A completed, reference worksheet for the teacher and a blank evidence worksheet for students are included along with an accompanying study guide complete with prehistory vocabulary definitions and important dates.

Grade Level: Grades 7-8 (It can be adapted for older students.)

Time Needed: Two or three class periods.

Vocabulary Words: hominid, genus, species, Australopithecus afarensis, Ardipithecus ramidus, Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, anthropologist, archaeologist, artifact.

The definitions of these prehistory vocabulary terms, and information on important anthropologists and fossil-find locations can be found in this Study Guide for Prehistory Lesson.

Lesson Outline:

  1. Provide students with the vocabulary list and a blank copy of the Worksheet on Human Evolution.
  2. Teach about Australopithecus and Ardipithecus and how they fit into the theory of evolution by following this link to a lesson plan on significant fossil finds. Teachers can use this completed Worksheet on Human Evolution as a reference. While it does not cover every fossil and species found, the chart includes significant fossil discoveries and the most commonly discussed species.
  3. As you discuss with your class the fossils and what they revealed, have students fill in everything except the third, fourth, and final (seventh) column.
  4. On their own, have students fill in the columns on Homo habilis (third column) and Homo erectus (fourth column) using their notes, textbook, and the websites referenced below. For the seventh column, Homo sapiens sapiens, have the students imagine what an anthropologist would infer about them from fossil remains. The students themselves will be the examples and they can get creative and have fun as to where and how their fossils were found, what name they were given, and whether or not any artifacts were found also. However, they will have to be realistic, and accurate, when it comes to describing physical features and skills.