Bring the adventure of animal adaptation into your classroom with this lesson teaching basic evolutionary concepts. This great activity will not only unlock the mystery of animal evolution, it will unleash the wild and creative side of each of your students.
Walk on the Wild Side
What young child isn’t easily captivated by the colorful and diverse range of organisms that are featured on popular programs on channels such as Animal Planet or National Geographic? While these television shows do a terrific job of exploring and explaining the impressive range of Earth’s biodiversity, there’s no reason you can’t bring a bit of the adventure into your classroom.
When I teach, I aim to have my lesson plans reach a diverse range of learning styles while also blending a variety of disciplines. The “Animal Adaptation" lesson plan primarily addresses biology, while also blending in geography, language arts and visual design. It also meets the needs of visual, auditory and linguistic learners.
4 + ecosystem descriptions (i.e. Arctic tundra, Sahara desert, Amazon river, Costa Rican cloud forest)
Large pieces of paper
Scrap colored paper
Map (for reference)
Reference books or encyclopedias
Duration: 1 hour to 1.5 hours (1 or 2 class periods)
Grade: 6th grade (can be adapted for other grade levels)
In the introduction it is important to explain the definition of adaptation. It is remarkable how many high school students struggle with this fundamental biological term! A good definition that I use is: “a form or structure modified to fit a changed environment" (1).
After explaining what the adaptation is, use an animal as an example. Ideally, it is best to use a live animal if one is available in your classroom or school. Show the animal (or a picture) to the students and ask them to brainstorm and write down in their notebooks a list of adaptations that the animal exhibits. Ask them to write down why they think the particular structure is important to that animal’s lifestyle. For example, if they write down “fin", they should be able to explain that a fin is important for swimming.
After a few minutes of brainstorming have them share their ideas with a partner (think-pair-share). Once they’ve had a few minutes to discuss their ideas, discuss the adaptation of the animal as a large group.
Once the class understands the concept of an adaptation and how it leads to success in the environment, it is time for the class to get creative and come up with some adaptation of their own. Divide the class into groups of three. If possible, give each group a description of a different ecosystem. The descriptions should be one or two paragraphs long – short enough to be read quickly by the group, but long enough to adequately describe the ecosystem. They can look up additional information in the reference books available in the classroom.
As a group, it is the challenge for each group to create an animal that would succeed in that ecosystem. Remind the students to think of the animals that are already present in that ecosystem (or refer them to the reference books in the classroom) and that their animal should fill an empty niche. The students should prepare a large illustration with at least 5 labeled structures and 7 sentences describing how the animal fits into its ecosystem.
Once they are done with their illustration, it is time to share them with the class. One member of the group will explain their organism and its special adaptations to the class. Encourage the class to ask questions and discuss how this animal will compete and succeed in its environment. Be sure to reference a map to show where the ecosystems are in the world.
After each group has presented, you can have the class vote on which animal they think will have the best success. And as always with 6th graders, make sure they put their heads down!
As a wrap up, explain how adaptations have led to the speciation (creation of new species) of animals and thus generated the immense biological diversity we see today. As an easy way to illustrate this, you can reference a local body of water such as a lake and have the students think of all the different shapes of fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects that live in that lake. Their differences in body shape and structure is what allows them to exploit unique resources and habitats and stay alive!