Teacher Guide by Oliver Smith

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Animal Adaptation Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Adaptation Include:

There are millions of different types of living organisms in the world. Over long periods of time, living things have evolved to be adapted to survive in different conditions. If an organism has an advantageous adaptation, they are more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass on the genetic information for this adaptation to the next generation. This idea, now known as the theory of evolution by natural selection, was defined by British scientist Charles Darwin.

Adaptation Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Label the Adaptations

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In this activity students will choose a living thing and describe its adaptations that allow it to survive well in its environment.

Animal Adaptation Examples

Animal Adaptations
Polar Bear
  • Small ears to reduce heat loss
  • Thick white fur to help keep the bear warm and for camouflage in the snow
  • Thick layer of fat to help insulate for warmth
  • Large paws to stop the bear sinking in the snow
  • Sharp teeth to eat prey easily.
  • Large feet to reduce the pressure the camel exerts on the sand
  • Hump(s) containing fat which the camel can use for energy, but the fat doesn’t insulate its body
  • Nostrils are lined with hair and can shut to stop sand getting into the nose
  • Thick lips, so the camel can eat prickly desert plants
  • Bushy eyelashes to stop sand getting in their eyes
  • Streamlined shape and powerful tail to move the mammal very quickly through the water.
  • Thick blubber (fat) for insulation in cold oceans.
  • Sharp teeth to rip up prey.
  • Strong muscular tail to push the animal through the water.
  • Orcas are well camouflaged. When looking from the bottom of the water up their white underbellies look like the surface of the water. When looking down from the top of the water their black top sides blend in the with color of the depths.
  • Horns to fight with other giraffe
  • Patterned coat for camouflage
  • Leathery mouth to eat tough and prickly plants
  • Long neck and legs to help the animal reach food high up in the trees
  • Long, tough tongue that can grip leaves and branches
  • Thick stem full of spongy tissue that can absorb lots of water
  • Spines which are curled leaves to decrease surface area and reduce water loss through transpiration and deter animals from eating the plant.
  • Thick, waxy epidermis to reduce water loss
  • Shallow, but expansive root system to increase the water uptake
  • Stem contains a high density of chloroplasts for photosynthesis
Barn Owl
  • Flexible neck allows the owl to see in all directions
  • Soft feathers for near-silent flight to catch prey without being heard
  • Large wingspan compared to body mass, meaning they can fly very slowly.
  • Asymmetric ears allows the owl to pinpoint the direction of sound with high accuracy
  • Sharp talons to grip prey

In the example there are three animals. The instructions given in the activity get students to complete this assignment for one living thing.

To scaffold this activity for your students, provide the adaptations and have them match up the adaptation to the organism.

To challenge your more able students, have them create some additional adaptations for the organisms and get them to justify how these adaptations will be beneficial for the organism. Alternatively, get your students to research the evolutionary history of the organisms adaptations.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how a living thing is adapted to its environment.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose an organism.
  3. Find an image of the organism.
  4. Label the diagram with five different adaptations with text boxes and arrows.
  5. Explain how these adaptations increase the chances of survival or reproduction.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Vocabulary for Adaptation

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Have your students put key vocabulary into practice. One of the things students can find really difficult is using scientific vocabulary correctly and in the appropriate context. Using a visual representation or visual examples as well as a written one can really help students understand abstract concepts.

Example Adaptation Vocabulary


Interaction between organisms where both organisms are harmed; limited supplies of resources can be a factor


Place or environment where an organism naturally occurs


An organism's characteristic that makes its chances of surviving or reproducing higher


Process from which different types of organisms have developed and become more diverse over millions of years


State of a species after its last living member has died

Other terms include:

  • Advantages
  • Arthropod
  • Bacteria
  • Characteristics
  • Classify
  • Continuous
  • Correlation
  • Disadvantages
  • Discontinuous
  • Environment
  • Fungi
  • Genes
  • Genotype
  • Inherit
  • Invertebrates
  • Mammals
  • Mimicry
  • Mutation
  • Nature
  • Nutrition
  • Organism
  • Origins
  • Phenotype
  • Relationships
  • Similarities
  • Specimen
  • Systematic
  • Taxonomy
  • Unique
  • Variation
  • Variety
  • Vertebrates

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of key scientific vocabulary by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose five vocabulary words and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary and write it under the cell.
  3. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to give examples of the words.
  4. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Adaptation Discussion Storyboard

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Discussion storyboards are a great way to get your students talking about their ideas in Science. They allow students to critique and evaluate different viewpoints without upsetting other students. This activity can be used at the start of the topic to elicit any misconceptions students may have.

At first, show students a discussion storyboard like the one below. Ask them to look at the problem on the discussion storyboard. It shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. Students should think about whom they think is the most correct and be prepared to explain why that person is correct. Students might support their position by creating visuals, including text and images, on Storyboard That. These visuals can easily be exported as PowerPoint slides. After students have prepared their argument, have your students discuss their ideas. This discussion can be carried out in a range of different formats. Students could discuss in pairs, small groups or even in a teacher-led, whole class setting. It is important to agree on a list of discussion rules with students before they start so that everybody gets a chance to participate. Students will also be able to practice adapting their speech to a formal debating context and can demonstrate their grasp of formal English.

Here are some other ideas to use these discussion storyboards in your lessons.

  1. Students add another cell on the end of the example you’ve given them to explain whom they think is correct and why.
  2. Students create a storyboard to describe why a student is incorrect, and then "teach" the concept.
  3. Students create their own discussion storyboards to share with peers on the current topic.

Note that the template in this assignment is blank. After clicking "Copy Assignment", add your desired problem and solutions to match the needs of your students.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Read the discussion storyboard that shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. You are going to give your opinion on whom you think is correct and explain why. You will use your created storyboard to engage in discussion with your peers.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Add another cell at the end of the row.
  3. Use text and images to explain whom you think is correct and why.
  4. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Animals in a Habitat

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The polar region is a very difficult place to survive in. Polar regions are the areas surrounding each pole (North and South) of the Earth. They are well known for being very cold with average winter temperatures of -40°C (-40°F)in the Arctic and -60°C (-76°F) in Antarctica. In the summer it gets a bit warmer with average temperatures of 0°C (32°F) in the Arctic and -28°C (-18°F) in the Antarctic. These low temperatures require animals to have adaptations that allow them to survive. Animals such as the polar bear, the beluga whale, and the arctic fox can all survive in polar regions.

The rainforest is an area categorized by high rainfall. Tropical rainforests are home to millions of different species of living things, they are areas of large biodiversity. As well as a high amount of rainfall, tropical rainforests have high average temperatures. The Amazon rainforest, located in the north of South America, has an average temperature of 26°C (80°F). The Toco toucan, jaguar, and heliconia are living things that can be found in the tropical rainforest.

The African savanna is a tropical grassland habitat with high year round temperatures (20-30°C) and a large amount of rainfall in the summer (with 25-75 cm falling annually). Although there is a large amount of grass growth, there isn’t a large tree population. This environment supports a large, varied, and diverse community of living things. Termites, the umbrella acacia, and zebras are examples of living things that live in the African savanna.

The desert is another place where life struggles to survive. There are four major deserts in the United States: the Great Basin Desert, the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert. They are all categorized as deserts because they receive very little precipitation. As well as having very little water, they also can have extreme high temperatures during the day and extreme low temperatures at night. The animals and plants that have adapted to survive in these harsh environments do so by using little water and surviving the extreme temperatures.

To make this activity more challenging for your more able students, have them identify how these animals are adapted for survival in their habitat. This activity could be used as a lead in activity for activity one.

To make this activity easier, print out the example storyboard, cut it up and have students sort the animals into the correct habitat. This modification could be completed individually or as a group.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard where you provide examples of different living organisms from a given environment.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Research different organisms that live in polar regions, rainforests, the African savanna, and the American desert.
  3. Pick three organisms for each habit and add photos by using the search bar. Try to include a wide range of organisms, not just animals.
  4. Add rows to the storyboard for each additional habitat.
  5. Write the name of the organism in the description box.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Life exists on Earth in many wildly different forms. Scientists believe there are around nine million different species of organisms on planet Earth, although only 1.3 million have been discovered. These organisms vary massively with each species having different characteristics. Life exists in almost every corner of the world. The only places scientists believe life doesn’t exist is inside volcanoes and inside hydrothermal vents where the temperature is too high. From the polar regions at the top and bottom of the Earth, to the hot arid deserts in the middle, life exists all over Earth in very different habitats. Different environmental conditions support different species of living things.

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In 1831 Charles Darwin left on the HMS Beagle on a five-year voyage around the world. He left against his father’s will as the ship’s scientist, and studied the natural world around him on his journey. The ship left Plymouth, England and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean around South America, then across the Pacific to Australia, then to South Africa, and finally back to England.

On his journey, he noticed that there was a large variation in the living things he saw and began to wonder why that was. Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands in 1835. In the Galapagos, he noticed that animals varied from island to island. In particular he noticed a family of birds whose beak was a different shape depending on which island they lived on. Darwin linked the shape of the bird’s beak with the type of food that made up the majority of the birds’ diets. The shape of the birds’ beaks is an example of an adaptation, something that helps a living thing survive or reproduce more easily. This led him to develop the theory of evolution by natural selection, one of the most important theories in biology.

Darwin used these observations and came to the conclusion that the reason the organisms were different was due to gradual changes over time. The organisms which had advantageous adaptations had a high chance of surviving and reproducing, meaning they had a higher chance of passing their genes onto the next generation. Those organisms that did not possess these adaptations had a lower chance of survival and reproduction, therefore having a higher chance of dying before they could pass on their genes. Over many generations, organisms evolved to be better suited to their environment. While still technically a ‘theory’, Darwin’s ideas have been accepted by the scientific community as the reason for varied life on Earth.

In order for organisms to survive, they need to have adaptations which give them an advantage when living in their environment. Every animal, plant, bacterium, fungus, archaeon, and protist has characteristics that allow it to be successful in surviving in its habitat. These adaptations can be categorized into behavioral, structural, or physiological. Behavioral adaptations can be inherited or learnt. Behavioral adaptations include communication and swarming. An example of a physiological adaptation is the ability to make venom. Structural adaptations are ways the organism's body or structure is adapted to help the organism survive or reproduce. An example of a structural adaptation could be the streamlined shape of a dolphin which allows it to move through the water more easily.

Organisms compete with each other for resources. These resources could be water, food, sunlight, or space. Organisms also compete with each other to reproduce. Organisms which are well adapted will have a higher chance of getting the needed resources. If organisms are unsuccessful and are unable to move to another habitat, they will not survive.

The Polar Bear, Ursus maritimus, is a bear that can be found in the Arctic Circle. It is a mammal and an apex predator that spends a lot of time in and around water hunting for food. Its main source of nutrition is seals. The polar bear is well adapted for its habitat. It has large paws which allows the bear to get a better grip on the ice and not sink into the snow. It is well camouflaged as it has white fur which allows it to hide from its prey on the snow and ice. Thick layers of fat stop the animal getting cold. The bear also has small ears which reduces the heat lost from them.

The Saguaro Cactus, Carnegiea gigantean, is found in many desert habitats, especially in the deserts of North America. It can survive in a hot, dry environment, and has many characteristics that allow it to do this. It is covered in spines which not only stop animals from eating the cactus, but also reduce the amount of water loss due to transpiration. They have a thick epidermis to reduce water loss. The inside of the cactus stem is filled with a spongy tissue that is used to store water.

Essential Questions for Adaptations

  1. Why are animals different?
  2. How are animals different?
  3. How are predators adapted to catch prey?
  4. How are prey adapted to not be easily caught by predators?

Other Lesson Plan Ideas for Adaptation

  1. Students create a narrative storyboard showing competition and natural selection.
  2. Students design an animal for a particular habit including details how the new adaptations would help the animal survive.
  3. Students create a timeline storyboard showing the evolutionary history of a particular adaptation. This could include human inventions!

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•   (English) Adaptations   •   (Español) Adaptaciones   •   (Français) Adaptations   •   (Deutsch) Anpassungen   •   (Italiana) Adattamenti   •   (Nederlands) Aanpassingen   •   (Português) Adaptações   •   (עברית) הסתגלויות   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الاقتباسات   •   (हिन्दी) रूपांतरों   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Адаптации   •   (Dansk) Tilpasninger   •   (Svenska) Anpassningar   •   (Suomi) Mukautukset   •   (Norsk) Tilpasninger   •   (Türkçe) Uyarlamalar   •   (Polski) Dostosowania   •   (Româna) Adaptările   •   (Ceština) Přizpůsobení   •   (Slovenský) Prípravky   •   (Magyar) Adaptációk   •   (Hrvatski) Adaptacije   •   (български) Приспособления   •   (Lietuvos) Pritaikymai   •   (Slovenščina) Prilagoditve   •   (Latvijas) Pielāgojumi   •   (eesti) Kohandused