Going, Going, Gone! (5 day project-based lesson)

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SWBAT differentiate between threatened, endangered, and extinct species and create a public service announcement that describes why an animal is threatened or endangered, as well as suggestions to prevent extinction.

Big Idea

The rapid decrease in population among many species means that we must put forth more effort to ensure that these species do not go extinct. Why not get our students involved?!


15 minutes

I start the lesson by writing the following words on the board in random order:

safe, vulnerable, threatened, endangered, extinct

I tell the students that these are words that are frequently used to describe species of animals whose population has started to decline. I pass out 7-8 sticky notes and 1 large piece of construction paper to each student, and ask the them to write the words from the board on sticky notes and create a continuum on their paper to rank the words from most problematic to least problematic. (I model what a continuum looks like on the board for those who have not created one before.)

After the students are given 4-5 minutes to create their continuum and rank the words, I have them share their continuums with partners or small groups, discussing their placement for each word and making any changes they deem necessary. We briefly discuss each group's thinking, but I don't give the correct answers just yet.  

Next, I explain to the students that we watch a short video (from Education Portal*) that will help them correctly rank the terms. In addition, they will learn about four additional terms that can be used to describe animal populations in decline. While they are watching, they should revise their continuums, add the new words, and take short notes on anything that is new or unfamiliar (on the back of the construction paper).

After watching the movie, I write the words in correct order on the continuum that I have drawn on the board and allow students to rank the words accordingly on their own paper (see below).

  • Least Concern/Safe
  • Near Threatened 
  • Vulnerable/Threatened 
  • Endangered 
  • Critically Endangered 
  • Extinct in the Wild 
  • Extinct

We discuss each term and what it means. I ask random students and volunteers to share information from the notes they took, and allow time for others to take their own additional notes as their peers share facts.

Next, I have students form pairs and pass out 10-20 index cards with either pictures or names of several animal species to each group. (These animals have come from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) endangered species list, also known as the “Red List”.)

I have students work in pairs to sort and tape (not glue) each picture next to the proper sticky note on their continuum. The reason we don’t glue is because they may want to move them later. As they work, I walk around and ask them why they put the animals in the categories they did. Some of them have heard of theses animals before, either in a book or on a documentary; others will just plain guess. Their reasoning for placing animals in different categories can be very surprising – they usually end up knowing a lot more or a lot less then you think they will!

*Education Portal offers one viewing of the video for free, but requires you to sign up for a 5 Day free trial if you wish to watch it more than one, or if you wish to use other resources on its site. After the 5 days, an iPad subscription is required.

Explore (Day 1)

45 minutes

Now that the students have completed their sort, they are a little more familiar with the terminology and realize that there are many, many animals that are facing population decline. This naturally leads to them want to learn more. I let the students know that they will have the opportunity to research an animal further to find out where they lie on the continuum, as well as why they ended up here and what can be done to help them. They will share their knowledge by creating a PSA, or Public Service Announcement, to educate others about this species and how their extinction can be prevented.

Some students will immediately stake their claim to a specific animal, either because they already have an interest in that species, or because one of the animals they placed on the continuum sparked their interest or curiosity. In that case, I allow them to choose the animal that interests them, provided no one else wants to study the same one. Others will have no idea what animal they want to study.  If this is the case (or if someone has already claimed the animal they want), I direct them to the IUCN Redlist Site to take the “What Species Are You?” Quiz. This asks the students a few questions and matches them up with an animal that meets their specific preferences. It is a great way to differentiate for student interests and it helps to make sure each student is studying a different animal.

Once all students have selected a species to research, it is time to provide some instruction on the writing task. By now, my students have conducted a LOT of formal and informal research porjects, and are pretty well-versed in the do's and dont's of researching. However, they have never created a PSA, and may not be able to identify the type or structure of the product they are required to create. Because of this, I take some time to show them a few examples and reflect on the author's craft and purpose.**

I show the examples below, pausing to briefly discuss each one, addressing 1-2 of the questions on the last slide after each video. After all of the examples have been shown, I address each question on the final slide in more detail, so that students may see the overall structure of a PSA, how it relates to both the author and the audience, and how images, music, text, and factual data (qualitative and quantitative) is used to set a tone and make the audience uneasy - or even fearful - in order to call them into action.


After this discussion takes place, I ask my students to provide other examples of PSA's they have seen on TV or online. Sometimes, I have them find show me examples they have seen in the past; other times, they just describe them. Once I feel my students have a good grasp of what constitutes a PSA, I remind them that they will be creating one to educate others about the species they have chosen, why it's population is declining, and how people can help prevent extinction.

At this point, I allow my students to start some surface research. I don't set requirements just yet. Instead, I allow them to start looking through a list of suggested sites, which I link on my class website (the list have been provided for you below), and I also encourage them to find additional resources - books, websites, etc - that may aid in their research. We only take about 15-20 minutes to research today. More will come in the following days.

Some terrific resources include:


** This is a great extension to the ELA curriculum, and may led itself nicely to a project that extends into this class. If you teach all subjects, this is pretty easy to do. If not, you may want to consult with your ELA teacher to see if s/he can provide some support with this assignment. Providing instruction or asking your ELA teacher to provide instruction on persuasive strategies in writing would definitely support your students as they work on this project.

Explore (Days 2-4)

45 minutes

Students should spend the majority of their time on days 2-3 researching their species, focusing on their habitats, lifespan, diet, mating and hunting habits, threats that the species faces, and ways humans can prevent extinction.

On day 3, I pass out the rubric for students to use as a guide while they create their PSA. From that point, the rest of their time on days 3-4 (and possibly day 5) should be spent creating their public service announcement. I have them use Animoto as the medium for their project***. This is a great tool, as it does the editing for them, which allows them to focus on the content rather than the mechanics.

Many students will ask how long their PSA needs to be. The examples I show in class each get their point across in about 30 seconds. I let students know that 30-60 seconds is plenty of time, but they may make it slightly longer if they choose. However, I encourage them not to go much over 60 seconds, or they will lose their audience's attention. We always try to follow the K.I.S.S. rule in class - "Keep it Simple, Sweetie"!

***Educators can apply for a free Animoto Plus account for use in the classroom, which includes 6 months of use for the teacher and up to 50 students. After that time, you can reapply to continue use with your class. I have had my educator account for over 7 years!

Explain (Day 5)

60 minutes

It's time to show off our work! We spend day 5 (or day 6, if it takes an extra day to finish the projects) presenting our PSA's. Each student shows their video to the class, and is allowed to call on 3 of their peers, answer their questions and/or respond to feedback. The students love this part, because it allows them to show their hard work, as well as see what others have done.


10 minutes

After the class has viewed the videos, I have them revise the continuums they started at the beginning of the lesson, moving the animals they taped on day 1 to the correct positions on their paper, and adding the new ones they have learned about from their peers' work. It's a great way to keep students accountable for listening to their peers,  to connect to what we learned at the beginning of the lesson, and to see how students have progressed in their thinking from and knowledge from the first day.


5 minutes

Students should be assessed based on the quality of their presentation, based on the provided checklist. A student receiving top marks should be able to sufficiently represent their species and why it is critically endangered, be able to differentiate between endangered and critically endangered species, and show an understanding of , as well as be able to persuade others, why these species are in need of conservation efforts.