Fins, Feathers, and Fur: How Animals Adapt

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SWBAT describe how various adaptations allow animals to thrive successfully in their environment.

Big Idea

Each organism is adapted (physically and/or behaviorally) to live in its habitat and to obtain the things it needs in order to survive.


5 minutes

I start the lesson by passing out the Animal Adaptation Advance Organizer and explain how to use it. I have the students complete the "Before Watching" section on their own. This will give them a good idea of what we will be studying today, as well as set them up to be actively engaged throughout the movie.

I also play the video (below) on a repeating loop WITHOUT ANY SOUND to further prepare my students for today's learning topic. They inevitably spend time watching the video instead of reading the paper, which makes completion of the organizer take a little longer than expected, but it increases the interest level of the students and fosters engagement.

Once the students have finished writing their responses in the first section of the organizer, I direct them to the screen, letting them know that they will be responsible for completing the next two portions of their organizer while they watch the two short videos that I am about to play. I remind them not to change their initial answers, as these are not graded and are merely to help them see if/how their thinking has changed.


15 minutes

We watch the two short videos as a class, pausing every minute for students to write their responses and justifications. I am careful not to stop as each statement from the video is mentioned, because then the kids will only pay attention when they see I am about to press pause. Instead, I pause in 1 minute increments.



10 minutes

After watching both videos (and replaying any portions that need extra clarification), the students complete the "After Watching" portion of their organizer and answer the questions at the bottom of the page. I let them know they will have more time to return to the questions later and add deeper responses, so they do not need to rush.

We review each statement as a class, stopping to discuss any disagreements and allowing students to use a different color ink to make any necessary revisions.


35 minutes

Now that the students are familiar with the types of adaptations and several examples, they will extend their learning to create a fictional species, selecting adaptations that allow it to live in a particular environment.We will use the "Design-A-Species” challenge website, (located at to complete this activity. 

I explain the process and my expectations to the students. I tell them that they will get to choose their animal's habitat, and that they will need to consider what physical and/or behavioral characteristics their animal will need in order to survive in the environment they have selected.

Once the students have completed the online activity, they use Google Docs, Drawings, or Slides (all part of the Google Apps for Education) to create an interactive poster that names the new species, describes the habitat, and thoroughly describes the animal they created, as well as how it has adapted for the environment in which it lives. They may include picture "snapshots" from website, as well as any other images, videos, or information they find online or in print to help justify the selections they have made (provided they cite their sources).

In order to prevent them from focusing on creating the silliest animal possible, I make sure to explain this entire process ahead of time, being sure to emphasize that they:

  • take pictures as they create
  • conduct research
  • justify their thinking


20 minutes

At this time, students will share their created species with their table groups, displaying their interactive posters and explaining their choice of habitat and adaptations, providing evidence to justify their choices. After each presentation, the table group will discuss whether or not they think the animal will survive, based upon their new knowledge on animal adaptation. The students will record notes/suggestions for their peers using the I Heard, I Noticed, I Wondered strategy. I have distributed feedback forms (to provide structure for this strategy) to the students beforehand. Students will then have a chance to revise their work before turning in for a final grade. (If time permits, students can also present to an provide feedback for peers in a neighboring table group.)