Awesome Animal Adaptations

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SWBAT identify and explain how adaptations benefit species in a variety of ecosystems.

Big Idea

Students begin to uncover the cause and effect relationship between adaptations and evolution.


10 minutes

The purpose of this lesson is to determine what students know about animal adaptations and if they can determine how those adaptations help the organism be "evolutionarily successful" within their environment. This lesson serves as a kick off to a rigorous Project Based Learning centered on the future of human evolution. 

To determine students' prior knowledge on this topic, I use the strategy called first letter. This strategy is similar to an acrostic poem whereby students use the letters in the word "adaptation" to create short sentences or phrases that relate directly to the concept of adaptation. I have students work on this as a lab group for 5-7 minutes and then call on a few students to share their responses.  

Following this lesson, student work can be displayed as an easy reference for students as we work through this unit. The Activating Prior Knowledge: First Letter handout is what I provide to students, however they could easily complete this in their science journal to save paper.


30 minutes

Continuing along this line of thinking, I go over the Awesome Adaptations PowerPoint with students. This is filled with images of amazing animals, each of which that has any number of adaptations that helps the animal to be successful within their environment.  

There are a number of ways to use this PowerPoint with students. The main task is having students identify the adaptations of the organism pictured and explain how those adaptations help the organism survive (SP6). From there, I allow the flow of the conversation to take the discussion in other directions.  Potential discussion prompts are:

  • How could this organism adapt further to allow it to be more successful?
  • How would this organism fare if their environment changed?
  • What adaptations would a predator have to evolve to render this organisms adaptations useless?
  • How might humans "copy" this adaptation to improve our own lives?

The final image on the PowerPoint is a link to a National Geographic video on the horned lizard, which has some truly unique adaptations.  This same video is embedded here for easy access.

If time allows, I have students think of some of their own examples of animals with awesome adaptations or challenge them to determine some adaptations that plants have developed over time, often both.


10 minutes

To conclude this lesson and to get students to start thinking about human evolution, I ask students to work together to see if they can identify any human adaptations that have made us successful in so many different environments.  Students record this information in their science journals.  I am not looking for anything specific at this time, I just want students to start to connect the concept of adaptations to humans at this time.

Some students may struggle with this as humans don't have horns or wings or exceptionally good natural camouflage so you may have to assist in getting them thinking out of the box a bit. The use of tools, for example, is a great adaptation as is the ability to solve complex problems or develop immunity to bacteria or toxins. The goal here is to get the students thinking.  

Two interesting articles from Popsci on this topic are 10 Astounding Cases of Modern Evolution and Adaptation and Doctors Who Work With XRays May Be Adapting At the Cellular Level to Withstand Radiation. I make these articles available for students on our class webpage and encourage them to read one or both within the next few days.