Biosphere: Adaptations of Plants and Animals

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SWBAT describe how various adaptations help plants and animals survive in different environments.

Big Idea

Students will rotate around to adaptation stations to investigate adaptations such as blubber, beaks, and camouflage.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This 

Unit 5 covers standards relating to Earth's Systems.  It covers Standard 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  Students will be learning the difference between each of the systems, and ways that each of the systems interact to help make Earth what it is today.  The other standard covered is Standard 5-ESS2-2: Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth. 

Modeling will be an important component of this unit.  Students will be modeling layers of Earth, the water cycle, land forms, and more.  The unit begins with an overview of all the systems, then each system is taught in isolation.  As each new system is covered, how it depends on or interacts with the previous systems will be addressed.  In addition to the end of unit assessment, there will also be a culminating activity where groups build a model to demonstrate how 2 of the systems interact.  Connections to several previously covered standards will also be made throughout this unit.

This specific lesson covers standard 5-ESS2-1 by providing the foundation for students to make the connection between the biosphere, life on Earth, and the other systems on Earth.  Students are learning about plant and animal adaptations which have developed to help them survive in their environment which may be dry or wet, hot or cold, green or white, etc.  

Lesson Goal:

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to differentiate between physical and behavioral adaptations in plants and animals, and to determine how the adaptation helps the animals survive in their environment.  

Success Criteria: 

Students will demonstrate success on this lesson goal by completing the station rotation sheet accurately and being able to contribute to the class discussion that follows.  

Preparing For The Lesson:

Warm Up:

  • Computer for sharing the video 

Guided Practice:

- Station 1 - copies of the camouflage animal pictures should be hung up on a wall in your room.

- Station 2 - three thermometers, a bowl of ice water, 2 Ziplock bags, a stick of Crisco.

- Station 3 - a pair of forceps, pliers, small net, and dropper available for the beaks and a small cup of yellow water with a paper flower on it, a bowl of bird seed, a bowl of water with aluminum or paper fish floating in it, and a bowl of soil with fake bugs buried in it for food sources.  A copy of the Bird Beak Pictures will also need to be hanging up in this station. 

-Station 4 - four different plants or parts of plants.  I used a large leaf, a plant with waxy leaves, a plant with thorns, and a plant with needles instead of leaves.  

- Stations 5 - computers available

-Stations 6 - A copy of the Behavioral Adaptations Versus Physical Adaptations PowerPoint slides printed out.   


  • Students will be rotating through the stations set up above.  No other materials will be needed. 

Wrap Up:  

Warm Up

10 minutes

Show Introduction Video 

I begin today's lesson by playing a music video for the students.  I chose this video because it has a catchy song that plays while introducing adaptations.  Both physical and behavioral adaptations are addressed in the video, but not much information is given about them.  I wanted to find a video that would introduce the concept in a fun way, but still left examples of adaptations open for student discovery throughout the lesson.  This video fit the bill perfectly.  Before playing the video, I tell students I want them to listen to the video and try to identify what and adaptation is, and what the two types of adaptations are. 


After the video plays, I ask students if they can tell me what adaptations are based on the information from the video.  They tell me that adaptations are changes in animals to help them survive.  I then ask if they can tell me the two types of adaptations.  The first student gives me an example of one, webbed feet.  I tell them that I want to know the two categories.  I play the video again and ask them to watch for the two categories.  As the video is playing, they point out physical and behavioral.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Setting the Stage for Success

I provide each student with a copy of the Adaptation Station Sheet to follow along while I go through each station.  I rotate around the room to each station so that I can demonstrate with materials as I review the activities.

  • At station 1, there are ten pictures of animals that are camouflaged with the surroundings.  Some are easy to identify, while others are more difficult.  Your goal in this station is to find each animal and identify what the animal is.  Record your guesses on the station sheet.  I will reveal the answers after the rotation. 


  • In station 2, you will be investigating how blubber helps animals survive.  Does anyone know what blubber is?  Students tell me fat on an animals body. Crisco is similar to blubber because it is basically fat.  I show students a stick of Crisco.  There are three thermometers, all at room temperature.  I am sticking one in the Crisco and placing it inside a Ziplock bag.  The bag will be placed in this bowl of ice water along with another bag that has just a thermometer in it, no Crisco.  The third thermometer will be left out.  When you come to this station, you will record the temperature on the thermometer sitting out at room temperature.  Then you will remove both bags from the ice water, record the temperature of the one by itself first.  Then pull the one out of the Crisco, wipe the part that you need to read, record the temperature quickly, then replace it in the Crisco.  Return both bags to the ice water. After returning the bags to the ice water, answer the questions at the bottom. The picture below has the items used for the blubber activity on the right.  


  • You will be using tools to model the beaks of different birds in station 3.  There is a dropper, pliers, forceps, and a small net to use as beaks.  There is a bowl of seeds, a cup with a flower top that has "nectar" in it (this is really just colored water), a bowl of water with paper fish in it, and dirt with fake bugs in it to represent the food for the birds.  You can use each beak to determine which would be best for each type of food.  After you try each one, match the picture of the bird hanging up with the type of beak. The picture below has the items used for the beak activity on the left.


  • In station 4, you will see parts from four different plants.  You may feel those that do not have thorns. Plant C has thorns so you may not touch it.  I make sure to go around and have several students repeat which plant they are not allowed to touch, I purposely call on students who may not follow the rule repeat this to me so that I know they heard the rule, and understand exactly which plant it is for.  Identify a unique characteristic in each plant, then describe how that characteristic would help it survive. 
  • I then point out that station 5 will be on the computers.  I go to my computer and pull up the website on the overhead.  When you get to station 5, you will go to the website listed on the station sheet.  This should be the only station I see you on.  There are 8 different environments listed.  You will click on each one, read the information and identify two plant adaptations for that environment and record them.  I click on the desert link so I can do one with them as an example.  I read the information and point out that some of the information at the top is repeated below the pictures at the bottom so they can get the information in either location.  We record "wax on leaves to hold in water" and "hairs to shade the plant" on the station sheet as the two adaptations for plants in the desert.  I point out that we did not copy complete sentences but summarizes key information. 
  •  The final station is station 6, which is a PowerPoint I created.  I printed the slides from the Behavioral Adaptations Versus Physical Adaptations PowerPoint and have those laid out on a table for the students.  For station 6, you will look over the slides from a PowerPoint I created.  You will read about 6 different adaptions and determine if they are physical adaptations or behavioral adaptations.  We will go through the PowerPoint together at the end and I will give you the answers.  

Why Review Stations 

By going through the stations rotation sheet and expectations for each station, I am setting my students up for success.  I want to make sure that they understand what they should be doing at each station and point out anything I see that may be an issue, such as touching the plant with thorns and getting on websites other than the one assigned at computers.  By identifying these ahead of time, and making it clear to students that they should not be doing these things, they are aware that I will be watching for this.  By going over the station sheet as a whole group, it also allows for me to answer questions for each station and for all students to hear the response to the question.   


30 minutes

Adaptation Stations 

Students are already in groups of three in my class, except for the back row which is a row of 8.  I divide the back row into two groups of four.  I assign each group to one of the stations and they begin completing the task.  I circulate to listen to conversations, check for understanding, and to answer questions.  I also ask questions to ensure that groups are making connections between the adaptations and their environment as well as guiding them to see how Earth's other systems are influencing the adaptations.  We discuss this more at the end and I want to guide them to start thinking about this to help out discussion at the end.  As I rotate I keep a close eye on station 4 at all times so that I can make sure no one is playing around with the plant with thorns.  I want to be sure all students are safe.

Station 1 has the camouflage animal pictures hanging up on the white board.  Students must identify the animal that is camouflaged.  I chose a variety of animals from various environments such as desert, freshwater, and arctic.  This helps students see differences in the way they camouflage with various surroundings.  Some animals are easy to identify while others are more difficult.  You can see in the video of group trying to determine camouflaged animals that students point out the animals when they see them and discuss what they think the animal is.  As I am listening to conversations I ask students which animal in the pictures is impacted by the hydrosphere.  The students point out one of the fish and say it is camouflaged to hide in the sand at the bottom of the ocean to sneak up on fish swimming by.  Another group said the arctic hare is white to blend in with the snow which is also impacted by the hydrosphere because the water that evaporates then snows.  I ask which other system is coming into play here and they tell me the atmosphere.   

Station 2 has a large bowl of ice water set up.  There are three thermometers, one is sitting on the desk, one is in a plastic Zipock bag by itself, and the other is in a stick of Crisco in a Ziplock bag.  The two in Ziplock bags were placed down into the ice water when I went through the stations with the whole class.  As I approach groups in this station I am focusing their attention on how much the temperature has changed on the thermometer not stuck in Crisco (blubber) as opposed to the one that is stuck in the Crisco.  There is a 6 - 10 degrees difference within just a few minutes.  

Station 3 has tools in it to represent beaks for the students to use with bird seed, bugs in soil, and liquid in flowers.  You can see in the video of students testing different bird beak models that the students have a good idea of which beak should be used for each item.  As I see the students pick the correct beaks for each item I ask them what led them to choose those beaks.  They name characteristics about them such as the length, the shape, etc.  I point out that one beak is better to use when interacting with the geosphere.  Students tell me the long skinny one is best for getting bugs out of the soil.  In this station there is also a copy of the Bird Beak Pictures taped to the table in this station.  Students compare their findings from using the tools, to the beak pictures to see which bird would be an example of that type of beak.  This allows them to compare the models to real birds. 

Station 4 has parts from four different plants.  I am using one that has large leaves, one with a waxy coating on the leaves, one with thorns, and one with needles instead of leaves.   You can use any plants that have different characteristics. While observing groups in this station, I focus on which plant is best adapted to survive where the hydrosphere is minimal.  Students identify the cactus leaf which has a thick waxy coating.  Some students know that this wax helps hold in water, but not all do know this so this is something I am spending some time discussing with them. 

Station 5 is on the computer.  I have 3 student computers in my room so when groups are here they are looking information up independently.  You can see in the video of a student at the adaptation computer station, that as each student reads information, they answer the questions on their stations rotation sheet.  Students can ask their group members for help and share information whenever they choose to as well. 

For station 6, I printed the pages of the Behavioral Adaptations Versus Physical Adaptations PowerPoint and hung them up for students to use instead of using the computer.  I included a physical and behavioral adaption for both plants and animals in the PowerPoint so that students can see that both organisms can have both type of adaptation.  Students write on a whiteboard which they believe it to be and then they all check the answer at the same time. 


Wrap Up

10 minutes

Reviewing Information 

When each group has completed all six stations, they return to their seats.  We go through the information each group recorded on their station sheets for each station.  We begin with station 1, and I show them the camouflage animal pictures - answers so they can see how many they got correct.  All groups missed at least one, most missed several.  This allowed for some great conversation on how camouflaging helps animals survive.  69

We continue with all other stations.  We discuss any differences and focus on how the adaptations help the organisms survive in their environment.  As we are discussing we also point out the impact that other systems have on the need for these adaptations.  Some of the discussion lead to these points: 

  • animals in the water (hydrosphere) may not have as many places to hide so camouflaging with the sand is important so they can hide. 
  • Animals that live in the ocean (hydrosphere) where it is cold need blubber to help them survive. 
  • All plants and animals in the biosphere need the atmosphere to survive because they need the air (oxygen or carbon dioxide) to breath.  
  • Plants need rain (hydrosphere and atmosphere) in order to grow and have nectar for birds. Plants that do not get a lot of rain have adaptations like wax to help them survive. 
  • Plants that animals use to camouflage with need the geosphere to grow in.