To expand students’ knowledge of animal features and behaviors that can help or hinder their survival in a particular habitat.
As students approach this Animal Adaptations lesson, bear in mind that, according to research, most lower elementary school students are still forming a basic understanding of how animals survive in their respective environments. For example, many students understand a simple food link between two animals, but many still assume that animals are still independent of each other and depend on humans to provide food and shelter. Some students are unaware that many animals struggle to obtain adequate amounts of their particular food(s) and cannot simply change their diets as other food becomes available.
In earlier grades, students observed local plants and animals in their habitats and learned that animals can eat both plants and each other, as well as use each other for shelter and nesting. Now students will be asked to apply more specific terms like predator, prey, continent, climate, and habitat.
In this lesson, students will participate in classroom discussions and visit a website to learn more about animals and how well (or poorly) they’ve adapted to satisfying their needs in their natural habitats. This will help move them toward the goal, in later grades, of understanding ecosystems.
The Kratts' Creatures website used in this lesson provides students with a simple, visual means for familiarizing themselves with basic world ecosystems as well as some examples of the animals that occupy them.
Please note that the reading level of the website used in this lesson may be somewhat advanced for your less skillful readers. They may require additional help with the content.
You may want to connect this lesson with a geography lesson or a unit on the continents. Be aware that traditionally it was believed that there are seven continents on Earth, but now many geographers view Europe and Asia as one continent—Eurasia—and therefore hold that there are six continents. Teach the concept of continents as you normally would.
Begin with a review or introduction of terms that students will use in this lesson (continent, climate, habitat, predator, prey). Ask students to explain what is meant by each of these terms. If these terms are new to your students, you could write each word on the board and take time to define and explain each of them, with examples.
Following are basic definitions for these terms:
- Continent - a large landmass on Earth
- Climate - the normal weather conditions in a particular area
- Habitat - the normal environment in which an organism lives
- Predator - an organism that lives by eating other organisms
- Prey - an organism that is eaten, or preyed upon
Begin the lesson by drawing a three-column chart on the board; each vertical column will represent an animal, and each row will contain a question (listed below). Start by announcing the discovery of a fascinating new animal—then choose a student (who should remain silent during the following class discussion) to represent this new animal. Ask the class to help you learn more about the new animal by answering a few basic questions about its habitat.
- What shall we name this new animal? (For example, a boy named Dylan who likes to skateboard could be called “Dylan Skateboardicus.”)
- What is the weather like in this animal’s habitat?
- How does this animal find shelter?
- How does this animal find food?
- Does this animal have any predators?
- What behaviors show this animal has "adapted" to its environment?
Now ask students to name a different animal (a real animal). Ask them the same questions and fill in the chart. Repeat again with a final animal.
Have students use their Animal Adaptations student esheet to go to Creaturepedia on the Wild Kratts website.
Students should click on Region to go to an activity that allows them to learn about creatures that live in different parts of the world. Once they click on Region, ask students what they see (a world map) and point out that the map is a simplified outline of the whole world, showing its major landmasses (continents) and oceans. Tell them that these landmasses contain many animal habitats.
Note: You might want to take this opportunity to tie in a geographical location they are currently learning about. This will provide a habitat familiar to the students and allow you to expand on both subjects.
Distribute the Animal Adaptations student sheet. Students should choose a region or continent from the website (say North America to start) and record the name of the region or continent on the student sheet. They should choose an animal (for example, a beaver) and write down notes about its climate, as well as list specific features and behaviors that are adaptations to its specific environment. Students should click on the various buttons associated with the animal, including: Food and Health, Home Base, Danger Alert, and Livin' Creature Style. These sections provide text and video to help students learn about the animal. Students should complete the student sheet for each region or continent.
After the lesson, ask students to offer their favorite animal and its most interesting features for survival. Write the names of the animals on the board, including their features and habitats.
Choose two animals, and then ask students to speculate.
- What would happen if the animals switched habitats?
- What adaptation features would be useful or useless in the new habitat?
- Do you think the animal could survive in the unfamiliar habitat?
- What does that tell you about how animals adapt to their environments?
Conclude the lesson by having students select an animal and choose a new habitat to which they think the animal could possibly adapt. Ask them to describe in words why they think the animal might realistically survive, and to draw a picture to illustrate what they've imagined. In their new habitat drawings, they should include the animal's food and shelter. Lead students in a debate over whether or not a selected student's animal could actually adapt and survive.
The Science NetLinks lesson Bird Beaks can be used to build upon the concepts introduced in this lesson.
MBGnet helps students explore the world's biomes (rainforest, tundra, grasslands, etc.) and its freshwater and marine ecosystems. When students choose a biome or ecosystem, they'll discover a wide variety of information on plants, animals, and the amazing habitats they live in. There are also photos of students like them who use the site and talk about habitats.
Journey North is a fun and interesting website in which kids from over 6,000 schools in the U.S. and Canada learned more about animal adaptation and the environment by tracking the journeys of a dozen migratory species. The site not only provides information on interesting animals—like hummingbirds, manatees, bald eagles, and caribou—it also allows students to use live satellite animal tracking data, contact real scientists, and make their own field observations.