To explore the concept of extinction by studying dinosaurs.
This lesson is the first of a two-part series on dinosaurs. Since students at this level are not yet able to comprehend the concept of extinction, these lessons focus on ideas that serve as a foundation for later learning about extinction. What is meaningful to students at this level is exploration of the dinosaur world that once existed. They are ready to learn that there were many different kinds of dinosaurs; that some dinosaurs ate plants while others were meat eaters; and they are ready to learn a little about what the dinosaurs' environment was like. From here, students can consider how dinosaurs are alike and different from animals they know now and how the earth is similar or different now from the earth during dinosaur time.
While students will not yet be able to grasp the idea of extinction, they can understand that they have never seen a dinosaur. It is meaningful to tell students that dinosaurs no longer exist, but you can anticipate that they will struggle with understanding why the dinosaurs are gone and may ask you questions about where they went. It will be the students' fascination with dinosaurs and their intrigue with the idea that these larger-than-life creatures actually existed a long time ago that will fuel the main concepts explored in this lesson (namely, what dinosaurs were like and what their world looked like).
Dinosaurs 1: Where Are the Dinosaurs? taps into student curiosity about dinosaurs in order to lead them to consider life forms that no longer exist. The distinction between extinct creatures and those that still exist, however, will not be clear for some time. "Long ago" has very limited meaning. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 123.)
Dinosaurs 2: What Were Dinosaurs Like? focuses on how dinosaurs were something like other animals that are alive today.
To select the dinosaur and plant life you will use with your group, go to Dinosaur Diorama, on the Zoom Dinosaur website. When you click on the diorama activity, there is an option for learning more about the Cretaceous Period (the last time period dinosaurs lived). This will lead you to options for printing out different plant and animal life that lived during this period. The language used on this page is too difficult for the K-2 level, but it is an excellent teacher resource and will allow you to select your teaching material for this project.
Depending on how you want to begin, here are two ideas to consider for getting students started.
Idea One: Let students watch some dinosaur video clips that will give them both a visual and audio image of different dinosaurs. Go to Dinosaur Central: Videos on the Discovery Channel site, to show students the site's Prehistoric Clips.
After students have seen these clips, facilitate a discussion about what excited them about what they saw and heard. Ask students:
- What did you like most about the dinosaurs you saw?
- Describe the sounds you heard.
- What did the earth look like?
- What did the dinosaurs look like?
- Did the dinosaurs look like any animals that are alive today?
Idea Two: Try doing a dinosaur puppet finger play with your students. For the finger play rhyme, materials needed, and puppet making instructions, go to Paper Finger Puppets, on the Zoom Dinosaur site. Scroll down to the dinosaur section. If you make puppets from a variety of the offered choices, your class will begin with the understanding that dinosaurs had many shapes and sizes.
After students have had a chance to use their puppets, ask them to imagine what their dinosaur sounded like when it lived, and have students take turns making their dinosaur sounds. You might also ask them to think of a question they have about their dinosaur, and chart these questions on newsprint for the group to think about.
To facilitate student thinking about dinosaur life, it is fun to begin with the idea of dinosaurs being born. Tell students that dinosaurs were hatched from eggs, but because dinosaurs lived so long ago, people today are not exactly sure what those eggs looked like. One way to start thinking about what dinosaur eggs might have been like is to begin with what we know about eggs. Explain to students that some of what we know about dinosaur eggs is based on the eggs that we can touch and observe today. Ask students to consider other kinds of eggs that they have seen and create a chart to record their ideas about these eggs. Questions that might be useful are:
- Where have you seen eggs?
- What kind of eggs were they?
- Where did these eggs come from?
- What color were the eggs?
- Tell me about the shape of these eggs.
- Have you ever touched an egg? What did it feel like?
- Describe the size of the eggs.
You can also put models of eggs out for students to examine, as well as photographs of eggs. This might spark student thinking about additional attributes of the eggs they have seen. If you have large egg models, it would be good to introduce these to transition to the next discussion, during which you ask students to consider what dinosaur eggs might have been like.
- What do you think dinosaur eggs looked like?
- Do you think every dinosaur egg looked the same? Different? Discuss.
- What color, size, and texture do you think these eggs were?
- Do you think the eggs were strong or fragile?
- Do you think the eggs were so large and so strong that you could have climbed on them?
- What do you think these eggs needed for protection?
From this discussion, you can further encourage students to imagine what dinosaur eggs looked like by having them create their own dinosaur eggs. Directions for teachers can be found at Make a Hatchable Dinosaur Egg, on the Zoom Dinosaur site.
When students have completed their eggs, display them around the room for everyone to see. In a group discussion, ask students to think about their dinosaur eggs hatching and imagine what life was like for the dinosaurs. You might ask:
- What do you think the world was like when dinosaurs were around?
- What types of plants were around?
- What do you think the landscape was like (i.e., were there mountains, valleys, volcanoes)?
- What do you think dinosaurs ate?
- How do you think dinosaurs got water?
- How many legs do you think dinosaurs used for walking?
Write their ideas down on newsprint and keep it posted in the classroom. Tell students that they will work together to find the answers to some of these questions. Divide the class into small groups (groups of 3-4 are ideal) and give them the printouts of animal and plant life you prepared before beginning this lesson (see Dinosaur Dioramas in the Planning Ahead section). Introduce the different materials you have given them and allow some time for any questions they may have. Then let students create their own dinosaur dioramas.
When groups have finished their dioramas, place them around the room with the eggs they made earlier for everyone to see. Give students time to walk around the room to look at the different projects, and then bring them back together for a group discussion. Ask students:
- What do you notice about the dinosaur worlds your groups made?
- What do you notice about the dinosaurs in them? Were they all the same size? Did they all walk on four legs?
- What do you notice about the plants in them?
- Do you think the dinosaurs ate the plants? What else could they have eaten?
- What do you notice about the environment (are there mountains, etc.)?
To encourage students to think about how the earth has changed since dinosaur time, lead a discussion that compares the dinosaur worlds that they made with their world now:
- Have you ever seen these kinds of animals in real life?
- Do the plants in your dinosaur world look like plants you see now?
- What kinds of things are the same between your dinosaur world and the world you live in?
- What kinds of things are different?
- If a dinosaur were alive today, do you think it would have everything it needed?
Again, students will not be able to fully grasp the concept of geological change, evolution, or extinction, but exploring these kinds of questions with them now helps to build a foundation of knowledge that they will need for future learning. Giving them an opportunity to have fun with dinosaurs, to think about dinosaurs being born, and to consider what their environment might have been like encourages students to think more critically about how dinosaur life compares to their own life now. The idea that there are differences is a starting block for later learning about evolution and extinction.
Follow this lesson with the second lesson in the dinosaur series: Dinosaurs 2: What Were Dinosaurs Like?
If you would like to involve students with another activity that would encourage them to reflect upon what they have learned about dinosaurs, go to How to Write a Funny Dinosaur Poem. Instructions for this activity and examples of poems are provided on this page. This is an excellent and creative activity for helping students reflect on what they have learned about dinosaur life.
It might be helpful for you to make some lists with the students first, and then let the students choose their poetry words from the lists. For example, you might make three lists, with the categories being: 1) words that describe dinosaur shapes and sizes; 2) words that describe what dinosaurs ate and drank; and 3) words that describe the earth during dinosaur time. Making these lists will help students review what they have learned and give you an idea of how much they understood. Putting some of these words together in a silly poem will let students create a narration about dinosaurs in a fun yet educational way.
There are some good online interactive activities on Zoom Dinosaurs, including:
Zoom Dinosaurs has some good math activities using dinosaurs. Dinosaur Patterns asks students to find the next animal in a pattern. Dinosaur Math/Coloring Activities involves having the students add single-digit numbers in order to color a dinosaur scene.