Dinosaurs 2: What Were Dinosaurs Like?

What You Need


  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Student Research student sheet
Dinosaurs 2: What Were Dinosaurs Like?


To compare and contrast dinosaurs to animals that are alive today.


This lesson is the second 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 these lessons (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.

Dinosaurs 2: What Were Dinosaurs Like? is aimed primarily at the 1-2 grade level and focuses on the latter part of the benchmark concept, how dinosaurs "were something like others (animals) that are alive today." The activities and discussions of this lesson revolve around comparing and contrasting dinosaurs to animals with which students are familiar. Students consider likenesses and differences through researching various questions and documenting their findings.

Students investigate some questions you give them (provided on the student sheet) as well as some of their own questions. Through their investigations, they consider the vast number of dinosaurs that once existed; what dinosaurs ate; their shape; their size; and where they lived. Students then consider these same questions for another animal that exists today and compare the data they collected from both investigations. Their research should help them think about how dinosaurs "were something like others (animals) that are alive today."

This lesson assumes that students are able to write at a basic level, but you can easily adapt it for students who need to draw pictures to communicate their ideas.

While this lesson incorporates several website pages and printouts, you need to determine whether it is most appropriate for your students to visit these pages themselves or if you will print out the information for hardcopy in advance.

Planning Ahead

These suggested resource books from Science Books & Films can provide background information about the subject of this lesson:

  • The Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs by D.E. Fastovsky and D.B. Weishampel, 1996, Cambridge University Press.
  • 1,001 Facts about Dinosaurs by Neil Clark and William Lindsay, 2002, DK Publishing.
  • Dinosaur Field Guide by Thomas R. Holtz and Michael Brett-Surman, 2001, Random House.
  • Digging into Dinosaurs by National Wildlife Federation, 1998, Chelsea House Publishers, Inc.

You can offer students research-based projects in a number of ways. The Project Approach is one excellent approach which respects each student's learning style and particular interest. It offers a framework for developing a cohesive classroom research project while encouraging individual research. The ideas offered in this lesson can easily be incorporated into the Project Approach. For more information and support about how to promote science literacy and critical thinking in your classroom using the Project Approach, go to the Project Approach website.


To help get students excited about doing some research about dinosaurs, let them watch dinosaur video clips that will give them both visual and audio images of different dinosaurs. Go to Dinosaurs, part of the Discovery Kids site to view video 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.
  • Did all the dinosaurs look and sound alike?
  • Talk about the different dinosaur environments that you saw.

Talk with students about how dinosaurs no longer exist. Explain that they are extinct. They are not alive here or anywhere else in the world (students often think that dinosaurs simply live far away).

Students will most likely ask many questions about why dinosaurs are extinct. It is important to keep information simple and accurate, and to be clear that there are several different ideas about how dinosaurs became extinct. Some ideas include:

  • Dinosaurs that ate plants needed to eat particular types of plants in order to survive. Very slowly, the earth changed and different kinds of plants grew instead. Without their plants to eat, some dinosaurs starved to death.
  • The earth was different a long, long time ago when dinosaurs were alive. Slowly, there were changes on earth such as the plants that lived, the animals that lived on it, the temperature of the earth, how much water there was on the earth, etc. Dinosaurs could not continue to live the same way with all these changes, and they began to die. Eventually, there were no more dinosaurs left.
  • Some people think that large comets crashed into the earth millions of years ago, which killed the dinosaurs. (Some students may need reassurance that nothing will crash into "their" earth now and kill people—reassure them that this was a very long time ago and that they are safe.)
  • Even though dinosaurs became extinct, other animal species and animals that were a little like dinosaurs lived on the earth right after them. As the earth changed, the animals changed, too. Even today, there are animals that have some similarities to the dinosaurs that lived long ago. Birds are examples of animals that may have evolved from dinosaurs.

After you have discussed the concept of extinction, let students know that they will do a project to learn more about dinosaurs.


Ask students to think about how people, including scientists, find information about things they want to know more about. You might ask:

  • When you are at home or at school, what do you do when you want to learn about something new?
  • If you want to find information (you might need to talk about what "information" means) on your own, what can you do?
  • Where can you find books that might give you information?
  • If you need help finding a book, who can help you?
  • Where else can you find stories, pictures, and information about things?
  • Are there any places in your neighborhood that can help you find information?

Explain to students that the process of gathering information to learn something is called research. They will each now do some research to learn more about dinosaurs. At this point, give them their first question from the Student Research sheet. (Tip: You can either provide students with questions one at a time, or give them all their questions at once. You can also create research note-taking cards by putting each question on an oversized index card. You or the students can cut and glue the questions onto the cards or handwrite the questions.) For the first question, you might want to encourage students to say the name of the dinosaur out loud.

In addition to books, magazines, and other types of resource material on dinosaurs that you can make available to students, you can utilize the Internet. Go to Dino Fact Sheets. Students can choose from a multitude of dinosaurs. Once students have found the dinosaur they want to research, they will be able to find the answers to the questions on their Student Research sheet by using the Internet or the books, magazines, and other types of resource materials they have.

Once students have completed their research about dinosaurs, bring them together for a large group discussion about what they learned. Because students will have chosen different dinosaurs, they will be able to learn from each other some of the similarities and differences among dinosaurs. Have students share the information they gathered about their dinosaur (diet, size, where it lived). Record their information on a newsprint chart.

Now that students have collected information about dinosaurs, they are ready to compare these ancient creatures with some animals that are alive today. You may decide to have students choose their own animal for comparison; ask them to consider animals familiar to them such as dogs, cats, or snakes; or have them compare dinosaurs to very large animals that currently live. Younger students may benefit from comparing animals with which they are most familiar, such as dogs and cats, because concepts such as size and shape would be more tangible. Older students may be ready for more abstract comparisons to large animals they know about but may never have seen.

Refer students back to their Student Research sheets, and ask them to answer the questions in the second column. The methods of their research should match the methods they employed when learning about dinosaurs (i.e., if they used note cards for researching dinosaurs, they should use note cards again). If students are researching the larger animals, consider asking them to learn about whales, giraffes, or alligators. These websites might be helpful for their research:

Students have now learned a little about research and have collected information about dinosaurs and an animal alive today. They have also recorded their data on their student sheets or note cards, and, in this way, have practiced their documentation skills. They are now ready to look at their data and begin to interpret the information they have. You can help them begin to see similarities and differences between dinosaurs and animals that are alive today through a discussion that highlights the information they have gathered. Refer back to the newsprint chart and add the newly gathered data. Discuss with students the likeness and differences among the various topics. What new questions do they have?


To further students' reflection upon what they learned from their research and to help you evaluate their learning curve during this project, it is helpful to have students write a short essay. Students should use the information they gathered during their research and recorded on their student sheets to write an essay that responds to, "How Dinosaurs Were Something Like Animals that are Alive Today."

An essay at this level can be just a few sentences long, and inventive spelling is appropriate (students spelling words according to how they sound). The objective to writing the essay is to help students reflect upon this comparison, and then try to communicate their thoughts in written form. If students are interested, they can make illustrations to accompany their words.


Book Diorama Craft is a fun alternative to doing a book report.

Dinosaur Checklist Activities are activities for beginning readers in grades 1-2.

Encourage and support students who are interested in pursuing one of their own questions that emerged during the course of their research.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks

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