Endangered Species 1: Why Are Species Endangered?

What You Need


  • Materials for creating posters (paper, markers, tape, etc.)
Endangered Species 1: Why Are Species Endangered? © 2011 Clipart.com


To orient students to the plight of endangered species and to help them understand and gain perspective on human issues that continue to endanger species and threaten our global environment.


This lesson is part of a two-part series on endangered species. The first lesson, Endangered Species 1: Why Are Species Endangered? introduces and explores the various issues and problems faced by endangered species globally. The second lesson, Endangered Species 2: Working to Save Endangered Species, may be done sequentially or independently, since it focuses less on the science and more on the actual work of saving endangered species.

The earth is comprised of many different life forms, including plants, animals, humans, and other organisms. These various life forms are highly interdependent and have formed important systems that continually reshape the planet's landscapes, oceans, and atmospheres.

Booming human population growth over the last two centuries has put, and continues to put, many of these life-sustaining systems out of balance and in serious jeopardy, endangering many of the plant and animal species that human beings directly and indirectly depend upon for long-term survival.

Bigger human populations naturally mean increases in human activities worldwide, leading to changes in landscapes, oceans, atmospheres, and the path of human history. For example, as noted in the benchmark of this lesson, human activities like reducing the amount of forest cover, increasing the amount and variety of chemicals released into the atmosphere, and intensive farming, have changed the earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere. Some of these changes have decreased the capacity of the environment to support some life forms. (Science For All Americans, p. 46.)

It's important that students begin to realize that human populations and activities will continue to grow and to threaten the earth's habitat and capacity to sustain life, putting once flourishing plant and animal species on the ever-increasing endangered species list. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) forecasts that the human population is slated to reach 8.5 billion in 2025, up from 5.2 billion in 1990. Right now, the NWF asserts that plant and animal species are disappearing at least 1,000 times faster than any other time in the last 65 million years. It also claims that habitat loss is accounting for almost 75 percent of the extinctions occurring now. While statistics become more and more staggering, human beings seem to be doing very little to address these long-term, disastrous issues.

Students should come to understand that the earth and its various species will continue to be threatened and that most of humanity is either uninformed or seemingly too preoccupied to care about the slow and dying animal and plant species that help to give everyone life. As a result, students at this level should begin to become aware of environmental policies and issues and of the critical role that science education can play in helping us save ourselves now by saving other life forms.

By the 6–8 grade level, students should have a general understanding of how life forms like plants, animals, and humans can cause changes in their surroundings. As with the study of earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods, it is important to grab student's general interest in these areas and lead them toward the scientific aspects behind these threats to endangered species and the highly dangerous, yet less obvious, less dramatic, long-term threats it poses for present and future generations. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 71-73.)

Research in the area of earth-shaping processes reveals the following misconceptions that may need to be addressed in the course of the lesson: “Students of all ages may hold the view that the world was always as it is now, or that any changes that have occurred must have been sudden and comprehensive. The students in these studies did not, however, have any formal instruction on the topics investigated." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 336.)


As a way to stimulate interest and focus students for the lesson, hold an open class discussion to find out what students already know about endangered species. Ask questions like the ones below. Accept all reasonable answers in an effort to create a broad-ranged and free-flowing discussion of students' ideas and feelings about this ongoing, global dilemma.

Ask students:

  • Is the world a safe place for all animals and plants? Why or why not?
  • What does it mean for a species to be endangered?
  • What, if anything, do you know about this topic?
  • What animal or plant species do you know of that are endangered or extinct?

As a way to direct their attention to the benchmark for this lesson, ask questions like these:

  • Why do you think species are endangered?
  • How do you think or feel about this ongoing global problem?
  • What, if anything, happens when an animal or plant species becomes extinct?
  • How do you think this situation can be realistically improved?
  • Why should it be improved?

Next, have students use their Save Our Animals student esheet to explore Endangered and Threatened Species. This resource will provide students with a basic orientation on the plight of endangered species, humanity's role, why protection is important, and how they can help in this vital cause. Encourage students to take notes on key facts and statistics in order to answer these questions as part of an open class discussion.

Ask students:

  • What is the difference between a threatened species and an endangered species? (Endangered species are those plants and animals that are so rare they are in danger of becoming extinct. Threatened species are plants and animals whose numbers are very low or decreasing rapidly. Threatened species are not endangered yet, but are likely to become endangered in the future.)
  • Why should we protect endangered species? (Some possible answers might include: (1) saving species preserves ecosystems: species are an important part of what make up ecosystems; maintaining healthy ecosystems ensures a healthy biosphere; (2) practical uses of species: when species become extinct, we may lose a potentially valuable product; and (3) aesthetic reasons: when species become extinct, we lose objects of fascination, wonder, and beauty.)
  • As a human being, how do you think or feel about this ongoing global and potentially disastrous problem? (Accept all answers. Encourage students to support their feelings and views with examples.)
  • How can you as an individual help this cause? (Possible answers might include some of the following: (1) support zoos, nature centers, nature reserves, or botanical gardens; volunteer money, time, and ideas; (2) start a native plants garden or use a spot in your backyard to attract wildlife; (3) avoid buying ivory, snakeskin belts, alligator boots, and other products made from endangered animals; and (4) keep learning about plants and animals; share what you've learned with others.)


Now that students are focused and well oriented about the ongoing threat to endangered species, they are ready take on the special Save Our Animals project for this lesson, a hypothetical global campaign which has chosen your class to create posters of endangered species to promote greater environmental awareness worldwide.

First, read The 21st Century Save Our Animals Project student sheet, which follows a Webquest-style format. To summarize, students will be required to further research the plight of endangered species; create a poster of a selected animal; and present their poster, research, and advertising approach to the class. Students will need the Endangered Species Profile student sheet to complete their research on their chosen animal species.

There are two primary Web sources used for this project. The first is Species At Risk, which will provide students with a broader and more detailed orientation to endangered species. Please note the following about this site and its use:

  • This site focuses on Canadian species. Before students research the site, emphasize to them that, although the site has a Canadian focus, its information on endangered species is global. The global problem is students' primary focus.
  • After teams finish reviewing the site, it is highly recommended that you hold an open class discussion to review what they have learned and answer any questions they might have on how it pertains to their project. Have them address these questions:

    • What are the primary ways in which species are endangered? (These include habitat destruction; human disturbance; garbage; hunting, fishing, and harvesting; killing the food supply; global warming; and introducing alien species.)
    • Which of these are caused by human activities? (All of them.)
    • What does this mean for the future of our planet and future generations? (Accept all reasonable responses. Encourage students to elaborate on their answers, using examples.)
    • What facts, statistics, or ideas made the biggest impression on you? Why? Think about how you may apply this to the posters and profiles you will develop. (Accept all reasonable responses. Encourage students to elaborate on their answers and use examples.)

The second resource, Animal Info - World's Rarest Mammals, lists over 30 endangered mammals from which teams can choose one as a basis for their posters and profiles. This also will be their primary source for research on their selected species.

Optional Resources:
Depending on the level of interest, time availability, and Web access, you may choose to allow your students to research endangered species and their poster animals beyond the two resources above. For this effort, you may recommend that they do general searches online or look at the resources highlighted in the Extensions section.


Teams are given the option of using either downloaded pictures of their animal or drawings they create for their posters. Since students vary in their artistic abilities, it is important that you let them know that they will not be graded on which option they choose, but on the overall creativity of their design, layout, message, and impact. Content and impression are the keys in this exercise.

At the end of their poster presentations, it is important to review and reinforce what students learned about endangered species. Through discussion or a brief summary, students should walk away from this lesson with solid orientation on:

  • the nature and causes (human) of species endangerment
  • the kinds of present and future threats that species endangerment and extinction is causing
  • the virtually unstoppable impending danger of human population growth and its seemingly unavoidable impact on the environment
  • the ongoing problem of informing or connecting with the public about the danger it is causing to the environment
  • the kinds of resources available and solutions needed to begin leading a life of informed environmental responsibility


Follow this lesson with the second lesson in the Endangered Species series: Endangered 2: Working to Save Endangered Species.

Science NetLinks lessons Food Webs in the Bay and Yellowstone Wolves can be used to extend the ideas in this lesson.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards State Standards

Other Lessons in This Series

Other Lessons in This Series